1. Could you please describe your academic/ professional career in a few words?
I have a diploma and postgraduate diploma in Philosophy. After being an Assistant Professor at several universities in Italy and an Alexander von Humboldt fellow at different universities throughout Germany, I am currently a full Professor for Philosophy of Science in the Department of Humanistic Studies at the University of Macerata, Additionally I am an Ordinary member of the Académie Internationale de Philosophie des Sciences (AIPS) and of the Institute International de Philosophie (IIP, Paris). Since 2016 I am also co-editor of the special issue “Epistemologia” of the Springer journal Axiomathes. My fields of research are Popper’s and Kuhn’s philosophy of science, science and technology, epistemology and methodology of human and social sciences, thought experiments, epistemology of biology.
2. What do you find most fascinating about your home country?
The most fascinating thing about my home country is the fact that culture has left visible and important signs everywhere. In most cities it is impossible to walk without admiring and enjoying works of art of any kind, be they paintings, sculptures, engravings, architectural elements or spaces. Humanistic culture and a historically pluralistic perspective are not only a cornerstone of the Italian educational system - from kindergarten to university - but are also something in which one is immersed daily and which shapes one’s own freedom of thought and aesthetic judgment. Despite the fact that the disciplines of humanities have suffered swingeing funding cuts (which, in my opinion, is one of the important causes of Italy's inability to recover from the 2008 economic crisis), humanistic education is still today the greatest strength of the Italian public schools and universities. Again and again I meet colleagues not only from the European universities who praise the quality of education of Italian graduates, not only in the field of philosophy or literature, but also in mathematics, engineering, biology, etc. The multiplicity of cultural perspectives to which the Italian students are exposed, both during high schools (usually far more demanding than the European ones that are known to me) and in graduate courses, does not make Italian schoolchildren and students particularly successful in PISA studies, but, by making one acquainted with different possibilities of thinking, it is the basis of freedom of thought and judgment.
3. Do you have any experience regarding a scientific or economic exchange between your home country and countries of the European Union?
I shall confine my answers to scientific exchanges, the only ones I know relatively well..
Italian Universities – and the University of Macerata, at which I am appointed as full professor for philosophy of science, is no exception - pay now particular attention to research and teaching collaboration with foreign scholars and universities. For example, ‘courses of excellence’ to be held by well-known foreign researchers were established in Macerata since 2001 (and I was one of the main promoters). The University of Macerata has subsequently reinforced initiatives of this kind by fellowships for foreign visiting scholars. The attractiveness of these fellowships is shown by the fact that recent applicants were well-known at international level.
My personal experiences concerning scientific exchanges between my country and countries of the European Union, however, are most closely linked to the never sufficiently praised Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung, which provided support for most of my research stays in Germany (Würzburg, Marburg, Essen-Duisburg , next year Berlin) and allowed me to have many scientific exchanges with German researchers: to confine myself to one example, Peter Janich, whom I had met in Marburg thanks to Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung, held one of the first “courses of excellence” in Macerata, and some of his formerly scientific collaborators are now among my best academic friends.
As far as teaching exchanges between my University and European Universities are concerned, I only refer to the cooperation between my University and the University of Würzburg. Prof. Dr. Baumgartner and myself participated in the SOCRATES programme for many short periods as visiting professors, respectively in Macerata and in Würzburg.
Finally, the University of Macerata support joint PhD courses with other European universities, and despite being the only Italian university with exclusively humanistic curricula, some PhDs are sponsored not only by national companies (for example the Italian shipbuilding company Fincantieri) and local (for example Clementoni, which produces educational games), but also international companies (among which the most important and recent is probably the Dutch multinational technology company PHILIPS).
4. What do you think about the importance of Alumni in terms of the cultural, academic and economic exchange?
As before, I shall confine myself to academic exchanges, the only ones I know relatively well.
A general premise (which I believe is generally valid, but should be here confined to humanistic research alone, which I know better) and a remark are convenient in order to clarify how in my opinion Alumni could contribute to academic exchanges.
The general premise concerns the strategy currently followed in Europe to support research. At present, there is a tendency in Europe to grant very high financial support to a few researchers, considered as excellent. I do not agree with this tendency. Excellence is something that, in the short term, is very difficult, if not impossible to recognize. Excellence can be recognized only in hindsight: the history of sciences is marked by many discoveries being recognized years or even decades after they were made for the first time. For this reason, instead of trying to prematurely identify few excellences, it would probably be more fruitful to lay the groundwork for preparing the emergence of excellences, supporting many and not very few promising researchers.
After this general consideration, I turn to a more concrete remark, which is related to the interpersonal interaction between researchers. If we consider the ways in which individual researchers decide with whom to cooperate concretely, it is important to keep in mind that these decisions are also conditioned by contingent and extra-scientific factors and it would make little sense to want to control them directly when supporting and directing scientific research. The fact that it is difficult to carry out a research program with someone whom we admire from a scientific, but despise from a moral point of view, is a very simple example of what I mean.
Now, in what I have been saying a suggestion as to the activity of the Alumni association is implicit. An important contribution of University alumni associations could be to prepare a fertile soil for growing research that will perhaps produce, in an essentially unpredictable way, ‘excellence.’ It is in the nature of an Alumni association to contain a multiplicity of persons, with a multiplicity of complementing talents. An an Alumni association could therefore be an interpersonal fabric which, always also involving free and original personal initiatives of individual researchers or groups of researchers, is conducive to scientific cooperation of different kinds.