Sidoli, Nathan Camillo
Fall, 2023
Office hours: Thursday, 4th and 5th

SILS, 11, 1409
[email protected]

Introduction to
the History and Philosophy of Science

Course Description

Science and technology have become defining features of modern life. In this course, we will explore aspects of the history of human thought about the natural world and philosophical ideas about the special status of scientific knowledge by focusing attention on four episodes in the history of science - the development of rational and mathematical accounts of the world in the ancient and medieval periods, the transformation of this approach through experimentation in the early modern period that resulted in the Newtonian physics, the rise of the theory of evolution by natural selection and, finally, the development of the new physics of the early 20th century.

We will examine these topics in the history of science using themes in contemporary philosophy of science. While the topics of the lectures are structured around episodes and figures in the history of science, each class we will also reflect on how the history of science has been used by philosophers of science to provided examples for the key themes in the philosophy of science, such as the relationship between theory and evidence, the verifiability or falsifiability of theories and the historical contingency of scientific practice.

Students who apply themselves in this class will learn the broad chronological development of the physical sciences, how to appreciate science as a social institution, and obtain insight into major shifts in overall worldview that have taken place in conjunction with the growth of the sciences.

Required Texts

  • Richard DeWitt, 2018, Worldviews: An Introduction to History and Philosophy of Science, Third Edition (or Second Edition) (Wiley-Blackwell: New York). (To be purchased from the Co-op.)
  • David Lindberg, 1992, The Beginnings of Western Science, (UCP: Chicago), chap. 8, “Science in Islam” (Download, below.)
  • Suggested Reading

  • 中山 茂『パラダイムでたどる科学の歴史』ベレ出版、2011。
  • Peter Galison, 2008, Ten Problems in the History and Philosophy of Science, Isis, 99: 111-124.
  • Grading

    Active participation (in-class discussion)


    Midterm exam (in-class)


    Final exam (in-class)



    Both exams will be in-class format. You will have 90 minutes to write the exams. Electronic aids (devices, dictionaries, etc.) will not be allowed during the exam. There will be three sections: multiple choice (or connections), short answers (1-2 sentences), full descriptions (2-3 paragraphs).

    General Format

    The class meets once a week for a lecture. Students are expected to attend the lectures, engage in class discussions, and write a midterm and final exam. After each lecture, there will be a short discussion period for student participation based on questions that I will post in class.

    Classroom Etiquette

    Please follow basic rules of decorum – do not sleep, eat, or carry on individual conversations in class. Finally, DO NOT use mobile phones, smart phones, or laptops in class. (Unfortunately, a large percentage of students use their laptops to do unrelated things during class, and this distracts both them and everyone aroud and behind them.) I will be very strict about enforcing the rule about devices and laptops, so if you feel that you must use devices, I encourage you to enroll in a different class.

    Discussion Topics, Readings and Assignments

    Week 1: Oct 9

    Introduction to history of science

  • Reading: DeWitt chap. 1.
  • Introduction to thinking about science in history

    Week 2: Oct 16

    Introduction to philosophy of science

  • Reading: DeWitt chaps. 2-4.
  • Introduction to philosophy of science

    Conference trip: Oct 23

    No Class

  • No Reading.
  • Week 3: Oct 30

    Aristotle’s natural philosophy

  • Reading: DeWitt chaps. 9-12.
  • Suggested activities: Go to You Tube and search for “The Mark Steel Lectures-Aristotle” (parts 1-3) and listen to the talk, which discusses a number of Aristotle’s political and social ideas that are not included in my lecture.
  • Aristotle’s natural philosophy

    Week 4: Nov 6

    Ptolemy’s mathematical cosmology

  • Reading: DeWitt chaps. 13 and 5.
  • Ptolemy’s cosmology

    Week 5: Nov 13

    Science in the Islamic Middle Ages

  • Reading: Lindberg, Science in Islam.
  • Supplementary reading (optional): Sidoli, Translations in the mathematical sciences (from Routledge Handbook on the Sciences in the Islamicate World).
  • Science in Medieval Islam

    Week 6: Nov 20

    The European Renaissance
    Short movie: William Harvey and the Circulation of the Blood (38 min)

  • Reading: DeWitt chaps. 7 and 8.
  • Movie: The documentary on William Harvey can be viewed online at the Wellcome Collection. A transcript of the movie can also be downloaded. The movie can also be viewed on YouTube here.
  • Primary source for Harvey: De motu cordis. The English translation follows the Latin.
  • Suggested Reading: A recent news article by M. Schulz discusses a current project that uses Ptolemy’s Geography to study the history of ancient Germany.
  • Science in the European Renaissance

    Week 7: Nov 27

    The new astronomy

  • Reading: DeWitt chaps. 14-16.
  • The new astronomy (No movie files)

    Week 8: Dec 4 (Midterm exam)

    In-class midterm exam.

  • No reading.
  • Week 9: Dec 11

    Francis Bacon
    Galileo’s physical cosmology (Movie, part 1)

  • Reading: DeWitt 17 and 18.
  • Further listening: For a BBC radio program on Francis Bacon see In Our Time, Thu, 2 Apr 2009.
  • For an attempt by modern observers to recreate what Galileo saw with his telescope see the website What Galileo Saw (Tom Pope and Jim Mosher).
  • Francis Bacon

    Week 10: Dec 18

    Galileo’s realist arguments (Movie, part 2)

  • Reading: A slightly edited version of Galileo’s The Starry Messenger. (Although not required reading, a full English translation that corresponds to the pagination of the Latin original is also provided, Translation of Sidereus Nuncius)
  • To see images of the 1610 original edition, visit the Linda Hall Library of Sciencewebpage. Take a look at the images in this text. The text itself is in Latin.
  • Galileo’s arguments

    Week 11: Dec 25

    Newton (Movie)

  • Reading: DeWitt chaps. 19, 20 and 22.
  • Newton’s mathematical physics

    Holiday: Jan 1

    No Class

  • No Reading.
  • Holiday: Jan 8

    No Class

  • No Reading.
  • Week 12: Jan 12, 5th period (Make-up class, different day)

    The theories of relativity

  • Reading: DeWitt chaps. 23 and 24.
  • Suggested website: Einstein in Japan and Palestine.
  • Einstein’s theory of relativity

    Week 13: Jan 15

    Quantum theory

  • Reading: DeWitt chap. 25 (or 26 in the Second Edition).
  • Quantum theory

    Week 14: Jan 22 (Final exam)

    In-class final exam.

  • No reading.