Sidoli, Nathan Camillo
Fall, 2011
Office hours: Thursday, 4th and 5th

SILS, 11-1416
[email protected]


I will put announcements about the class in this space. Please check here periodically as the term progresses.

Seminar on Matter and Information: Science Studies
Philosophy of Science

Course Description

Science studies covers a broad range of topics in the history, philosophy and sociology of the sciences wherever and whenever they have been practiced. Because of this scope, there is great diversity in the styles of scholarship practiced and the views about science put forward by scholars in the field. For these reasons, this seminar will be based around a particular theme each term.

In the 2011 Fall Term will be studying Philosophy of Science. In this course we will try to address the most difficult questions about science. What makes science different from other forms of intellectual activity? How are scientific facts produced? How do the sciences develop, change and progress? What are the things that every educated person needs to know about science?

We will begin with some classics in the field by authors such as Karl Popper, Ludwig Fleck, Thomas Kuhn and Imre Lakatos. We will then study some special topics such as the role of observation and mathematics in the sciences. Finally, we will read The Golem by Harry Collins and Trevor Pinch which discusses a number of interesting episodes in the history of science from a philosophical perspective.

Students taking this class will be introduced to modern theories of technology studies and develop new ways of thinking about the relationship between technology and society. Students are expected to do all of the readings, participate actively in classroom discussions, write a final paper and give a presentation on its contents.

Required Texts

A number of papers will be available for download from this site.

  • Collins, H., Pinch, T., 1998. The Golem: What everyone should know about science. CUP: Cambridge.
  • Grading:

    Participation 30%
    Final paper 40%
    Presentation 30%

    General Format

    The class meets once a week for a seminar discussion. Attendance and participation in class are mandatory and graded. Each week, we will discuss a chapter or two from the text, and other topics of interest. Students are expected to do all the readings, participate actively in the discussions, submit a final paper and give an in class presentation on its contents.

    Final Paper

    Writing project, 3,000-5,000 words. Topic due: Dec 13. Final project due: Jan 24.

    The writing project will be done in two phases: (1) a topic proposal and bibliography, and (2) a final paper. You should come up with your own idea for a final project that is based on the works we are studying. The best kind of project will be on a subject in which you are personally interested.

    Once you have selected a topic, you should write up a short description of your project (100-300 words), which should be followed by a bibliography (5-10 items). Once this has been submitted and approved, you can begin work on your final paper.

    Please also read the general guidelines for written assignments.

    Discussion Topics, Readings and Assignments

    As you read through the readings, you should ask yourself the following questions:

      1. What is the overall point that the author is trying to make?
      2. What is the author’s argument? What evidence does the author use? What are the strong points of the argument, the weak points?
      3. Is the argument convincing? Why, or why not?
      4. Why would the author make this kind of argument? What is the broader context in which this is interesting?
    Week 1: Sep 27

    General Introduction

  • No reading.
  • Week 2: Oct 4

    What is science?

  • Reading: Popper, selection from Conjectures and Refutations, Falsificationism as demarcation.
  • Week 3: Oct 11

    What is a scientific fact? (I)

  • Reading: Ludwig Fleck, selection from Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact, Chapter 4 (sections 1-3).
  • Suggested Reading: Thought Collectives and Thought Styles.
  • Week 4: Oct 18

    What is a scientific fact? (II)

  • Reading: Ludwig Fleck, selection from Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact, Chapter 4 (sections 4 and 5).
  • Week 5: Oct 25

    How does science change?

  • Reading: Thomas Kuhn, selections from The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, chaps. 3 and 9.
  • Further Reading: The full text of Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.
  • Week 6: Nov 1

    How does science progress?

  • Reading: Imre Lakatos, selection from The Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes, (pp. 47-68).
  • Further Reading: The full text of Imre Lakatos’ Falsification and the Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes.
  • Week 7: Nov 8

    Observation in science

  • Reading: Ian Hacking, selection from Representing and Intervening, Chap. 11, Microscopes.
  • Week 8: Nov 15

    Mathematics and science

  • Reading: Eugene Wigner, The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences; and Reuben Hersh, Inner Vision, Outer Truth.
  • Week 9: Nov 22

    Conceptual entities: What is a disease? (I)

  • Reading: Georges Canguilhem, The Normal and the Pathological (pp. 321-350).
  • Week 10: Nov 29

    Conceptual entities: What is a disease? (II)

  • Reading: Georges Canguilhem, The Normal and the Pathological (pp. 351-384).
  • Week 11: Dec 6

    The Golem, I

  • Reading: Golem chap. 1.
  • Week 12: Dec 13 (Writing topic due)

    The Golem, II

  • Reading: Golem chap. 2.
  • Week 13: Dec 20

    The Golem, III

  • Reading: Golem chap. 3.
  • Holiday: Dec 27

    No Class

  • No Reading.
  • Holiday: Jan 3

    No Class

  • No Reading.
  • Holiday: Jan 10

    No Class

  • No Reading.
  • Week 14: Jan 17

    The Golem, IV

  • Reading: Golem chaps. 4 and 5.
  • Week 15: Jan 24 (Writing assignment due)

    The Golem, V

  • Reading: Golem chaps. 6, 7 and conclusion.