History and Philosophy Of Science | The Pyrhonists, The Poets, and the Post-Moderns: Interrogators of Science
X100 | 2902 | Mary Domski


The main task of this course is to examine the critical challenges
posed to the scientific enterprise by three historically and
philosophically distinct factions:  the Pyrrhonian skeptics of
Antiquity, the poets of the Romantic period, and the post-moderns of
the late 20th Century.  By examination of primary sources from major
thinkers of each group, we will investigate the critical reaction
spurned by science in distinct periods of science’s own
development.  We will begin the course by looking at the skeptical
challenge posted to the Aristotelian ideal of science, a challenge
embodied in Sextus Empiricus’ 2nd Century Outlines of Pyrrhonism.
Our attention will then turn to the 17th Century and the so-called
Newtonian Revolution.
The critics who will occupy us in the unit will include the poets
Blake and Goethe and writers such as Nietzsche and Mary Shelley.  A
good portion of this unit will be dedicated to a close reading of
Shelley’s Frankenstein. Finally, we will turn to the post-modern
movement that, in large measure, drew inspiration from Thomas Kuhn’s
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.  Among other topics, we
will look at the feminist critique of science, the development of
the sociology of scientific knowledge, and the Sokal hoax of the
1990’s.  The ultimate hope is that students will gain a firm
appreciation of how the changing ideal of scientific knowledge has
brought about a change in the nature of its critics.  As will be
emphasized throughout the semester, the strategies employed when
interrogating science hinge upon a particular interpretation of what
science is and how it purports to provide us some truth about the
world external to us.
	No prior knowledge of the history or the philosophy of
science will be presupposed.  I will introduce each unit with an
overview of the particular form of scientific practice that is
characteristic of the time period under consideration.  Further
discussion of the history of science will be introduced as necessary
to understand the philosophical arguments we will examine.  Student
evaluation will be based primarily on evidence that a student is
engaging seriously with the material as evidenced through in-class
discussion and the completion of three essays (one for each unit).
In addition, quizzes will be given on a bi-weekly basis and there
will be an in-class final examination.