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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)

2501 Philosophy of Science Core
Laura Ruetsche
Cross-listed with PHIL 2600/11188
This course will consider philosophical questions pertaining to or provoked by the natural sciences, questions such as: What's the point of scientific theorizing? What is it to believe a scientific theory? (When) is such belief rational? Sometimes working scientists, or philosophers concerned with the foundations of a particular scientific theory, or philosophers who are not consciously philosophers of science, have a stake in such questions. Some attempt will be made to identify these stakes. Authors to be read may include Carnap, Hempel, Kuhn, Lewis, Longino, Railton, Reichenbach, Sellars, and van Fraassen.

2503 History of Science Core
Paolo Palmieri
As a single term survey of approximately five centuries intellectual history, this seminar cannot hope to be comprehensive. Rather, our aim will be to learn some of the skills of reading, analyzing and interpreting historical texts by studying a selection of important achievements in natural inquiry from the late Renaissance to the twentieth century. Throughout, it should be kept in mind that a major goal of this course is the development of the skills and techniques of the historian.

2537 Historiography of Science
Peter Machamer
This seminar will examine series of recent texts in 17th Century (mostly) history of science. The texts are chosen because they attempt to represent "big pictures" of where science fits into more general culture. Each carries a different picture of history and so exemplifies a different historiographic perspective. We shall look carefully at these different historical approaches with the goal of trying to make sense of what the nature of history is and ought to be. The seminar will conclude by examining some writings about historiography.

2628 Evolution and Cognition
Edouard Machery and (syllabus)
Psychology has recently undergone a paradigm shift: Evolutionary considerations are increasingly brought to bear on the study of cognition. This approach is supposed to provide new methods as well as new research questions. Philosophers of psychology and biology have paid considerable attention to this new line of research. This seminar is designed as a survey of the recent developments in this growing field. We will first examine the alternative approaches in this field: mainstream evolutionary psychology, dual-inheritance theories, evolutionary anthropology, human behavioral ecology etc. We will emphasize the diversity of this field as well as its recent developments. Moreover, philosophers of biology and psychology (Buller, Lloyd, etc.) have recently mounted book-length criticisms of this field. In the second part of the semester, we will read and discuss these books in detail.

2656 Aristotle on the Metaphysics and Modality of Change
Ted McGuire and James Bogen
Cross-listed with PHIL 2626
1. This seminar will discuss recent topics in philosophy of physics, drawing on suitable issues in quantum, relativistic and statistical physics, according to the interests of the participants.
2. Prerequisites: Graduate standing or permission of the instructor.
3. Recitations: None.
4. Expected size class: 15 students.
5. This course is not offered on a regular basis.

2668 Topics in Philosophy of Biology
Sandra Mitchell
In this seminar we will investigate implications of the study of biological complexity for understanding types of complexity, emergence, modularity, scientific law, and causal inference from experimental interventions. In addition we will look at the problems of translating the scientific knowledge of complex systems into science policy. We will read materials from contemporary debates on these subjects.

2675 Philosophy of Space and Time
John Earman
This seminar will concentrate on problems of time, including tensed and tenseless theories of time; McTaggart's argument for the unreality of time; presentism (the view that only the present time exist); the direction of time; time travel and backwards causation. You must be of graduate standing or must get permission of the instructor.


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.

0430 Galileo & the Creation of Modern Science
Paolo Palmieri
The Italian physicist and astronomer Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) was the decisive figure in the rise of modern science. First, he ushered in a new era in astronomy when he aimed a 30-powered telescope at the sky in 1610. Second, he revolutionized the concept of science when he argued that the book of nature is written in the language of mathematics. Finally, he astounded the theologians, who eventually condemned him to life imprisonment, when he claimed that the scientist’s search for the truth cannot be constrained by religious authority. This course will study Galileo in the broader intellectual, social, and religious context of early modern Europe.

0515 Magic, Medicine and Science
J. E. McGuire (syllabus)
Cross-listed with HIST 0089
This course is a survey of some important patterns in Western intellectual history. Beginning with ancient Greek speculations in cosmology, philosophy, and medicine, we will look at some significant later developments in these areas stressing the ways in which they were influenced by Greek tradition. These include, (among other topics), the magical tradition which flourished during the Renaissance. The latter half of the course will focus on those profound intellectual transformations in the 17th century which constitute what is often called "The Scientific Revolution". The great scientific achievement of figures such as Descartes, Kepler, Galileo, and Newton will be treated extensively as well as its indebtedness to "non-scientific" elements of 17th century culture. This course is meant to provide a broad picture of many important facets of the Western intellectual tradition within the context of their historical development.

0630 The Nature of Emotions
Edouard Machery (syllabus)
This course will examine selected historically important theories and portrayals of the human emotions or passions. The course will examine different accounts of love, hate, desire, anger, jealousy, pride, grief, etc., i.e. the affective dimension of human existence. It will look at how these dimensions of experience relate to ideas of reason, control, the will, decorum, and morality, and our knowledge of the "sciences" of human beings. A number of questions will guide the readings and discussions. Which emotions or passions are primitive? In what are the emotions grounded: the body, the mind, the spirit? Can these even be usefully distinguished? What is the structure of human emotions and how do they function? What are the relations among emotions, personality types and behavior? Can one learn to recognize emotions, control emotions, change the way emotions affect behavior? How can one test or validate theories about emotions? Expected enrollment for this class is 60.

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 scientific results which influence 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; have gained insight into how to read and critically interpret philosophical arguments; and have developed skills that will enable them to think clearly about ethical questions as future or current health care providers, policy makers, and consumers.

This course is part of a core sequence leading to certification in the Conceptual Foundations of Medicine Certificate Program, and is a companion course to HPS 0612 (Mind and Medicine) but may be taken independently. The course is of particular interest to pre-medical and pre-health care students.

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.

0630 Science and Pseudoscience
When we encounter news of bizarre and weird occurrences, how should we think about the reported incidents? Why should we take an announcement of a scientific discovery differently from another reported sighting of Bigfoot? These questions will be explored while we examine popular controversial claims, from the existence of extraterrestrials on this planet to the effectiveness of the latest alternative medical theory. We will compare the evidence and reasoning behind these frequently dismissed stories with the evidence presented for new theories in areas of established science, such as dinosaur extinction theories and global warming models. By exploring the outlandish, the accepted, and the controversial, we will find ways of approaching both science and its fringe.

1530 European Intellectual History 2 1870-1940
Cross-listed with HIST 1152/13764
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.

1653 Introduction to Philosophy of Science
Laura Ruetsche
Cross-listed with PHIL 1610
This course explores the principal ways in which scientific knowledge is attained in the natural sciences and in the behavioral/social sciences, and it examines fundamental philosophical questions concerning the reliability and limits of scientific understanding. The major topics of discussion include: Explanation, confirmation, realism and the nature of theories, the growth of scientific knowledge, space and time, and causality and determinism.