Courses I have been known to love to teach
AT THE UNDERGRADUATE LEVEL
Introductory Philosophy of Science
This course introduces and explores central issues in the philosophy of science. Topics include scientific inference and method, the nature of scientific knowledge, and scientific explanation. We consider some of the most influential writers in the field this past century, including the logical positivists, Popper, Kuhn, and more recent contributors to current debates. These later controversies include disagreements between scientific realists and antirealists, the idea of scientific progress, and the unity (or disunity) of the sciences.
Revolution in Science
A detailed investigation into a highly celebrated and important philosophical idea concerning the development of scientific knowledge: the notion of revolutions. We consider, among other things, the process of theory change, whether theory choice is rational, and whether theoretical terms preserve their meanings across revolutions. In addition to classic work by Kuhn, we consider the approach of sociologists of scientific knowledge as well as feminist critiques of science and related notions of objectivity.
Issues in Metaphysics
This course considers different approaches to several of the core areas of metaphysics that underlie so much of the rest of philosophy. We begin with the question of what exists, outlining accounts of things that some take to constitute basic ontological categories, such as particulars (e.g. objects, events), universals, facts, substances, and tropes. Other topics include the notion of dispositional properties, primary and secondary qualities, the idea of natural kinds, the nature of causation, persistence and identity through time, and theories of truth.
Science and Humanism
Advocates of secular humanism often appeal to science and reason as the primary tools we should employ to live in and bring about positive change in the world. Are the sciences, in all their diversity and subject to all the constraints and affordances of contemporary society, up to the task? One common answer to this question is: ‘Yes, but only under the right sorts of conditions.’ This course is an exploration of what these conditions might be, through a consideration of various relationships between science and values, the organization and execution of science in society, and inevitably, the very nature of science itself as a form of inquiry.
AT THE GRADUATE LEVEL
Philosophy of Science
An introduction to the subject, focusing on central issues in the epistemology and metaphysics of the sciences. These include the nature of scientific knowledge and theories, various forms of realism and antirealism and questions raised by debates surrounding them (the semantics of theoretical terms, the underdetermination of theory by data, the possibility of scientific progress, the notion of approximate truth), and topics such as abstraction and idealization, modeling, and the possibility of reductionism. We also consider perspectives offered by the sociology of scientific knowledge and feminist critiques.
Recent History of the Philosophy of Science
The philosophy of science combines approaches from a variety of complementary sources: natural philosophy from ancient through early modern times, the history of the sciences, and sociology. This combination is examined by means of a survey of several core issues which have dominated the field since its birth as a distinct discipline. These include the role of logical positivism and empiricism as a founding movement, the historical turn in the philosophy of science in the 1960s, and various debates these movements have spawned, including those concerning realism and antirealism, and scientific practice-oriented philosophy.
Models, Truth, and Representation
This course focuses on the nature of representation and, more specifically, on how vehicles of representation in the sciences and elsewhere (such as models, diagrams, illustrations, etc.) are constructed so as to embody knowledge of their target systems. Topics include the “ontology” of models, the functions of representation, concepts of abstraction, idealization, and approximation, the epistemic status of representations, and analogies between representational practices in the sciences and in art.
Laws of Nature
This course is an investigation into the concept of natural law, with emphasis on its role in the sciences and metaphysics. Topics include linguistic versus ontological conceptions of laws, their modal status, and connections to other aspects of knowledge described by scientific theories concerning properties, dispositions, causation, and models. Related issues include the universality of laws, ceteris paribus laws, deterministic versus indeterministic laws, reductionism, emergentism, and the unity (or disunity) of the sciences.
Natural Kinds, Categories, and Classification
Debates about whether nature comes prepackaged into groups of things has an ancient pedigree in metaphysics, natural philosophy, the philosophy of science, and their intersection. Are our considered classifications of things in the world objective, or merely conventional, or some combination of the two? This question is sometimes especially consequential in the context of the sciences, where categorizations are often interpreted as having normative significance. This course will explore recent literature surrounding these issues connected to the objectivity and/or subjectivity of classifications of the natural world.