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Department of

History and Philosophy of Science   


graduate | undergraduate | by title

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Graduate Courses (Click on a title for course materials)

2511 Genesis and Geology
This seminar explores the development of changing views on the nature of fossils and their contribution to the understanding of the history of the earth from the Renaissance to the early nineteenth century. Religious controversies on the age of the earth and natural-philosophical inquiry into the meaning of fossils contributed to the emergence of fundamental scientific notions, such as evolution, catastrophism, uniformitarianism, and geological time, to mention but a few. Drawing on primary and secondary sources concerning fossils this seminar will shed light on the early history of geological and paleontological knowledge.

2531 Freud and Psychoanalysis
This seminar aims to give students and introduction to Freud's work of the theory (not practice) of psychoanalysis, beginning with the two sets of introductory lectures, then working chronologically from Freud's early scientific work through his changes in theory to his later theoretical papers and some of his work on groups and culture. The goal is to immerse students in Freud text. The final four weeks will look at two contemporary applications of Freudian ideas: Jacques Lacan's controversial “Return to Freud” and “Psychoanalytic” work applying Freud to rethinking the political.

2547 Aristotle on Philosophy of Science
By the middle of the 4th century b.c., when Aristotle is articulating his own philosophical and scientific views, there are a number of other distinctive approaches available.  Very broadly, there are views that want to identify the basic natures of things with fundamental, changeless material elements that constitute them, the capacities of which are appealed to in explaining everything else; and there are views articulated by Plato that stress the transitory and unstable nature of the physical world and identify the basic nature of things with changeless immaterial forms to which one can appeal in explaining whatever stability and permanence there is in the physical world. Aristotle rejects both of these alternatives, and the purpose of HPS 2547 is to explore in detail his alternative.  We will do so both at the level of philosophical theory, focusing primarily on texts in the Posterior Analytics , Physics and Metaphysics .  But we also look carefully at his scientific practice, primarily through a careful study of a selection of texts from his biological works.  Attention will be given to David Charles's examination of some of these issues in his Aristotle on Meaning and Essence (Oxford 2000).

2645 Topics in Philosophy of Psychology
This seminar will discuss recent topics in philosophy of psychology, with a special focus on concepts. We will focus on the most important issues in the current philosophy of concepts: concept composition, neo-empiricism, concept nativism, animal concepts… We will also read some of the main articles that have been written in the psychology of concepts since the 70's and we will survey the main developments in this field.

2668 Topics in Philosophy of Biology
This class will focus on philosophical interpretations of evolutionary theory, with particular emphasis on questions concerning causality and chance. We will consider questions such as: is the evolutionary process deterministic or indeterministic? Can natural selection be distinguished from random drift, either conceptually or empirically? Is natural selection a theory of forces, is it purely statistical, or is there a third alternative? Which interpretation of probability is the most appropriate for evolutionary theory?

2669 Realism
The archetypal scientific realist believes in the literal truth of our best scientific theories. Some anti-realists (e.g. instrumentalists) contend that she thereby misconstrues the nature of the content of scientific claims; other anti-realists (e.g. van Fraassen) contend that she thereby overestimates their justification. Thus issues of scientific realism engage the most fundamental questions about the nature of scientific theories and their justification. In this course, we will consider the classic arguments for and against realism (e.g. the miracles argument, underdetermination of theory by observational evidence, Putnam's model-theoretic argument, the pessimistic metainduction), as well as several relatively new-fangled positions in and on the realism debate (e.g. structural realism, the Natural Ontological Attitude). We will discuss the observational/theoretical distinction, the (spurious?) contrast between the “semantic” and the “syntactic” views of theories, and varieties of empirical equivalence. Throughout we will try to keep track of the extent to which maneuvers typically undertaken in high-level scientific realism debates, debates which abstract away from the details of individual theories, can be implemented with respect to particular scientific theories.

2673 Studies in Aristotle
Cross-listed with CLASS 2314/PHIL 2041
Aristotle's Poetics is a dense and controversial work. In this seminar, through careful reading of the text and of relevant secondary criticism we will investigate some of the most important philosophical issues raised by this work. How does Aristotle respond to and critique the charges made by Plato's Socrates, namely that there is no true art of poetic composition, and that some poetry, especially tragedy, is ethically corrupting? Why is mimesis (representation or imitation) so fundamental to human nature? Is the function of tragedy, and poetry in general, to shape our capacity to reason practically and to regulate our emotions? How does Aristotle go about defining tragedy and how successful is his definition? In seminar we will be considering Aristotle's text in English, but there will be an additional Greek reading group. This is the second semester of a year long sequence of courses on Greek tragedy and Aristotle's Poetics . However, completion of the Fall semester course on Greek tragedy is not a prerequisite for this seminar. CLASS 2314/PHIL 2041/HPS 2673 is expected to have a total enrollment of 10.


Undergraduate Courses (Click on a title for course materials)

0427 Myth and Science
Cross-listed with CLASS 0330
How can we understand our world? In western culture, science dominates all our answers to this question. But there are other ways. They can be found in the mythologies of ancient and modern peoples. This course will compare the scientific and mythological ways of seeing the world and their more subtle connections. In particular, we will turn to the remarkable events in Ancient Greece of 800-400 B.C. and discover how the scientific approach actually grew slowly out of mythological thought itself.

0611 Principles of Scientific Reasoning
The course will provide students with elementary logic skills and an understanding of scientific arguments. Ours is an increasingly scientific and technical society. In both our personal life decisions and in our work we are daily confronted by a scientific result which influences what we do and how we do it. Basic skills in analyzing the structure of arguments in terms of truth and evidence are required to make this type of information accessible and useful. We hear, for example, that drinking alcoholic beverages reduces the chances of heart disease. We might well ask what sorts of tests were done to reach this conclusion and do the tests really justify the claim? We read that certain geographical configurations in South America "prove" that this planet was visited by aliens from outer space. Does this argument differ from other, accepted scientific arguments? This course is designed to aid the student in making sense of a variety of elementary logic skills in conjunction with the application of those skills to actual cases.

0613 Morality and Medicine
Ethical dilemmas in the practice of health care continue to proliferate and receive increasing attention from members of the health care profession, ethicists, policy makers, and the general public as health care consumers. In this course, we will examine a number of ethical issues that arise in the context of contemporary medical practice and research by analyzing articles and decision scenarios. Topics to be covered typically include the physician-patient relationship; informed consent; medical experimentation; termination of treatment; genetics; reproductive technologies; euthanasia; resource allocation; and health care reform. Students who successfully complete this course will be able to identify and analyze different philosophical approaches to selected issues in medical ethics; will have gained insight into how to read and critically interpret philosophical arguments; and will have developed skills that will enable them to think clearly about ethical questions as future or current health care providers, policy makers, and consumers.

There are no formal Prerequisites for this course. This course is part of a core sequence leading to certification in the Conceptual Foundations of Medicine Program, and is a companion course to HPS 0612 (Mind and Medicine) but may be taken independently. This course is of particular interest to pre-medical and pre-health care students.

0616 Artificial Intelligence and the Philosophy of Science
Artificial intelligence has been and still is one of the core disciplines of contemporary cognitive science. It raises fascinating questions: Can robots think? Is artificial intelligence really intelligence? Could artifacts be conscious, What can we learn about the human mind from building robots? How should intelligent robots be built? We will survey the main controversies that artificial intelligence has provoked.

0621 Problem Solving: How Science Works
A scientist announces that the sun contains a new, so-far unknown chemical element, even though there is no hope of getting a sample. Another is sure that a famous predecessor has faked his data, even though he has seen nothing but the perfect, published results. Astonishingly, both claims prove to be sober and sound. We will explore the approaches and methods that make such miracles part of the routine of everyday science. This course is intended for students with little or no background in science.

0623 Explanations of Humans and Society
This course will look at some of the original writings of the three "giants" of modern psychology: Freud, Skinner and Piaget. The three movements of psychoanalysis, behaviorism and developmental cognition will be explored through their most articulate and well known proponents. Topics to be discussed include the nature of the emotions, the structures of behavior and the forms of human thought. Specifically, we will discuss how the concepts of desire, love, jealousy, homosexuality, skilled actions, language, and logical and moral reasoning can be used to understand human beings.

0628 Paradox
HAL, the robot, repairs exactly those robots in the space station that do not repair themselves. Who repairs HAL? If you care about who repairs HAL, then take this course. Sometimes paradoxes just provide us with a little intellectual amusement. But other times they can transport us directly to deep insights about the nature of language, the infinite, rational decision making, etc. This course will consider a number of paradoxes of the latter variety.

0633 Science, Philosophy & Public Policy
Responsible citizens should be able to understand, analyze and criticize government efforts to legislate issues of public policy. They should also be able to articulate positions of their own, based on the evaluation of evidence. This is not any easy task when faced with problems that require understanding of the nature of scientific evidence as well as sensitivity to opposing views about ethical issues in a pluralistic society. Citizens are faced with a barrage of conflicting opinions offered by various “experts” whose credentials must be assessed. This course will be concerned with the information of public policy in several areas: the teaching of creation science in public schools, environmental hazards of smoking and the new genetic and reproductive technologies.

1530 European Intellectual History
Cross-listed with HIST 1153
This course will be conducted as a seminar. Through discussions and written exposition, students will examine and analyze primary source material. In this way, the class will explore topics in Europe 's main intellectual trends from the age of liberalism to World War II and the emergence of existentialism. Possible topics for study include the writings of John Stuart Mill, Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Mannheim, Emile Durkheim, R.H. Tawney, Max Web, Sigmund Freud, and Albert Camus.

1531 Man and the Cosmos in the European Renaissance
Cross-listed with RELGST 1362
Art and science are nowadays largely considered to be separate spheres of human endeavor, which are pursued by professionals specializing in their own field. Yet in Europe during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, a period referred to by modern historians as the Renaissance, art and science influenced each other. This course explores the fascinating intersection of artistic and scientific pursuits in the Renaissance, with special emphasis on the contribution that the visual arts gave to the rise of modern science.

1612 Philosophy of 20th Century Physics
Cross-listed with PHIL 1612
The first part of this course will sample philosophical issues surrounding relativity theory. These issues include the nature of space-time theories, the conventionality of simultaneity, and the openness of the future. The second of this course is meant as an introduction to the philosophy of quantum mechanics. Our goal will be to understand what an interpretation of quantum mechanics is and why anyone would want one. We will also explore interpretations historically proposed, and the frailties to which they are prone. A theme linking both parts of the course is the question of physical determinism. While some background in physics would be useful for this course, it is not essential. For as we go, we will study the formalisms relevant to the philosophical questions we'd like to pose.

1615 Philosophy of Social Science
This course is an introduction to the philosophical issues of the social sciences. Topics to be covered will include models of rationality, the nature of objectivity, cultural relativism, types of social entities, causal descriptions and narratives, the nature of social and psychological explanations, and the ethical and normative character of social issues.

1620 Philosophy of Biology
Cross-listed with PHIL 1650
Philosophy of Biology will consider foundational conceptual and epistemological issues in biology such as the controversy over evolution and creationism, the concept of fitness and the accusation that evolutionary theory is circular, the critique of adapationist evolutionary explanations, and issues surrounding genetically modified food and the Human Genome Project. It is designed for both the philosopher who can explore central epistemological and metaphysical issues in the context of biological science and for the biologist who wants to explore the conceptual foundations and presuppositions of his/her science. The students will read primary historical and philosophical texts, engage in discussion and write essays. The format of the course will be a combination of lecture and discussion.

1702 Jr/Sr Seminar for HPS Majors
The scientific picture of the world is distinctive in so far as it is supported inductively or well confirmed by the evidence of observation and experiment. Our concern in this seminar will be this relation of inductive support or confirmation. We shall survey the major theories of inductive inference and confirmation and find that they continue to be troubled by problems and foundational disputes, so that it proves difficult even to specify in general terms just which are the good and the bad inductive inferences. These difficulties stand in stark contrast with familiar examples in science, in which the bearing of evidence is readily perceived to be unequivocal. By examining historical case studies in science, we will seek to reconcile the fragility of our general theories with the certainty of our particular cases.

1703 Writing Workshop for HPS Majors
This writing workshop is designed to introduce HPS majors to the methods and standards of good scholarly writing in History and Philosophy of Science. It will be offered to HPS majors only in conjunction with HPS 1701, Jr/Sr Seminar. Evaluation will be based on papers that will be rewritten on the basis of the instructor's comments.