History And Philosophy Of Science | "Doublethink: Science, Relativism, and Literature"
X100 | 2976 | Jenkins


In George Orwell's 1984, a representative of the dictoral Big Brother
claims that truth is relative:  history is mutable and science is
merely a convenient fiction.  In the novel, the doctrine behing such
relativistic beliefs is called "doublethink," the ability to hold two
opposing beliefs in the mind at the same time, and is used in the
promotion of totalitarianism and the destruction of individuality.
How could we argue against doublethink?  It might seem that science is
an arena where "the facts speak for themselves," and that all one has
to do to "Make science" is observe nature and draw conclusions.  The
philosophy of science tells us that things are not that easy, however.
We need theories in turn shape what we see.  If the world is not
simply as it seems, how can we achieve some objectivity and save
ourselves from Big Brother?
In this course we will try to come up with an answer to this question.
We will read much of 1984 and consult the works of the philosophers
David Hume, Karl Popper, and Thomas Kuhn.  We will use literary works
from Horge-Luis Borges, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and others to help
illustrate our philosophical concerns.  As the interests of the class
warrant, we'll also discuss contemporary issues concerning science and
relativism.  No familiarity with any of the issues addressed or texts
used is presumed.  All you'll need are an open mind and a willingness
to engage in written and oral discussion of the texts and the ideas
raised by them.

Time and Day: 12:20p.m. - 1:10p.m. MWF
Place:  Ballantine Hall 336