History and Philosophy Of Science | Doublethink: Science, Relativism, and Literature
X100 | 2903 | Zachary 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.