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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Lynn Hankinson Nelson
PHIL 466
Seattle Campus

Philosophy of the Social Sciences

Examination of fundamental issues in the foundations, methodology, and interpretation of the social sciences. Topics include value orientation and objectivity, methodological individualism, functionalism, reductionism, and the status of idealized models, including models involving idealized conceptions of individual rationality. Emphasis varies from quarter to quarter.

Class description

This section of PHIL 466 will focus on a rich but under-appreciated area in the philosophy of social science: the philosophy of archaeology. Many if not all of the core questions in the philosophy of the social sciences arise in the philosophy of archaeology and there are rich insights to be had into the issues of foundationalism and methodologies in the social sciences, objectivity and the role of various kinds of value in scientific practice, efforts by some social scientists to adhere to the positivist model and by others to develop a more viable alternative. The interpretive notions of realism, social constructivism, and instrumentalism figure in specific accounts of evidential relations. As is the case with others of the social sciences, the issue of "interpretation" or understanding vs. explanation is important, and archaeology has also been the focus of feminist and postcolonial science studies critiques. Finally, "accountability" -- particularly as regards the treatment of historical artifacts -- is one of several significant ethical dilemmas in archaeology.

Student learning goals

General method of instruction

Combination of lecture, guided discussions, and open discussions. Questions and different points of view are strongly encouraged. So are an open mind and a sense of humor.

Recommended preparation

At least one prior course in philosophy.

Class assignments and grading

3 short (4-5 page) papers. In class assignments and projects.

All aspects of student participation and engagement are important: the formal papers constitute approximately 75% of the grade, with in class assignments and projects constituting the balance. Participation in discussions (and obvious familiarity with assigned readings) will be used to raise grades or determine the outcome of a border line grade and in your favor.


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.
Course web site
Last Update by Lynn Hankinson Nelson
Date: 02/16/2004