History And Philosophy Of Science | Doublethink: Science and Relativism
X100 | 3003 | Zack Jenkins


In George Orwell's 1984, the primary text for this course, a
representative of the dictatorial Big Brother claims that truth is
relative: history is mutable and science is merely a convenient
fiction.  The protagonist of the novel, Winston Smith, tries to argue
against these claims in an attempt to establish his own self-worth and
attack Big Brother's totalitarianism.  How could we assist him in this
worthy cause?  In this class we will attempt to answer this question,
and in doing so we will familiarize ourselves with some of the basic
issues in the philosophy of science.  It might seem that science is an
arena where "the facts speak for themselves," and that all one has to
do to be objective and to "make sense" is observe nature and draw
conclusions.  The philosophy of science, however, tells us that things
are not that easy.  We need theories to organize our observations, and
these theories shape what we see.  So, if the world is not simply as
it seems, how can we achieve some objective method and save ourselves
from Big Brother?  In addressing this question we will draw upon the
works of various authors from philosophy, literature, and science,
including Jorge-Luis Borges, Karl Popper, and Thomas Kuhn.  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 extensive written and oral discussion of the texts and the
ideas raised by them.  Evaluation will consist of several one-page
written assignments, four short papers, in-class discussion, and a
final exam.