Current Courses


STS 502 /  PHIL 561 (UBC) | Winter 2019, Term 2

A growing number of science and technology studies (STS) scholars express alarm that the pendulum of constructionist critique has swung too far. The question that frames this seminar is: how do we move beyond the impasse created by STS analyses that seem to entail a paralyzing relativism? The focus here will be on STS studies of ignorance and expertise, with readings drawn from Agnotology (Proctor and Schiebinger, 2008), Epistemology of Ignorance (Tuana 2006), the Routledge Handbook of Epistemic Injustice (2017), Trading Zones and Interactional Expertise (Gorman 2010) and Trust in Science (Oreskes 2019).

     Course syllabus


PHILOSOPHY OF SCIENCE: Knowing the Past: Philosophy of the Historical Sciences
PHIL 469 / ANTH 495 (UBC) | Winter 2019, Term 1
How do we know what (we think) we know about the past? Do historians and historical scientists face unique challenges because they study the past – compared, say, to experimental scientists? Is our understanding of the human, cultural past really just a speculative construct, as some critics insist, and do these concerns extend to the non-human historical sciences of evolutionary biology, geology and paleontology? These are the philosophical questions about the nature and status of historical inquiry we explore in this course. Core texts are Adrian Currie’s Rock, Bone and Ruin: An Optimist’s Guide to the Historical Sciences (2018); classic articles on the nature of historical explanation and more recent discussion of the role of narrative in the historical sciences; and a selection of readings that highly newly urgent questions about the value and uses of history: Trouillot’s Silencing the Past (1995) and current debate about the standing of oral tradition and Indigenous histories.

     Course syllabus

Selected Past Courses


PHIL 469 / ANTH 495 (UBC) | Winter 2018, Term 1

What counts as evidence, and what are best practices for reasoning with evidence in archaeological contexts? In this seminar we take a case-based approach to building a philosophical framework for understanding contemporary archaeological debates about evidence.  Texts include Evidential Reasoning in Archaeology (Chapman & Wylie 2015) and Material Evidence (ed. Chapman & Wylie 2015), juxtaposed with the a selection of the logical empiricist and “contextualist” philosophies of science that have influenced these debates as well as recent philosophical work on “relational” conceptions of data (Leonelli) and on evidential reasoning the historical sciences, chiefly Rock Bone and Ruin (Currie 2018).

Course syllabus


PHILOSOPHY OF SOCIAL SCIENCE: The Very Idea of a Social Science – Objectivity, and Looping Effects
PHIL 461 (UBC) | Winter 2017 & 2018, Term 2
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 
PHIL 560 (UBC) | Winter 2017, Term 2

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


PHIL 560 (UW) | Spring 2016
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.



ARCHY 469 (UW) | Winter 2015
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: Agnotology, The Study of Ignorance

HPS 400 (UW) | Winter 2015
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).