History and Philosophy of Science

Course Information

Course Number: HUHI 7387.501
Official Course Title: Science and Technology in Western Culture
Section Title: Philosophy of Science and Technology
Meeting Time and Location: Monday 7:00pm-9:45pm, JO 4.112
Office Hours: Monday 5:30-6:30pm and Thursday 4:00-5:00pm
Appointments: Sign up for appointments

Science plays an enormously influential role in our society. As a social institution, it commands enormous respect and social influence, as well as vast sums of funding. It produces results that are greatly sought after, for both good and ill. At the same time, science generates great controversy when it collides with various religious, economic, and educational agendas. The adjective “scientific” garners almost immediate respectability to whatever it is applied, and, in some circles, it is a prerequisite for being taken seriously. Yet to many it also bespeaks alienation, abstraction, and a void of meaning, useless in our attempt to understand values. Some even deride science as mere ideology and power-mongering, as sexist, racist, or elitist.

Science is open to interpretation and critique; as a result, it stands in need of explanation, elaboration, justification, limitation, or change. History and philosophy of science attempt to understand how and why science works, to explain its successes and occasionally uncover its failures, to interpret its results, and to discover, what, if any, are its limits. Historians and philosophers of science also try to situate science in the broader scheme of human activities and social institutions, and to understand the way in which our particular cognitive, social, political, and moral situation impacts its development.

In this course, we will focus on six key texts in the history and philosophy of science, some classics in the field, others more recent but nonetheless landmark work. Through these texts, we will try to better understand what counts as science and explore whether we can demarcate science from non-science or pseudo-science. We will ask what the aim of science is, what it is trying to produce. We will explore a variety of challenges to our common ways of understand how and why science works. We will explore the too-often ignored connections between the scientific process and our ethical and political values, attempting to determine whether and to what extend such human values play a role in science, and to what extent such a role is legitimate and compatible with the objectivity or reliability of scientific knowledge.

For the purposes of this course, we will construe science broadly to include natural and social sciences, engineering, technological development, mathematics, and medicine.

Student Learning Objectives/Outcomes

  • Students will be able to demonstrate advanced knowledge of the history and philosophy of science, focused on key texts from 1962 to present.
  • Students will be able to conduct and produce original research in history and philosophy of science.
  • Students will demonstrate effective written and oral communication skills.
  • Student work will reflect the ability to aggregate relevant evidence and use evidence to support their interpretation.
  • Students will work towards the ability to produce professional publication of research.

Books will be available at Off Campus Books, not the UT Dallas Campus Bookstore. Please purchase the editions ordered there or linked below.

Please do not get an alternative edition or eBook version. It is essential that you have the same page numbers as everyone else in the class, so we can read and refer to the texts together. I will check periodically to ensure you have the text. (For the Chang book, you may download and print the PDF version.)

Academic Calendar

  1. 1/11 – Introduction + Kuhn 1 [Intro, Ch I-IV]
  2. 1/18 – Martin Luther King Day – No Class
    • 1/20 – Special Lecture: Fire in the Blood (film)
  3. 1/25 – Kuhn 2 [Ch V-XIII, Postscript]
    • 1/27 – Special Lecture: Epidemics, Public Health and Race in Historical Perspective
  4. 2/1 – Against Method 1 [Frontmatter, Intro, Ch 1-5]
  5. 2/8 – Against Method 2 [Ch 6-12]
    • 2/10 – Special Lecture: Adia Benton
    • Research proposal due
  6. 2/15 – Against Method 3 [Ch 13-20]
  7. 2/22 – Dappled World 1 [Intro, Ch 1-3]
    • Model article due
  8. 2/29 (Leap Day) – Dappled World 2 [Ch 4-7]
    • Annotated Bibliography Due
  9. 3/7 – Chang 1 [Intro, Ch 1]
    • Abstract due
  10. 3/14 – Spring Break – No Class
  11. 3/21 – Chang 2 [Ch 2-3]
    • 3/23 – Special Lecture: Joan Slonczewski
  12. 3/28 – Chang 3 [Ch 4-5]
  13. 4/4 – Longino 1 [Preface, Ch 1-4]
    • Peer review drafts
  14. 4/11 – *Class cancelled*
    • 4/13 – Special Lecture: Maya Goldenberg
  15. 4/18 – Longino 2 [Ch 5-9]; Douglas [Ch 1, 3-5]
    • Reverse Outline Due
  16. 4/25 – *No class – work on final paper*
  17. 5/3 – Final Paper Due

Assignments

  1. Research Paper (and related assignments)
  2. Reading Presentations – Brief Presentations on the day’s assigned text
  3. Journal Club – Presentation on recent research in the field
  4. Attendance and participation in class discussion.
  5. Special guest lectures (optional, extra credit)

Research Paper

This is a work of original research in the area of science studies, either in history of science, philosophy of science, or a cognate area, such as philosophy of medicine or cultural studies of science. Examples of paper topics might include a philosophical argument against scientific realism, a case study of values influencing science, an archival study of some episode in the history of science.

The research paper will have multiple stages:

  • Research proposal [Week 5]
  • Model article [Week 7]
  • Annotated Bibliography [Week 8]
  • Abstract [Week 9]
  • Peer review drafts [Week 13]
  • Reverse outline [Week 15]
  • Final paper [Final Exam Week (5/3)]

More info…

Reading Presentation

10-15 minute presentation on the day’s readings, to be given at the beginning of class. You should not only summarize the ideas in the readings (after all, we have all also read the text carefully), but engage with text by providing an original argument about it, raising an objection to it, or posing a serious and specific interpretive difficulty about it. You must meet with him in office hours (or by appt) the week before your presentation.

Journal Club

15-20 minute presentation on a recent work of scholarship in history and philosophy of science, or cognate fields. You must pick a paper from the most recent issue (or the issue just before that) of one of the journals on the list of major science studies journals. You should (1) summarize the argument of the article; (2) describe the type of research done to produce the article, its methodology or approach; (3) engage with it by presenting a supporting argument, raising an objection, or posing a serious and specific interpretive difficulty with it.

You must have your article approved by the instructor, and you must meet with him in office hours (or by appt) the week before your presentation.

Attendance and Participation

While reading and writing are crucial parts of the course, a central part of intellectual activity is in-person discussion. There are things learned by engaging in face-to-face discussion that cannot be learned any other way. (Hence the continuing importance of talks and conferences in every academic field.) Attendance is thus considered mandatory, as is participation in class discussions. Both the quality and frequency of your contributions to class discussions and activities will be assessed.

Absences and tardies will count against this grade. You are permitted 2 “free” absences. After that, each absence will count heavily against this assignment. There are no “excused” or “unexcused” absences — the free absences apply to everyone, and there are also extra points built into the syllabus. A failing grade in this area will result in a failing grade in the course. (See “Completion” policy below.)

Every day you are expected to come to class with the assigned text for the day, in the correct edition. Failure to bring the appropriate materials to class can be counted as an absence.

Course Policies