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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)

2518 Unity of Science 17th-20th Centuries
This seminar will focus on the changing conceptions of the structure and unity/disunity of science as a whole in the modern era. Our goal will be to see how these conceptions related to questions regarding the proper domain of the mathematical sciences, the notion of method, scepticism and foundationalism. We will examine writings on the unity of science by late 16th and early 17th century scholastic thinkers (e.g., the Cominbrincenses, Clavius, Fonseca, Toletus, Vallius, and Eustache de Saint-Paul), by mechanical philosophers (e.g., Bacon, Descartes, Huygens, and Hobbes), and by later thinkers from the Enlightenment to the twentieth-century project of an "Encyclopedia of Unified Science".

2622/PHIL 2625 Recent Topics in Philosophy of Science
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.

2660/PHIL 2662 Causality
Approximately: before Kant, philosophy of science aimed to aid the sciences by improving methods of inquiry; after Kant, philosophy of science aimed only to analyze and justify the results of scientific inquiry. Inquiry into causal relations is one domain in which philosophy of science has retained some of the pre-Kantian ambitions to improve methodology. New methodologies, prompted by work in philosophy, have entered into biology, economics, epidemiology, psychology and other areas. These developments have, predictably, been both attacked, defended and applied by others. This seminar will
(1) briefly survey ideas about methods for causal inference from 1900 to 1980;
(2) describe the basic properties and uses of graphical representation of causal relations, sometimes known as causal Bayes nets, that emerged between 1980 and 2005, illustrate empirical applications, from estimating the influence of lead exposure to discovering climate teleconnection mechanisms, and the bearing of the methods on some traditional issues in philosophy of science, e.g., the theoretician’s dilemma (why, and when, should unobserved quantities be postulated?).(3) consider three criticisms of the new methods, from. Respectively, David Freedman and Paul Humphreys; Nancy Cartwright; and Jaime Robins and Larry Wasserman. (I will argue that Freedman and Humphreys are dishonest; Robins and Wasserman discover something very important; and Cartwright is mostly just confused).
(4) consider the increasingly popular, but still controversial, use in psychology of causal Bayes nets as a framework for how children, and even adults, learn the causal structure of the world, and contrast this approach with neural net and mechanistic proposals.

2662/PHIL 2672 Genes and Behavior
The relations between genes and behaviors will be considered from both classical ("heritability") as well as molecular perspectives. Examples will be drawn from model organism research (worm, fly, mouse) as well as human studies including IQ controversy, normal personality genetics, and analyses of schizophrenia and other mental disorders. The roles of the environment and intermediate phenotypes (endophenotypes) including brain imaging studies will be discussed. Philosophical readings include reductionistic, interactionist, and emergentist approaches.

2663 Perception
Machamer and Machery
The Seminar will examine recent work in perception from philosophy and cognitive science. Authors will include Brewer, Noe and Matthen.

2685/COMM 2285 Science and its Rhetoric
McGuire and Lyne
In this seminar we will investigate implications of the study of biological complexity for understanding types of complexity, emergence, modularity, The seminar will explore the following questions: What role, if any, do rhetorical interpretations play in the discourse of science? Can the acceptance of scientific ideas be exhaustively explained in terms of epistemic criteria alone, or is there always necessarily recourse to such resources of persuasion as rhetorical tropes and topoi? What role does rhetoric play in the internal dialogues of science, and in bridging between science and public discourse? These and related questions will be explored through exemplary cases chosen from the natural and human sciences, and from those public discourses where science collides or colludes with political, social, religious, or policy discourses. These will include current controversies over evolution and ‘Intelligent Design’ funding for stem cell research, and popularized sociobiology.

2696/PHIL 2340 Philosophical Perspectives on Feminism
This course will focus on issues of gender and science, and in particular on the question of how gender might matter to the epistemic dimension of scientific inquiry. Our method will be to examine cases, drawn predominantly but not exclusively from the history of the biosocial science, where (critics contend) gender has mattered, with a view toward identifying the ways gender could matter to epistemic questions like: What counts as evidence? What does it take to appreciate evidence as evidence? We'll also consider a variety of epistemologies of science -- traditional, overtly feminist, and somewhere in between -- with the aim of assessing their capacity to make sense of ways gender might matter to the epistemic dimension of science. Because it's been a while since a course has been offered either to graduates or to undergraduates under the title "feminist philosophy," this course is open to all interested and qualified students of either sort.


Undergraduate Courses

0427/CLASS 0330 Myth and Science
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.

0437 Darwinism and Its Critics
This course examines the history of the Darwinian theory of evolution by natural selection and considers its context, its structure and the various responses to that theory in its own day. The course will conclude with a review of recent attacks on evolutionary theory but forward by proponents of 'intelligent design'. We will look at the contemporary controversy in light of the historical issues in terms of what constitutes a scientific theory and how evidence is related to theories.

0515/HIST 0089 Magic, Medicine and Science
This course is a survey of some important patterns in the Western intellectual history. Beginning with ancient Greek speculations in cosmology, philosophy, and medicine. Then we will look at some important subsequent developments in these areas and how they were influenced by the Greek tradition. These include, among other topics, the magical tradition that flourished during the Renaissance period. The latter half of the course will focus on the profound intellectual transformations in the 17th century which constitute what we often call The Scientific Revolution. The great scientific achievements of figures such as Descartes, Kepler, Galileo, and Newton will be discussed in detail. Overall, this course is meant to provide a broad picture of some of the most important elements in the Western intellectual tradition and their interactions in history.

0612 Mind and Medicine
Famous scientists such as Steven Pinker suggest that human behavior and human cognition should be explained on the basis of the theory of evolution. These views have been applied to a large range of human emotions, desires and actions from altruism and happiness to psychiatric diseases to health to taboos to rape. These claims have been echoed in the popular media. We have been told that humans are by nature violent and xenophobic, that men and women are by nature unfaithful, that men have evolved to be extremely jealous, that women have evolved to desire males with a high social-status, that there are some innate differences between men and women, and so on, and so forth. This course is designed as a critical introduction to the issues raised by these claims about evolution, psychology, and human nature. The impact on medicine and psychiatry of this evolutionary approach to the mind will also be discussed in detail. The goal of this class is to provide students with a critical understanding of the sensational claims made about human nature on the basis of the theory of evolution. Previous knowledge of biology and of psychology is not needed for this class. Key notions and theories in both fields will be introduced progressively. Prerequisites: 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 0613 (Morality and Medicine) but may be taken independently. This course is of particular interest to pre-medical and pre-health care students. Recitations: One hour a week.

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.

0621 Problem Solving

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.

0628 Paradox
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
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.

1690/PHIL 1690 Topics in Philosophy of Science
The course is an overview of the ways in which major revolutionary developments in mathematics (non Euclidean geometry, arithmetization of analysis, Cantor's set theory) and in physics (relativity theory, quantum mechanics) induced major changes in the philosophy of the 20th century. The course will start by presenting a very short outline of Kant’s epistemology --taken to be the reigning view around the 1900’s as concerns the philosophical understanding of science. Then we will survey in a non technical way (in language understandable by everybody) what the main scientific developments were, and why the Kantian framework was perceived as incapable of accommodating them. The second part of the course will explain the ways in which linguistic analysis, on the one hand, and logical positivism and logical empiricism, on the other, attempted to set up a philosophical perspective adequate to the scientific developments in question. The third part of the course will describe the main challenges mounted against logical empiricism and logical positivism from the ‘inside’ (Popper's falsificationism, the Duhem - Quine thesis and Hanson’s theory ladeness of observation) as well as the radical change of the overall philosophical landscape brought about by the historicists (Kuhn, Lakatos, Feyerabend, Laudan). The course will close with a summary presentation of the main ideas of social constructivism and of the major controversies more or less contemporary with it (rationality versus relativism, realism versus antirealism).The course is designed for undergraduate students who are not ‘experts’ in either science or philosophy. Some prior acquaintance with calculus, elementary physics and elementary logic is desirable but not necessary. The grade will be based on class participation and two take-home exams, one at mid term and the other when the term closes.

1702 Junior/Senior Seminar