What Makes a Good Theory? Interdisciplinary Perspectives


20 - 24 June 2022

Venue: Lorentz Center@Oort

If you are invited or already registered for this workshop, you have received login details by email.

“You can’t play 20 questions with nature and win.” – Newell (1973)


Psychological science has been going through turbulent times due to the ‘replication crisis’ and the various reforms it has motivated. Until recently, “psychological reform” mostly meant methodological and statistical reform of empirical research practices in psychology. There is now growing awareness that improving psychological science necessitates improving its theoretical practices. There is great unclarity, however, about what this entails and how it may be achieved. With this workshop we aim to make progress by inviting deeper reflection on the longstanding question: “what makes a good theory?”


We see an urgency for a broad, interdisciplinary discussion about this question. Much of psychology is still dominated by a naive empiricism that other disciplines have outgrown. Consequently, it lacks the tools, concepts, scientific culture and reflective practices that promote good theory building. Without a sea change in epistemological perspective, theoretical reforms may remain fruitless at best; or cement new problematic research practices, at worst.


With this workshop we bring together researchers from a wide variety of relevant disciplines to exchange ideas on the challenge of good theory building. This will include researchers coming from cognitive science, philosophy, linguistics, neuroscience, statistics, computer science, biology, and psychology. The workshop’s explicit aim is to foster dialogue on the complexities and nuances of the question posed by actively working on open problems and (meta-)theoretical challenges and creating a platform for dissemination of the ideas. We consider three refinements of the question:

  1. What do we mean by good, i.e, what criteria define ‘good’ theories?
  2. How do we know that a theory is good, i.e., how can we tell that a theory meets the criteria?
  3. How do good theories come about, i.e., what tools and methods may be employed to develop them; what practices and processes may facilitate their emergence?

To fully realize the promise of the workshop, participants are invited to actively think beyond traditional criteria such as parsimony or predictive accuracy, which appear to be inadequate. Additionally there will be special attention to mathematical modeling and computational theories, widely adopted for theory building in other disciplines, such as cognitive science, biology, and physics. Constructive critique and a pluralism of perspectives will be fostered.


This workshop will be a success if participants bring key open (meta-) theoretical problems and are able to make progress on them in interdisciplinary groups formed during the workshop. One of the target outputs of the workshop will be a journal special issue edited by the co-organizers where the outcomes of these work teams can be published.


Follow us on:

Niels Bohrweg 1 & 2

2333 CA Leiden

The Netherlands

+31 71 527 5400