Current Courses

PHILOSOPHY OF SOCIAL SCIENCE  – Winter 2017-18, Term 2
PHIL 461 (UBC)
Can human, social subjects, be studied “scientifically” or do they require, instead, a distinctive interpretive methodology? The debate about “naturalism” – whether the social sciences can or should model themselves on the natural sciences – has long been central to philosophy of the social sciences. The aim of this seminar is to assess claims for and against naturalism, taking our cue from recent arguments for grounding philosophical analysis of the social sciences in a detailed understanding of research practice. We will focus on two sets of issues raised by Winch’s classic defence of anti-naturalism, The Idea of a Social Science (1958/2008): first, whether, or in what form, epistemic ideals like objectivity are viable for the social sciences; and, second, what follows from the distinctive nature of social entities and social kinds, subject as they are to what Hacking describes as “looping effects.” We close the term with a discussion of arguments for building reflexive critique, in the form of “radical historicism,” into social research.
           Course syllabus

PHILOSOPHY OF SCIENCE: Feminist Philosophy of Science – Winter 2017-18, Term 2 
PHIL 560 (UBC)
Critics of the very idea of feminist philosophy of science insist that, because feminism is an explicitly political stance, it can have nothing to do with science or how we understand it philosophically; corrosive relativism threatens if our interests or values play any role in science. So what can it mean to do or to advocate a “feminist” philosophy of science? Feminists have been prominent among those who argue that, contra the “value-free” ideal presupposed by such critiques, scientific knowledge is deeply configured by social, contextual factors – but few accept the conclusion that this entails relativism. The aim of this seminar is to explore the range of positions articulated by feminist philosophers of science who make the case for systematically reformulating epistemic norms, including ideals of objectivity. 
            Course syllabus

Selected Past Courses

PHILOSOPHY OF SCIENCE: OBJECTIVITY – Spring 2016
PHIL 560 (UW)
Of all the epistemic ideals that have come in for critical reassessment in recent decades, ‘objectivity’ is perhaps most sharply contested. What counts as objectivity has been shown to have a history, to be contingent and changeable depending on context, interest, and the specific types of epistemic failings it is meant to counteract, and sometimes to mask the operation of the very distorting interests researchers are meant to transcend in the name of objectivity. The aim of this seminar is to take stock of this epistemic ideal and assess what is at issue in debates that turn on claims of ‘objectivity’. Readings include Kitcher’s philosophical assessment in Science, Truth and Democracy (2001); Daston and Galison’s social history of Objectivity (2007); Longino’s The Fate of Knowledge (2002), and recent pragmatic and procedural accounts of objectivity.

META-ARCHAEOLOGY: EVIDENCE – Spring 2016 
ARCHY 574 (UW)
This is a seminar about evidence: what counts as archaeological evidence and as best practice reasoning with evidence in archaeological contexts. We’ll be reading selections from Material Evidence: Learning from Archaeological Practice (ed. Chapman and Wylie, 2015) and Evidential Reasoning in Archaeology (Chapman and Wylie, in press), juxtaposed with philosophical accounts of evidential reasoning that bring into focus a number of different ways of conceptualizing the nature and role of evidence in empirical inquiry. The approach we’ll take is resolutely case-based; the central aim of this seminar is to tease out the assumptions about evidence that underpin archaeological debate, and to build a framework for thinking critically and constructively about evidential reasoning in archaeological practice.

RESEARCH ETHICS IN ARCHAEOLOGY – Winter 2015
ARCHY 469 (UW)
Archaeological practice raises profoundly challenging ethics issues. The central question we address in this seminar is: to whom and to what are archaeologists accountable? More specifically: What responsibilities do archaeologists have to those whose cultural heritage they study?; Do archaeologists have an obligation, or a right, to serve as “stewards” of archaeological resources?; Is it ever legitimate to work with archaeological material that has been looted and commercially traded? These issues are central to debates that are changing the way archaeology is practiced, so we address them through analysis of cases juxtaposed with theoretical and philosophical literature on research ethics. Course readings include selections from The Ethics of Archaeology (Scarre & Scarre, 2006), and Ethical Issues in Archaeology (Zimmerman, Vitelli & Hollowell, 2003); and Atalay’s Community-Based Archaeology (2012).

HISTORY AND PHILOSOPHY OF SCIENCE COLLOQUIUM – Winter 2015
HPS 400 (UW)
Agnotology: Historical and Philosophical Approaches to the Study of Ignorance
Co-taught with Bruce Hevly (History) 
Historians and philosophers of science have traditionally been concerned with knowledge: what counts as scientific knowledge, how it is produced and ratified, whether its authority is warranted, whose interests it serves, whether it is distinctive or in what ways it is continuous with everyday, practical understanding. Recently, however, they have turned their attention to questions about ignorance. How are we to understand knowledge if we don’t understand ignorance, ask the proponents of “agnotology” – the study of ignorance? We begin an exploration of this emerging body of HPS research with a set of readings on “values in science” and arguments for pluralism that draw attention to ways in which scientific inquiry is inevitably selective, and then consider a selection of contributions to Agnotology (Proctor & Schiebinger, 2008), the collection of essays that brought the topic of ignorance to prominence. At the end of the quarter we focus on a sustained study of ignorance by Oreskes and Conway, Merchants of Doubt (2010). 

HISTORIES OF ARCHAEOLOGICAL THEORY AND PRACTICE – Winter 2013
ARCHY 508 (UW)
Archaeology has not been much studied by professional historians of science, but archaeologists have been prodigious historians of their own field, and they have put histories of various kinds to work in a number of quite different ways. In this seminar we will explore the variety of internal histories that are in play, identifying several distinct genres of history-making ranging from sweeping histories of disciplinary formation and program-defining histories that have legitimated one after another “new archaeology,” to a range of critical counter-histories that call into question pivotal ideas and forms of practice that are now taken for granted. We will consider, as well, examples of histories that play a direct role in archaeological research, recontextualizing evidence and bringing into view new interpretive possibilities.

PHILOSOPHIES OF SCIENCE: SCIENCE AND VALUES – Winter 2012
PHIL 560 (UW)
The focus of this seminar is the vexed debate about “science and values”: whether a well motivated and clearly delineated distinction can be maintained between epistemic (cognitive, constitutive) norms and non-epistemic (social or contextual) values and interests, and whether this distinction can bear the weight of accounts of objectivity and related epistemic ideals that are widely assumed to define the scientific enterprise. Readings include Douglas, Science, Policy and the Value-Free Ideal (2009); Machamer and Wolters, Science, Values, and Objectivity (2004); Lacey, Values and Objectivity in Science (2005); Kincaid, Dupré, and Wylie, Value-Free Science? Ideals and Illusions (2007); and Smith, Science, Truth and the Human (2005).