History and Philosophy Of Science | Doublethink: Science and Relativism
X100 | 3047 | Zachery Jenkins


In George Orwell's 1984, 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?  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, however, tells us that things are not that
easy.  We need theories to organize our observations, and these
theories shape what we see.  If the world is not simply as it seems,
how can we achieve some objective method and save ourselves from Big
Brother?
	In this course we will try to come up with an answer to this
question.  We will read 1984 and consult the works of philosophers
like Karl Popper, Thomas Kuhn, and John Searle.  We will use some
literary works, like stories by Jorge-Luis Borges, to help illustrate
our philosophical concerns.  We'll also discuss contemporary debates
over 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 extensive written and oral discussion
of the texts and the ideas raised by them.  Evaluation will consist of
several written assignments, in-class discussion, and a final exam.