Autumn Term 2005-6
Lectures: Prof. Steve Fuller (firstname.lastname@example.org) M 1-2 (R 115)
Seminars: Nigel Christian (email@example.com) M 2-3, 4-5 (A005)
This module will consider the role of authoritative knowledge in society: How do people decide what to believe and, more crucially, what is worth having beliefs about? How do these decisions interact with other concerns about how people allocate time and resources? These questions, while always important, have taken on an added significance as more specialised forms of knowledge, or ‘expertise’, have come to influence public policymaking in areas of health, security, welfare and education. In the classical sociological tradition, these issues have been associated mainly with religion and political ideology. More recent work has focused on organized inquiry, or ‘science’, and the ideally knowledgeable citizen, or ‘intellectual’. Existing between these two forms of knowledge is the ‘expert’, who often occupies a quasi-political or quasi-juridical role. All of these forms of knowledge are offshoots of the history of philosophy, which in the past few years has been itself subject to a major systematic sociological treatment. We shall examine all of these matters from a comparative (i.e. historically informed, cross-cultural) perspective.
The first term of the module will be focused on science, since it is the most authoritative institution in contemporary society. However, because science interacts with so much of the rest of the society, we shall be quickly caught up in all the dynamics outlined above.
MODULE STRUCTURE: The module consists of weekly lectures and seminars. Students enrolled in this module can be assessed either entirely by final examination or half-assessed essay/half-examination. The examination will be based on the lectures and associated reading. Students are expected to develop their essay topics in seminars, with final approval of topics from the lecturer. Students can raise questions about the lectures and readings to either the lecturer or the seminar leader, but the seminar leader reserves the right to forward questions to the lecturer. There will also be an e-mail list, on which all students will be included. It will be used to transmit general information of class interest. Students may pose questions to the lecturer by his e-mail address, and if of sufficiently general interest (i.e. it bears centrally on the content of the module), the question and answer may be distributed to everyone on the list. The seminar leader will circulate weekly exercises by the e-mail list that will kick off the seminar discussions. Students will be responsible for regularly checking their e-mails for late-breaking news.
particular, one matter will be pressing this term. There will be one week – probably
in October – when the lecturer will be called as an expert witness in a trial
1 (26 Sept)
2 (3 Oct)
How can science be a public good if very few people practice it or know much about it? (1)
3 (10 Oct)
Are the natural and social sciences fundamentally different? (2)
4 (17 Oct)
What can we learn about the sociological character of science by examining the use of words like ‘science’, ‘scientist’ and ‘scientific’? (3)
5 (24 Oct)
6 (31 Oct)
READING WEEK (NO CLASS)
7 (7 Nov)
Is it rational to have an unconditional faith in science? (4)
8 (14 Nov)
How does an understanding of the history of science contribute to an understanding of contemporary science? (5)
9 (21 Nov)
What can we learn about the nature of science from the study of non-Western cultures? (6)
10 (28 Nov)
Intro to Next Term
What can we say about the future of science? (7)
COMING ATTRACTIONS: In the Winter Term, we shall move to consider the institutionalization of philosophy and, more generally, that of the intellectual. Two relevant texts will be Steve Fuller, The Intellectual (Icon Books) and Randall Collins, The Sociology of Philosophies (Harvard University Press). These topics will be introduced in the last week of this term. An additional class will be held on Monday 26 April 2006 (Spring Term, Week 2) to make up for the lost week this term.
BIBLIOGRAPHY (These books may arise in the lecture and may be useful for your research. Students who have no background in the history of science will find the books by Marks and Mason especially useful. Both are out of print but they are in the library and were popular paperbacks in their day – hence perhaps available in used bookshops or via amazon on the web)
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