Graduate Courses

Fall 2018

HPS 2501    Philosophy of Science (Core)

Dr. James F. Woodward
Tuesday 2:00p.m.-4:30p.m.
Cross-listed with PHIL 2600/10480

This course will focus on central topics in philosophy of science, from the era of logical positivism onwards: including explanation, confirmation, theory change, the meaning of theoretical terms, and scientific realism.

HPS 2504    History of Genetics: Mendel to Methylation

Dr. Michael Dietrich
Tuesday 9:00a.m.-12:00a.m.

In this course we will survey major developments in the history of genetics from Mendel to contemporary research on epigenetics.  Drawing upon a mix of primary and secondary sources, we will consider how systems of practice in genetics reflect their wider social contexts, how choices of problems and organisms shaped genetic research programs, how the rise of molecular biology transformed genetics and lead to the genomic era, and how epigenetics has challenged the scope of our understanding of inheritance.

2505    Philosophical Foundations of Cognitive Science

Dr. Colin Allen
Monday 3:00pm-5:30pm

The cognitive sciences began with great enthusiasm for the prospects of a successful multi-disciplinary attack on the mind. This enthusiasm was fueled by the faith that computational ideas could put flesh on abstract notions of mental representation, providing the means to make good physical sense of questions about the nature of mental information processing. The challenges of understanding how minds work have turned out to be much greater than many of the early enthusiasts predicted — in fact they have turned out to be so great that many have argued that we need new paradigms to replace the computationalist-representationalist assumptions of traditional cognitive science. This course aims to provide an understanding of the historical origins of these foundational discussions, and to apply this understanding to a specific topic in the philosophy of cognitive science. For Fall 2018 that topic will be the relevance or irrelevance of Shannon’s information theory to cognitive science.

HPS 2522    Special Topics in History of Science: Women in and out of Science

Dr. Paolo Palmieri
Wednesday 3:00p.m.-5:30p.m.

This open-platform seminar questions the presence and absence of women in science from antiquity to the twenty-first century. The pedagogy of the seminar is student-centered and promotes intellectual and identity emancipation. Participants are welcome from all academic fields and perspectives, including (but not limited to!) Africana, the history and philosophy of science, philosophy, psychoanalysis, feminism, literature, cultural studies, fine arts, theater, ethnicity and different abilities. We will debate visibility, oppression, objectification, seclusion, the denial of sexuality, violence, institutional racism, and the role of hierarchies in marking disciplinary boundaries… [place holder for participants’s suggestions]. Examples of women in classical science include Virginia Galilei, Maria Gaetana Agnesi, Émilie du Châtelet, Clémence Royer. We will read women scholars who have contributed to women science studies, for instance, Joy Harvey, Banu Subramaniam, Lynn Hankinson Nelson, Justine Larbalestier… [place holder for participants’s suggestions]. Readings, writing and creative projects, punctuated silence, and colorful patterns of resistance are encouraged. Activism and disobedience on diversity, sexual preference, political and linguistic difference, and ethnicity are welcome.

HPS 2590    Einstein 1905

Dr. Harvey Brown
Wednesday 9:30a.m.-12:00p.m.

This seminar will involve the study of papers related to (i) the historical origins of Einstein’s contributions to physics in his annus mirabilis 1905, with special emphasis on his special theory of relativity in the context of discoveries in nineteenth century either theories, and (ii) the origins of his general theory of relativity and its cosmological implications.

2626    Recent Topics in Philosophy of Physics

Dr. Harvey Brown
Thursday 2:00p.m.-4:30p.m.

This seminar will involve the study of papers related to some or all of the following topics in the philosophy of physics:

  • recent controversies concerning the nature of explanations in special and general relativity
  • the role of probability in prominent interpretations of quantum mechanics
  • the origins of time asymmetry in thermodynamics and the understanding of the arrow of time in statistical mechanics
  • assorted issues related to symmetry principles in physics, such as Noether’s theorems and the Aharonov-Bohm effects

Previous Semesters----------------

Spring 2018

HPS 2502 History of Science 1: Life Sciences and Medicine

Dr. James G. Lennox
W 9:30a.m. - 11:55a.m.
HPS 2502 is intended to be an introduction to history and historiography of the life sciences and medicine from their origins in Ancient Greece to the beginning of this century. Needless to say, to cover anything like the full range of texts, thinkers and movements in their historical and cultural settings is impossible, and the History Core Seminars don’t aim to do that. Rather, we aim to look at a selection of texts from different periods, try to understand those texts in their historical and cultural contexts, and try to trace out historical connections between them, whenever and wherever that is possible. The goal then, is as much historiographic as it is historical. The choice of topics and texts will be somewhat dependent on the interests and specialties represented by the department faculty. Martin Rudwick sub-titled his superb introduction to the history of paleontology Episodes in the History of Paleontology; likewise consider this Core seminar an episodic introduction to the history of the scientific study of life, health and disease.

HPS 2521 History of Particle Physics

Dr. Porter Williams
W 2:00p.m. - 4:25p.m.
Beginning with the discovery of the electron in 1897, the development of particle physics is a story of theoretical, technological, social, and epistemological transformations. It is a history of transformative theoretical developments in our understanding of spacetime and matter: the discovery of special relativity and quantum mechanics, their unification in quantum field theory, and the birth of the Standard Model of particle physics. It is also a history of tremendous technological innovation, beginning with Thompson's comparatively humble cathode ray experiments in the late 19th century to the staggering complexity of the Large Hadron Collider. These technological innovations have been intertwined with social factors in science and society more broadly: Not only has the increasing complexity of the experimental apparatus given rise to experimental collaborations of unprecedented scale, the increasing cost of these experiments has necessitated greater interaction between particle physics' collaborations and governmental funding agencies. Finally, both the production of scientific knowledge in large collaborations and the increasing importance of computer simulation present complex epistemological challenges.

HPS 2522 Special Topics of History of Science: Early Modern Natural Philosophies

Dr. Paolo Palmieri
H 2:00p.m. - 4:25p.m.
In this seminar we will explore the emergence of early modern natural philosophies. We will examine competing conceptions of the natural world that rose to prominence in the aftermath of the religious reforms of the sixteenth century, the Renaissance, the modern state and the formation of capitalistic economies. Our investigations will be based upon the works of major figures such as Galileo, Descartes and Newton, who referred to their style of inquiry as ‘natural philosophical’. What was natural? What was philosophical? How did natural philosophy become mathematical and experimental? In sharp contrast to, or in harmony with medieval scholasticism? Was natural philosophy unified or dis-unified? What was the epistemic status of natural philosophical principles? Questions such as these will torture and nurture our minds during the seminar. 

HPS 2580 Modern Cosmology

Dr. John D. Norton
T 9:30p.m. - 11:55a.m.
Cosmology has become one of the most dynamic areas of modern science. Its growth is driven by a steady stream of novel astronomical observations and by energetic theorizing that ranges from the highly speculative to the cautious and conservative. We shall explore foundational issues of philosophical interest with an emphasis on these new developments.

HPS 2634 Topics in Philosophy of Cognitive Science: Causal Cognition

Dr. James F. Woodward
H 9:30p.m. - 11:55a.m.
The past two decades have seen the development of a number of new ideas concerning causation and causal reasoning, both within philosophy and outside of it, in disciplines like statistics, econometrics, and machine learning. Much of this work is normative in the sense that it involves proposals about how we ought to reason and learn about causal relationships. At the same time, there has been a great deal of recent research in disciplines like psychology and primatology concerning how adult humans and other subjects (small children, non-human primates) reason about causation—work which is more descriptive in orientation. The interactions between these two bodies of work—the normative and the descriptive—has been very fruitful. This seminar will explore, through material from both the descriptive and normative literatures, some of these interactions. We will see how normative ideas, including but not limited to those from philosophy, have influenced empirical investigations of causal cognition and also how empirical results can be brought to bear on the assessment of normative theories. Causal cognition is one of the few areas in which we have formal, computational theories of important aspects of cognitive processing which have been successfully connected with empirical evidence. Such theories thus provide testing grounds for exploring more general issues concerning learning and mental representation that are of interest to cognitive psychologists. They also are suggestive regarding broader issues about how empirical results might be brought to bear on and used to constrain philosophical theories, offering an important alternative to the intuition-based approaches that characterize a substantial amount of contemporary philosophical theorizing. My plan is that some of the reading for this course will include draft chapters from a book on which I am presently working, tentatively titled Causation with a Human Face. We will also read papers from cognitive science, developmental psychology, and perhaps the animal learning literature. I am very excited about this material which in my judgment provides a terrific opportunities for interdisciplinary work involving philosophy.

HPS 2657 Topics in Philosophy of Biology

Dr. Michael R. Dietrich
M 2:00p.m. - 4:25p.m.
This seminar will consider major topics in the Philosophy of Biology. The first third of this course will be dedicated to issues arising from evolutionary biology, such as adaptation and adaptationism, fitness, the units of selection, and the interpretation of genetic drift. The remaining two thirds of the course will be comprised of a set of topics selected by the course participants. Possible topics include laws, theories and models in biology, unification and pluralism, gene concepts, reductionism, species concepts, phylogenetic inference, evolution and ethics, biological individuality, biological theories of race, feminist critiques of biology, modularity and complexity, explanation in the historical sciences, scientific controversy, and databases and simulations in biological research. Readings will include “classic papers,” contemporary contributions from HPS, and relevant papers from biology.

HPS 2690 History and Philosophy of Psychology

Dr. Edouard Machery
T 2:00p.m. - 4:25p.m.
In this course, we will examine the on-going methodological controversies around psychology, cognitive science, and cognitive neuroscience. We will look at the question of replication, statistical reform, measurement of psychological attributes, incentives for a successful science, etc. We will read articles and book chapters by scientists and statisticians in addition to some relevant articles by philosophers of science. There is no prerequisites for this course.

Fall 2017

HPS 2501 Philosophy of Science Core

Dr. John D. Norton
T 3:00p.m. - 5:25p.m.
Cross-listed with PHIL 2600/10491. This course will focus on central topics in philosophy of science, from the era of logical positivism onwards: including explanation, confirmation, theory change, the meaning of theoretical terms, and scientific realism.

HPS 2509 Special Topics in History of Philosophy of Science

Dr. Mark Wilson
M 10:00a.m. - 12:30p.m.
Cross-listed with PHIL 2610/30437. This seminar will focus on the foundations of classical mechanics, with a particular emphasis on how altering conceptions of matter have affected wider topics within philosophy more generally, continuing onto the present day. Rather than comprising a truly unified conceptual domain, the term “classical mechanics” embraces a number of distinct themes that lie in tension with one another. We will isolate some of these threads and observe how they play out within the writings of Descartes, Leibniz, Newton, Duhem and other historical figures. By untangling these divergent strands sympathetically, we will be able to correct a goodly amount of “classical mechanics” folklore that distorts orthodox philosophy of science and metaphysical thinking even to this day. No especial technical background will be presumed; just a willingness to think about billiard balls and clocks in a disciplined way.

HPS 2522 Special Topics in History of Science: Plotinus through HPS

Dr. Paolo Palmieri with Christina Hoenig (Classics)
M 3:00p.m. - 5:25p.m.
This seminar explores scientific models of knowledge and humanistic models of knowledge in Plotinus and the intellectual movement known as Neoplatonism. We will study Plotinus’s Enneads and other sources by focusing on a variety of philosophical, cultural, and historical aspects, such as methods of inquiry, patterns of antagonism with Christianity, the definition of disciplinary boundaries, the notion of the self, the production and transmission of texts in the school, first principles, the conception of matter, nature, soul, and the categories of being that Western science appropriated from this enormously influential cultural tradition.

HPS 2541 History of Neurosciences

Dr. Mazviita Chirimuuta
H 2:00 - 4:30p.m.
This seminar takes a philosophically motivated inspection of the sciences of the brain and nervous system in the late 19th and early 20th century. Figures such as the neurologist John Hughlings Jackson (1835-1911) and physiologists Herman von Helmholtz (1821-1894) and Emil du Bois-Reymond (1818-1896) established an explicitly mechanistic research tradition in brain science. As noted by Thomas Henry Huxley, as early as 1874, this research had radical implications for the understanding of mental causation and the metaphysics of mind and sensations. In this course we will examine both the significant scientific discoveries and the philosophical debates that attended their dissemination amongst the learned public. We will consider their legacy in shaping the trajectory of philosophy of mind in the 20th century. We will also examine the steps that were made in this period to develop comprehensive theories of the nervous system, looking in particular at the reflex theories of Thomas Laycock (1812–1876) and Charles Sherrington (1857-1952), and the neuron doctrine of Ramon y Cajal (1852-1934). 

HPS 2571 Going Molecular

Dr. Michael Dietrich
H 10:00a.m. - 12:30 p.m.
The rise of molecular biology stands as one of the landmarks of twentieth century biology. In this seminar, we will come to terms with the transformative impact of molecular biology on biology in general. After reviewing different approaches to the history of molecular biology, we will consider how concepts, data, practices, and technologies from molecular biology have altered the fields of genetics, evolutionary biology, systematics, and developmental biology. This seminar will address fundamental questions about scientific change, and how it should be characterized and assessed.

HPS 2622 Recent Topics in Philosophy of Science: Science and Metaphysics 

Dr. Porter Williams
T 9:30a.m. - 12:00p.m.
The appropriate relationship between science, philosophy of science, and metaphysics has recently been a topic of considerable controversy. This course will selectively examine the changing historical relationship between these fields in the 20th century before turning toward contemporary debates. Our focus will be on both the broad methodological dispute(s) and certain special topics, such as causation, laws of nature, or modality, where one can see this debate play out. My aim is to have guest speakers visit the seminar at least semi-regularly.

HPS 2673 Studies in Aristotle: Aristotle and Neo-Aristotelianism

Dr. James G. Lennox 
W 9:30a.m. - 12:00p.m.
Cross-listed with PHIL 2041/30350 Recently philosophers engaged in inquiry in ethics, metaphysics, and philosophy of science have been explicit in acknowledging inspiration from Aristotle and the Aristotelian tradition, often identifying their projects as “Neo-Aristotelian”. In this seminar we will do a selective examination of work in this genre, focused not only on the merits and shortcomings of that work itself, but also on its connections with Aristotle’s philosophical inquiries into the same or related topics. It is hoped that a clear (or clearer) answer will emerge to the question, “What is it to be an Aristotelian (or “Neo-Aristotelian”) in the 21st century? 

HPS 2681 Authority: Political and Scientific

Dr. John Beatty
W 3:00p.m. - 5:30p.m.
We use the same term when we refer to political ‘authority’ and scientific ‘authority.’ And in spite of obvious differences, they do resemble each other in key respects. Most notably, both suggest broad contexts in which we should defer to others rather than judge for ourselves. On the other hand, the forms of deference seem very different: obedience to the state vs. belief in (or some other cognitive attitude toward) a scientific conclusion. (Or are they so different?) Back on the side of similarities, deference of whichever sort is customarily justified by consensus, e.g., it takes a consensus of legislators to enact laws that we are obligated to obey, and it is often said that consensus among scientists obligates the rest of us to defer to their conclusions. On the other hand, procedures for gauging consensus (e.g., voting) are standard in the case of politics, but seem more atypical of science. (Or?) And there are a host of issues about equality that are sometimes common to both forms of authority and sometimes distinctive.

In addition to considering various ways in which political and scientific authority can be compared and contrasted (and the implications of these similarities and differences), we will also consider how they relate in practice – how they may reinforce each other, or oppose one another – in different forms of government (e.g., democracies understood mainly as liberal, or mainly as electoral, or representative, or deliberative, or epistemic). We will examine these questions in light of contributions to political philosophy, social epistemology, HPS, and science and technology studies, with concrete cases.