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Instructor Class Description

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Margaret Alison Wylie
PHIL 574
Seattle Campus

Meta-archaeology: Philosophy and Archaeology

Examines philosophical issues raised in and by archaeology, including theories of explanation and model building, analyses of evidential reasoning and hermeneutic interpretation, debates about ideals of objectivity and about science and values. Recommended: ARCHY 570. Offered: jointly with ARCHY 574; Sp.

Class description

Archaeologists routinely confront, and debate, philosophical issues: about the scientific status of the field, its orienting goals, the nature of its (cultural) subject matter, and the challenges inherent in working with an archaeological database. The aim of this course is to selectively examine the philosophical underpinnings of archaeology as articulated in and through debates about these issues. The point of departure is historical. We begin by considering antecedents to the New Archaeology of the 1960s and 1970s, and then turn to an examination of the philosophical sources that inspired its explicitly “positivist” ideals: the positivist models of explanation and confirmation associated with Carl Hempel and, ironically, Kuhn’s historical critique of logical positivsm/empiricism. Later sections of the course focus on issues that have been pivotal in internal debate about the viability of such models: the role of interpretive understanding (vs. explanation); the nature of evidential reasoning both in forming and in evaluating claims about the cultural past; relativist challenges and ideals of objectivity.

Student learning goals

General method of instruction

Recommended preparation

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 Beverly A Wessel
Date: 02/14/2007