HPS Home | History & Philosophy of Science Courses

Existing Courses


Critical Thinking (PHIL 2200) [NOTE: This requirement can also be satisfied by PHIL 2250 or PHIL 3200]
Instructors: Staff
Course Description: The bewildering variety of information sources that are now available puts an unprecedented amount of information (or claims posing as information) at our fingertips. But it does not tell us what to do with all that information. We need to know how to rationally examine and evaluate the basis for the various claims made to us and how to put what we know to practical and theoretical use. Critical thinking is the skill (or set of skills) involved in doing this, one involved in every aspect of our lives, from the development of the most esoteric theory of the origin of the physical universe to the question what movie you should see this evening. The basic unit of critical thinking is the argument, that is, the rational transition from premises to a conclusion. This course is intended to familiarize you with the variety of different arguments and methods for their evaluation, in the hope that doing so will help you engage with the world in a careful, rational, and successful way.


General Logic (PHIL 2250)
Instructors: Fritz Allhoff, Marc Alspector-Kelly, Timothy McGrew
Course Description: This course is an introduction to the representation and evaluation of deductive reasoning. Deductive arguments are those where (assuming the argument to be successful) the conclusion must be true if the premises are true. The logic of such arguments is capable of being represented formally or symbolically, and so much of the course concerns the representation and evaluation of such arguments in formal systems. We will examine two such systems. The first is called propositional logic; arguments represented in this system depend for their validity on the logical relationship between propositions or sentences within the argument. The second is called predicate logic; arguments represented in this system depend both on the logical relationship between sentences and on the logical relationship between categories. Along the way we will also learn how to translate arguments in ordinary language into these systems, and thereby learn how to apply them to everyday arguments.


The Modern Worldview (PHIL 2550)
Instructors: Fritz Allhoff, Marc Alspector-Kelly, Kent Baldner, Quentin Smith
Course Description: Scientific inquiry has had steadily increasing influence on the belief system, technology, lifestyle, and value system of the western cultural tradition in which it originated. The two scientific revolutions that initiated the most profound cultural reorientations were the Copernican and Darwinian revolutions. They together forced renunciation of our hitherto unique and privileged place in the cosmos and in the natural order, the repercussions of which are still felt today. We will therefore explore these revolutions and their impact on both our beliefs and values, and examine some of the debates—evolution vs. intelligent design, for example—that originate from those revolutions. More recent scientific revolutions—notably the development of relativity and quantum mechanics—have also had their impact on the culture at large, at least by presenting difficult ethical issues concerning the technology that those developments have made available and its application, military and otherwise, within the culture at large. We will examine these issues as well.


Modern Philosophy (PHIL 3010/HIST xxxx)

Instructor: Fritz Allhoff, Kent Baldner
Course Description: As philosophy entered the modern period, significant advances in scientific understanding and experimental method gave rise to increased concern about the epistemological and metaphysical foundations and implications of the new science. In the first part of this course, we will study the scientific revolution and the epistemological and metaphysical views of the rationalists such as René Descartes, Baruch Spinoza, and Gottfried Leibniz. In the second part of the modern period, empiricism emerged as a tradition to rival rationalism; the pioneers of this empiricist tradition in philosophy were John Locke, George Berkeley, and David Hume. After investigating the transition from rationalism to empiricism, we will study the metaphysics, epistemology, and philosophy of language of these British Empiricists.


Philosophy of Science (PHIL 3550)
Instructors: Fritz Allhoff, Marc Alspector-Kelly, Timothy McGrew, Quentin Smith
Course Description: Science appears to be extraordinarily successful is two crucial respects. First, science apparently serves as an extremely reliable vehicle for arriving at the truth (as contrasted with astrology or palm reading). Second, the methodology of science seems eminently rational (again as opposed to the methodologies of astrology or palm reading). Philosophers have been quite interested in these two apparent virtues of science. Some philosophers think that the two virtues are illusory and that, upon reflection, science is not significantly superior to astrology or palm reading. Some philosophers even reject concepts like truth and rationality as somehow bogus or illegitimate. Our basic goal in this course is to survey 20th century philosophy of science as centered upon such disputes. To this end, our focus will be upon the following question: are truth and rationality genuine features of scientific inquiry, or are they mere illusions? In pursuit of the answer to this question ,we will discuss topics such as: confirmation and disconfirmation of theories, falsifiability and pseudo-science, induction, probability and statistical inference, prediction, explanation, empirical equivalence, holism, relativism, and realism.


Material Culture and Technology (HIST 4000)
Instructors: Eli Rubin
Course Description: This course is based in a historical narrative that begins with the Industrial Revolution and winds its way through the late 19^th and entire 20^th centuries, touching on fascism, socialism, capitalism, gender, race, colonialism, design, art, architecture, urban planning, and most importantly consumerism. It will be in mostly seminar format, i.e., there will be some lectures when background is particularly necessary, but rather than spending time taking notes, you will be discussing the readings much more than in some other 4000-level courses. In addition, all students will be required to complete written assignments of 3-4 pages every third week, which will be discussed in class.


Philosophy of Physics (PHIL 4700)
Instructors: Timothy McGrew, Quentin Smith
Course Description: TBA


Formal Logic (PHIL 4700)
Instructor: Timothy McGrew
Course Description: The primary purposes of the course are to acquaint students with the history of rigorous thought and the motivations for formalization, to enable them to translate, work proofs, and construct counterexamples in the sentential calculus and first-order quantification theory, and to help them understand the ideas behind the principal limitative results in logic and mathematics, including Gödel’s incompleteness theorems. While no previous knowledge in logic will be presupposed, it would be helpful if students had some basic familiarity with some of these concepts, perhaps as would be obtained through a standard critical thinking course.


Philosophy of Mathematics (PHIL 4700/MATH xxxx)
Instructor: Timothy McGrew
Course Description: Mathematics is at once an indispensable tool of science, a model intellectual discipline, and a source of philosophical insights and perplexities. In this course we will combine an historical approach with a philosophical one, tracing the main currents of mathematical thought from Greek geometry through the development of algebra and complex numbers, the origins and clarification of the calculus, and the inquiries regarding the foundations of logic and mathematics that gave rise to the Principia Mathematica and Gödel's incompleteness results. Although it does not have any formal prerequisites, this course presupposes some familiarity with high school mathematics and formal logic and makes more demands on the mathematical maturity of students than the average upper-level philosophy course.


History of Physics I: Aristotle through the Galileo (PHIL 4700/HIST 4xxx)
Instructor: Timothy McGrew
Course Description: This course is an exploration of themes in the history and philosophy of science, with special attention to the life and work of Aristotle, Ptolemy, Copernicus, Tycho, Kepler and Galileo. Beginning with the necessary background in the physics and astronomy of Aristotle, we will study the development of the modern view with an eye to the conceptual and epistemological problems encountered in the transition to the new physics and astronomy, culminating with a close reading of most of Galileo’s Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems. In order to keep the course within manageable bounds, we will focus primarily on astronomy and dynamics, though there will be interesting sidelights thrown on mathematics as well as biology, chemistry and other branches of science.


History of Physics II: Newton through the 20th Century (PHIL 4700/HIST 4xxx)
Instructor: Timothy McGrew
Course Description: This course examines the history and philosophy of science from the late 1600's to the late 20th century. Beginning with the background to Newton's Principia Mathematica, we will investigate the 18th century controversy over the nature of light, the gradual development of thermodynamics in the 19th century, and some of the key achievements of 20th century science such as relativity, quantum theory, and chaos theory. Basic mathematical knowledge will be presupposed, though we will develop the necessary tools as we proceed.


Special Topics in the History and Philosophy of Science (PHIL 4700/HIST xxxx)
1. Logical Positivism (Marc-Alspector Kelly)
Course Description: The movement referred to as Logical Positivism or Logical Empiricism (roughly from the 1920’s through to the 1950’s) has had a deep and lasting impact upon philosophy in the analytic tradition, at the least as that constellation of views against which subsequent philosophical positions have been positioned. The movement was characterized by its commitment to: 1) the development and application of the (at the time) new and powerful formal logical systems to traditional philosophical issues, in part through the development of formal languages; 2) scientific inquiry—particularly within the “hard” physical sciences—and deep suspicion of philosophical claims that purport to transcend scientific method and doctrine; 3) empiricism, especially in the form of the notorious “verification criterion” of cognitive significance; and 4) the analytic/synthetic distinction and its role in resolving various philosophical disputes. In this class we will survey the movement and responses to it, from the early radical phenomenalism of the movement’s most influential member—Rudolf Carnap—through the logical syntax period and the protocol sentence debate, to the later liberalization of the empiricist criterion of significance and the increasing reliance on the Principle of Tolerance. We will also examine influential early reactions to positivism, particularly those of W. V. Quine and T. S. Kuhn.

2. Philosophy of Probability (Timothy McGrew)
Course Description: The aim of this course is to give students a firm understanding of elementary probability theory, including its basic applications to longstanding epistemic questions. Along the way we will give considerable attention to philosophical issues involving the interpretation of the notion of probability, the interplay between probability and the history and philosophy of science, and some central epistemological questions regarding evidence, confirmation, and reasonable belief. By the end of the course, students should have a clear sense of the scope of elementary probability theory, facility in its use, an understanding of the relations between logic and probability theory, and an understanding of the epistemological implications of and issues surrounding the use of Bayes’s Theorem.

3. Philosophy of Cosmology (Quentin Smith)
Course Description: TBA


4. Ethical Issues in Genetics, Stem Cells, and Human Cloning (Fritz Allhoff)
Course Description: This course will consider contemporary debates regarding the ethics of genetics, stem cells, and human cloning; there will be a substantial focus on the biological elements of these debates. Roughly the first half of the course will focus on genetics, including discussion of genetic interventions, genetic patents, and genetic testing (both embryonic and adult). In the unit on stem cells, we will consider the current controversies as well as alternative technologies (e.g., parthenogenesis, the use of damaged embryos, and the blastocyst transfer method). Finally, we will consider arguments for and against human cloning, including discussions of telomere shortening and spindles.


Science: Historical and Philosophical Perspectives (SCI 6140)
Instructor: David Rudge
Course Description: Historical and Philosophical Perspectives is a graduate-level introduction to the history and philosophy of science offered through the Mallinson Institute for Science Education once per year. Dave Rudge, one of the instructors who teaches it regularly, has developed the course with a focus on the history and philosophy of evolutionary biology. All students are required to read and discuss readings in philosophy of biology (separate additional meetings for science education students discuss research in science education). Science education students write lesson plans; an alternative assignment is available for other students. For more information to to: http://homepages.wmich.edu/~rudged/6140.html.



Courses In Development

Introduction to the History and Philosophy of Science (PHIL 2xxx/HIST xxxx)
Instructors: Fritz Allhoff, Marc Alspector-Kelly, Timothy McGrew
Course Description: Science, as a cultural institution, has earned our respect because of its rationality and objectivity and the tremendous medical and technological benefits it has brought us. But surprisingly, there is no widely accepted account of the distinction between science and pseudo-science, the nature of the scientific method, the relationship between theory and observation, the nature of scientific explanation and of scientific laws, the relationships between the various sciences, and the aims of the scientific enterprise. In this course, we are going to consider and evaluate the various arguments that those philosophers have presented for and against different views on these important topics. While we may not come out of the discussion with definitive answers to the questions we will raise about science, we will at least come out with a more sophisticated understanding and appreciation of the scientific pursuit. Familiarity with the history of scientific inquiry is essential to our inquiry, since many of the arguments and positions we survey depend on certain claims concerning that history. There has, moreover, been significant cross-fertilization over the centuries between philosophy (including the philosophy of science) and science itself. Developments in science have been appealed to as grounds for criticism (or support) for various philosophical views. And scientific theorizing has been influenced to a significant extent by the philosophical commitments of the theorist. We will give special attention to the history of astronomy, mechanics, biology, and psychology, from ancient Greece to the present day, in the course of our investigations.


Environmental Ethics (PHIL 3xxx/ENVS xxxx)
Instructor: Fritz Allhoff
Course Description: This course will consider major themes within environmental ethics. We will start by evaluating arguments regarding the source and justification of nature’s value. Next, we will consider the moral status of non-human animals. In the third unit, we will evaluate arguments for and against biodiversity and preservation of the environment. Relatedly, the fourth unit will investigate whether we have moral duties to future generations in terms of the environments that we bestow upon them. The fifth and sixth unit are concerned with the related issues of overpopulation and world hunger. Time permitting, we will conclude the course by briefly assessing moral arguments regarding pollution, pesticides, and the greenhouse effect.


Philosophy of Biology (PHIL 3xxx)
Instructor: Fritz Allhoff
Course Description: This course will address the central issues in philosophy of biology, and will focus on the philosophical issues and implications of evolutionary theory. We will start by discussing pre-Darwinian attitudes toward the observed design and complexity of the natural world, and will then see how Darwin’s theory provided a naturalistic explanation for these phenomena. After discussing the philosophical implications of evolution by natural selection, we will consider contemporary challenges to the orthodox view, as well as discuss the debate over the levels at which selection operates. Next, we will study the species problem, and will then return to evolutionary theory to investigate the current debate over adaptationism. Finally, we will look at whether evolutionary theory has any implications for ethics or epistemology, as well as look at models of cultural, as opposed to biological, evolution.


History of Technology in the United States (HIST 3xxx)
Instructor: Fred Dobney
Course Description: This course will examine the development of technology in the United States from colonial times to the present. We will consider the relationship of technology to economic and industrial development, as well as the evolution of engineering as a profession. The interaction of technology and science will be described, with particular emphasis on the increasingly close relationship between the two in recent years. We will discuss the early inventors and how they have been replaced by corporate, government, and university research and development laboratories. Major themes and topics include agricultural implements, early transportation systems, the industrial revolution, mechanization, automation, instrumentation, petroleum and the automobile, urbanization, electrification, sanitation, medical advances, the technologies of warfare, aviation, computing and CAD/CAM, communications (telegraph, telephone, newspapers, radio, movies, television, cellular phones), and, most importantly, the impact of technological change on society.


History of Biology: The Darwinian Revolution through the Modern Synthesis (PHIL 4xxx/HIST 4xxx)
Instructor: Fritz Allhoff
Course Description: This course will start with a discussion of the pre-Darwinian worldview; we will discuss Paley’s design argument, Lamarckianism (i.e., the inheritance of acquired traits), preformationism, and catastrophism as alternatives to Darwinism. A large part of the course will focus on the time period from 1838-1859: the date from which Darwin originally conceived of evolution by natural selection through the publication of the Origin. We will be interested in how Darwin came to have his evolutionary views, as well as why he delayed so long in their publication; particular discussion paid to the roles of Asa Gray and Alfred Russel Wallace. We will then discuss the reception of Darwin’s views, including a discussion of the role T.H. Huxley played in their dissemination as well as Darwin’s later work, On the Descent of Man (1873). As Darwin lacked the notion of a gene, we will discuss the research in that regard by a Moravian monk, Gregor Mendel, though these results were never available to Darwin. In the last third of the course, we will focus on the unification of Darwin’s theory of natural selection with Mendel’s theory of genetic inheritance; this “Modern Synthesis” resulted in the new field of population genetics and was pioneered by such thinkers as Sewall Wright, J.B.S. Haldane, and Ronald Fisher in the 1920’s and 1930’s.

 
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