Current & Upcoming Courses

Alison Wylie is on leave 2023-2024

PHIL 560 (UBC) | Winter 2024, Term 1
The very idea of feminist philosophy of science is, for some, radically untenable; as an explicitly political stance, feminism can have nothing to do with science or how we understand it philosophically. The “value-free” ideals that underpin such objections have faced sustained critique on many fronts in recent decades. In this seminar we take the history of debate and the legacies of standpoint theory as a frame for exploring these ongoing debates.

PHIL 337 (UBC) | Winter 2024, Term 2

Scientific research has an impact on all of us, and on every aspect of our lives. This course will provide a general introduction to ethics issues that are raised by the (non-medical) social and natural sciences. It is organized around three central questions: what counts as “responsible conduct of research” (RCR)?; who is accountable for the social and environmental impacts of research?; what role do social values play in science and what role should scientific research play in policy-making?

Selected Past Courses

STANDPOINT THEORY: Formation, Contestation, Legacies  
University of Waterloo, Humphrey Professor seminar | Winter 2024, Term 2
A seminar about standpoint theory: its origins and uptake in diverse contexts of practice; the political critique that it assumes an untenable essentialism; the philosophical objection that it opens the door to self-undermining relativism; rebuttals to these challenges, and its recent uptake by social epistemologists. 

PHILOSOPHY OF SOCIAL SCIENCE: Objectivity, Looping Effects, and Collaborative Research Practice
PHIL 461 (UBC) | Winter 2017, 2018, 2022, 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. Winch’s classic defence of anti-naturalism, The Idea of a Social Science (1958/2008) will motivate discussion of three central issues: whether epistemic ideals like objectivity are viable for the social sciences; what follows from recognizing that social entities and social kinds are subject to what Hacking describes as “looping effects”; and what reflexive critique should play in social research.

STS 501 / PHIL 561 (UBC) | Winter 2021, Term 1
The empirical foundations and products of science have been a perennial focus of research in all the cognate fields of STS, and contextualist, constructionist accounts of the nature, status, production and circulation of data, facts, and evidence has been a flashpoint for science wars-style debates within these fields, between them, and in popular debate about the status and authority of the sciences. This conceptual framework will provide a lens for reviewing “classic work in the history, philosophy, rhetoric, and sociology of science,” taking stock of the formation of STS as a field, and exploring current work that represents new and emerging lines of inquiry.

ARCL 410 / PHIL 419 (UBC) | Winter 2021, Term 2
What counts as evidence, and what are best practices for working with archaeological evidence? Collaborative practice will be the focus of this seminar; we will take a case-based approach to building a philosophical framework for understanding the promise and the challenges of such work, with particular attention to community-based and Indigenous-led archaeology as it has taken shape in diverse contexts. Readings will include Evidential Reasoning in Archaeology (2015), Rock, Bone and Ruin (2018), Data Journeys (2021), Transforming Archaeology (2014), and Archaeologies of the Heart (2020).

PHIL 101 (UBC) |  Winter 2019, Term 2
This course is about knowledge we can trust. We’ll explore historical and contemporary philosophical accounts of evidence, truth, objectivity, and critical reasoning with the aim of introducing you to core philosophical problems in epistemology (philosophical theories of knowledge), and building a set of skills and resources for evaluating knowledge claims. We’ll use these philosophical tools and resources to make sense of the massive overload of knowledge, including misinformation, “alternate facts,” and misleading claims that confront us on a daily basis.

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).

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. Texts will include Currie’s Rock, Bone and Ruin: An Optimist’s Guide to the Historical Sciences (2018); articles on the nature of historical explanation and the role of narrative in the historical sciences; Trouillot’s Silencing the Past (1995) and current debate about the standing of oral tradition and Indigenous histories.

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. 

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).