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

SILS, 11-1409
[email protected]

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

We will begin with some classics in the field by authors such as Karl Popper and Thomas Kuhn. We will then study some special topics such as feminist approaches to the philosophy of science the debate about social construction in the natural sciences with an emphasis on the work of Ian Hacking.

Students taking this class will be introduced to the core ideas of the philosophy of science and develop new ways of thinking about the relationship between science, technology and society. Students are expected to do all of the readings, participate actively in classroom discussions, and write a final paper.

Required Texts

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

  • Godfrey-Smith, P., 2003. Theory and Reality. UofC Press: Chicago.
  • Grading:

    Participation 50%
    Final paper 50%

    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.

    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). The topic proposal is due at least two weeks before the final paper. 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: Oct 10

    General Introduction

  • No reading.
  • Week 2: Oct 17


  • Reading: P. Godfrey-Smith, Theory and Reality, Chap. 2
  • Conference Trip: Oct 24

    No Class

  • No Reading
  • Week 3: Oct 31

    Popper’s Falsificationism

  • Reading: Popper, selection from Conjectures and Refutations, “Falsificationism as demarcation”; P. Godfrey-Smith, Theory and Reality, Chap. 4
  • Week 4: Nov 7

    How does science change? (I)

  • Reading: Thomas Kuhn, selections from The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, “The Nature of Normal Science” and “Normal Science as Puzzle-Solving”; P. Godfrey-Smith, Theory and Reality, Chap. 5
  • Week 5: Nov 14

    How does science change? (II)

  • Reading: Thomas Kuhn, selection from The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, “The Nature and Necessity of Scientific Revolutions”; P. Godfrey-Smith, Theory and Reality, Chap. 6
  • Week 6: Nov 21

    Science is political

  • Reading: P. Godfrey-Smith, Theory and Reality, Chap. 9
  • Week 7: Nov 28

    The conquest of nature

  • Reading: C. Merchant, “Mining the Earth’s Womb”. (Excerpts from Merchant’s The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology, and the Scientific Revolution, 1980.)
  • Week 8: Dec 5

    Gender roles in the sciences

  • Reading: E.F. Keller, “Women, Science, and Popular Mythology”
  • Week 9: Dec 12

    Social perspective and epistemology

  • Reading: D. Haraway, “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective”
  • Week 10: Dec 19

    Standpoint epistemology

  • Reading: S. Harding, “Rethinking Standpoint Epistemology: What is ‘Strong Objectivity’ ”
  • Holiday: Dec 26

    No Class

  • No Reading.
  • Holiday: Jan 2

    No Class

  • No Reading.
  • Week 11: Jan 9 (Writing assignment topic due)

    A history of objectivity

  • Reading: L. Daston, “Objectivity and the Escape from Perspective”
  • Week 12: Jul 16

    Social Construction in the Natural Sciences

  • Reading: I. Hacking, selection from The Social Construction of What?, Chap. 3, “What about the Natural Sciences?”
  • Week 13: Jan 19 (Make-up class, different day and period)

    Realism about psychological entities

  • Reading: I. Hacking, selection from The Social Construction of What?, Chap. 4, “Madness: Biological or Constructed?”
  • Week 14: Jan 23 (Writing assignment due)

    Presentations and discussion

  • No Reading