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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Margaret Alison Wylie
HPS 400
Seattle Campus

Colloquium in the History and Philosophy of Science

Examines issues from the perspectives of both history and philosophy. Prerequisite: either HIST 311, HIST 312, HIST 313, HIST 314, HIST 315, HIST 317, HIST 318, or HIST 412; either PHIL 350, PHIL 360, PHIL 450, PHIL 460, PHIL 464, PHIL 466, PHIL 473, PHIL 481, PHIL 482, or PHIL 483.

Class description

History and Philosophy of Science has long had both a productive and an uneasy relationship with Science and Technology Studies (STS): a family of research programs that focus on the social, cultural dimensions of science. In this capstone course we explore the sometimes fierce disputes generated since the 1970s by the sharply contrasting stances that STS and HPS scholars have taken on a range of pivotal issues: questions about the objectivity of scientific knowledge and the unity of the sciences; about whether (or in what sense) scientific knowledge-making is a social, political enterprise; and about how academic studies of science (HPS, STS) bear on the sciences themselves – is it of any is of any value to the pursuit of science? We begin by considering the challenges to conventional views of science posed by the most strongly sociological (and explicitly anti-philosophical) of STS research programs, Sociology of Scientific Knowledge (SSK). We then explore the varied paths by which advocates of SSK developed distinctive historical and sociological approaches to understanding science in the 1980s, in face of philosophical critics intent on defending the rationality of science and, subsequently, the aggressive opposition SSK encountered in the so-called “Science Wars” of the next decade. The sharply polarized debates of the 1990s are also a key turning point for proponents of STS and for their critics. There is, increasingly, recognition on all sides that the sciences must be understood as socially, historically situated enterprises; a growing body of philosophical work on ideals of objectivity is attentive to context and pragmatic purpose, positing jointly social and cognitive norms of practice. At the same time, proponents of STS consider how the new social accounts of science might be turned to practical advantage and in the process engage normative, epistemic questions: for example, they ask how we can adjudicate scientific expertise, in face of a growing crisis of confidence in science and technology. We shall explore this emerging reconfiguration of STS and HPS through a close reading of selected work on two key sets of issues: the analysis of scientific expertise by Harry Collins and Robert Evans; and of ideals of objectivity by feminist scholars such as Donna Haraway (“situated objectivity”) and Helen Longino (“procedural objectivity”). We conclude the course with a consideration of how these developments in HPS, in its varied engagements with STS, might help us understand and respond to matters of such immediate, pressing concern as environmental catastrophe and the influence of corporate interests in science – as addressed by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway in Merchants of Doubt (2010). TEXTS: The Science Studies Reader, Mario Biagioli; Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming, Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway; Tacit and Explicit Knowledge, Harry M. Collins

Student learning goals

General method of instruction

Seminar style discussion and format.

Recommended preparation

As the capstone course for the major in History and Philosophy of Science, this seminar is intended for majors who have met the majority of their HPS requirements.

Class assignments and grading


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Annette R. Bernier
Date: 10/26/2010