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Department of History and Philosophy of Science


Research Seminars

Graduate Seminars

Reading Groups

Language Groups

Departmental Seminars

Seminars are held on Thursdays from 3.30 to 5pm in Seminar Room 2. There is tea and coffee before the seminar at 3pm in Seminar Room 1, and there are refreshments afterwards at 5pm in Seminar Room 1.

Organised by Agnes Bolinska.

31 October Elliott Sober (University of Wisconsin-Madison)
CRISPR gene-drive and the war against malaria – the evolutionary ABCs
CRISPR is a new technology, but it mimics a process in nature that has been known for about 80 years, meiotic drive. In this talk, I'll explain some of the basic evolutionary principles that allows a driving gene to increase in frequency in a population even when it harms the individuals that house it. I'll also discuss two strategies that are now being pursued for using CRISPR gene drives to eradicate malaria. One involves driving to extinction the mosquitoes that spread malaria to humans; the other involves modifying the immune systems of those mosquitoes so that they are less able to spread malaria.
7 November Raffaele Danna (History, Cambridge)
The adoption of Hindu-Arabic numerals in England and Italy, a comparative perspective (13th–16th centuries)
While the first introduction in Europe of Hindu-Arabic numerals has been investigated among scholars, the history of their diffusion across the continent is not well known. On the background of the most detailed reconstruction available of the European tradition of practical arithmetic, the paper offers a comparative perspective on the adoption and social circulation of Hindu-Arabic numerals in England and Italy. The comparative approach is justified by the observation that these two societies adopted Arabic mathematics in strikingly different ways. While in England Arabic mathematics was used in scholarly contexts starting from the 12th century, its practical application was still limited at the end of the 16th century. Despite being an early mover, English society proved rather reluctant in adopting the new numeral system. Italian urban societies, on the contrary, introduced Hindu-Arabic numerals in practical contexts from the late 13th century, and started a progressive adoption which made the new symbols widespread across urban social strata from the 15th century. What were the reasons underlying these different patterns? Relying on a vast set of accounting, practical as well as theoretical sources and studying the wider practices and social contexts in which mathematics was used, the comparative analysis allows to identify a complex convergence of factors that allowed for the appropriation of Arabic mathematics in late medieval Italian society as well as for its recombination within a new framework. The novel possibilities opened up by their adoption made the use of Hindu-Arabic numerals a necessary tool for economic activity, triggering their consolidated spread in practical mathematics. It was a contingent, but not random, appropriation of a foreign form of mathematical knowledge. The spread of Hindu-Arabic numerals in England from the 15th century is understood as a reception of the developments that had started on the other end of the continent, opening a perspective on the varying social roles of mathematics across time and space.
14 November Wesley Buckwalter (University of Manchester)
Science and the approximation account of knowledge
It is widely accepted that knowledge is factive, meaning that only truths can be known. This theory creates a sceptical challenge. Because many scientific beliefs are only approximately true, and therefore false, they do not count as knowledge. I consider several responses to this challenge and propose a new one. I propose easing the truth requirement on knowledge to allow approximately true, practically adequate representations to count as knowledge. In addition to addressing the sceptical challenge, this view also coheres with several previous theoretical proposals in epistemology.
21 November Kärin Nickelsen (LMU Munich)
Cooperative division of cognitive labour: the social epistemology of photosynthesis research
Historians and philosophers of science have long recognised that the generation of scientific knowledge is a social endeavour, and that traditional epistemologies, which focus on individual scientists, are unable to capture its dynamics. Historians have provided rich accounts of research groups and institutions, although more recently, epistemological questions have received less attention. Philosophers of science, on the other hand, have developed formalised models that are difficult to match with actual historical episodes. In this paper, I argue that an integrated HPS perspective helps to better understand the social epistemologies of scientific collectives.

I flesh out this claim by presenting episodes from the history of photosynthesis research in the late 19th to mid-20th century. In this period, photosynthesis became a subject of great interest for researchers from many different disciplines, while the underlying mechanism remained obscure. I claim that, although the researchers were to some extent competing, their mostly cooperative interactions resulted in a division of cognitive labour that was never formally agreed, but in effect ensured the persistence of a plurality of complementary approaches. By this means, individual scientists improved their own chances of success, while also taking part in the success of others.

28 November Cancelled

Twentieth Century Think Tank

The Twentieth Century Think Tank offers broad coverage of 20th- and 21st-century topics in the history, philosophy and sociology of science, technology and medicine. The regular programme of papers and discussions takes place on Thursdays over lunch.

Think Tank meetings are held fortnightly on Thursdays, 1–2pm in Seminar Room 2. All welcome!

Organised by Mary Brazelton and Richard Staley.

17 October Michael Barany (University of Edinburgh)
Making a name in mid-century mathematics: individuals, institutions and the open secret of Nicolas Bourbaki
In 1948, the American Mathematical Society received an application for membership from Nicolas Bourbaki, the pen name of a radical group of French mathematicians then rewriting the foundations of modern mathematics. While that application was quietly dismissed, a second application a year later and the correspondence it provoked together expose significant fault lines beneath the Americans' efforts to lead an international discipline in the wake of World War II. This article draws on a wide range of archival sources to situate Bourbaki's applications amidst the distinctive ways mathematicians established subjective identities in interaction with professional institutions in the mid-20th century. I show how Bourbaki's advocates parodied the period's norms of identification, exploiting newly important ambiguities and challenging newly reconfigured power structures in mathematicians' postwar disciplinary practice. The group's status as an open secret allowed its members to take special advantage of their new disciplinary circumstances while propounding an aggressively transgressive intellectual programme. I close by developing a tension – between individuals and institutions – made more or less explicit in Bourbaki's applications and the responses to it, which sheds new light on recent understandings of subjectivity and embodiment in the history and sociology of modern science.
31 October Arathi Sriprakash and Peter Sutoris (Faculty of Education, Cambridge)
The science of childhood: postcolonial development in India, 1950s
In this paper we examine how, in the decade following India's independence, the psychology of childhood became a locus of experimentation, and an avenue through which approaches to postcolonial development were expressed. Tracing the ideas of educational reformers, psychological researchers and child welfare advocates, we show how a 'science of childhood' in this period emphasised both the inherent potential and the emotional complexity of India's young citizens. However, while identifying this potential, these actors at times circumscribed it by deploying culturalist assumptions about Indian childhood that were linked to a teleology of the new nation state. These were ideas that shaped a 'pedagogic' approach to postcolonial modernisation. Nation‐building was not just a technocratic undertaking, but an educative project that was scientific, spiritual and therapeutic in orientation. We reflect on the need for a greater attention to the pedagogy of the state in analyses of past and present state‐citizen relations.
14 November Sarah Dillon (Faculty of English, Cambridge)
'The Ineradicable Eliza Effect and Its Dangers': Weizenbaum, Pygmalion and the implications of gendering AI
Preface 4 of Douglas Hofstadter's Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies: Computer Models and the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought (1995) is entitled 'The Ineradicable Eliza Effect and Its Dangers'. Hofstadter defines the Eliza effect as an 'illusion', 'which could be defined as the susceptibility of people to read far more understanding than is warranted into strings of symbols – especially words – strung together by computers' (157). More widely, the Eliza effect in computer science names our tendency to unconsciously assume that computer behaviours are analogous to human behaviours, with a consequent effect on our perception of their ontological status. Hofstadter considers this dangerous in its effects because it misrepresents the capacities and capabilities of the research, and the technologies it creates. 'The operational term here is', he says, 'hype', but with an interesting caveat, 'and yet it is', he repeatedly says, 'inadvertent' (167). He acknowledges that it benefits the researchers, but he describes it as merely an 'overly charitable way of characterizing what has happened' (157). For Hofstadter, the Eliza effect is not mal-intentioned, but 'like a tenacious virus that constantly mutates', he says, it 'seems to crop up over and over again in AI in ever-fresh disguises, and in subtler and subtler forms' (158). Hofstadter identifies this phenomenon, but he is doing so as a scientist, in relation to its consequence for scientists and scientific research. What he does not do is think about the social and ethical consequences of the Eliza effect, and about the role of rhetoric in triggering it. In this paper, I explore the Eliza effect in this regard, from a feminist and a literary perspective. The Eliza effect gets its name from the responses to Joseph Weizenbaum's first natural language processing software, ELIZA, which he named after the heroine of George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion (1913). Understanding ELIZA's historical and literary origin stories highlights the role of gendering in triggering the Eliza effect, and its feminist dangers. This literary historical case-study can then inform contemporary debate regarding, for instance, the societal harm of the gendering of virtual personal assistants, in particular in relation to such social consequences as the objectification of women, and the replication of gendered models of power and subservience. More broadly, the paper demonstrates the role that literary narratives play in shaping the development, reception and impact of science and technology.
28 November Cancelled

Coffee with Scientists

The aim of this group is to explore and enhance the interface between HPS and science. Though many of us in HPS engage closely with science and scientists, we could benefit from more explicit discussions about the relationship between HPS and science itself, and from more opportunities for HPS-scholars and scientists to help each other's work.

The theme of this term's meetings is 'Philosophy of Science in the Wild'. We host four practising Cambridge scientists from engineering, psychology, zoology and material science, each of whom is engaged in projects with recognisable philosophical components: how to balance different methods (Crilly), how to rank different sources of evidence (Christie), how to implement open and reproducible science (Orben), and how to communicate science (Dolan). We start with a brief presentation of their work before moving on to a relaxed and friendly Q&A.

We meet on Fridays, 3.30–5.00pm in Seminar Room 2. Further information and reading materials will be distributed through the email list of the group; please contact Anna Alexandrova (aa686) if you would like to be included on the list.

18 October Nathan Crilly (Engineering Design, Cambridge)
Pluralism and monism in design fixation research
8 November Alec Christie (Zoology, Cambridge)
What works in wildlife conservation? Assessing the evidence to save the planet
22 November Amy Orben (Emmanuel College and MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, Cambridge)
1 million correlations: steps towards reproducible psychological science
29 November Cancelled

Cabinet of Natural History

This research seminar is concerned with all aspects of the history of natural history and the field and environmental sciences. The regular programme of papers and discussions takes place over lunch on Mondays. In addition, the Cabinet organises a beginning-of-year fungus hunt and occasional expeditions to sites of historical and natural historical interest, and holds an end-of-year garden party.

All seminars are held on Mondays at 1pm in Seminar Room 1. Please feel free to bring your lunch.

Organised by Jules Skotnes-Brown (jasb2).

14 October Kevin Edwards (University of Aberdeen)
Marginalia in the 'bible' of pollen analysis
The annotation of texts and their study has a long history in literature and the humanities, but less so in science. This talk examines the marginalia within a copy of the first edition of Text-book of modern pollen analysis – the 'bible' of the discipline of pollen analysis (palynology), published in 1950 by two botanists, Knut Fægri (professor of botany in Bergen) and Johannes Iversen (palaeoecologist with the Danish Geological Survey).

Pollen analysis – the study of pollen grains incorporated in accumulating sediments – is the single most widely used technique in environmental reconstruction. The annotations are the work of 'Mr Pollen Analysis', palynology's evangelist Gunnar Erdtman, a former schoolteacher who went on to develop one of the major research centres for palynology in Stockholm. A further ingredient in a sometimes toxic mix is the 'founder' of palynology, the Swedish geologist Lennart von Post, who had approved of an introductory book by Erdtman and then went on to lavish considerable praise on Fægri and Iversen's volume.

The marginalia display strong feelings, even anger, concerning the contents of the book. They are pedantic, yet can often be shown to confront sloppy writing if not sloppy thinking. They certainly permit an insight into the perspectives of a pioneering scientist as well as revealing a lack of inhibition which might otherwise be hidden. They also reflect an adherence to traditional palaeontological approaches to plant systematics at a time when palynology was being becoming more statistically and conceptually rigorous, addressing ecological problems at scales from the local to the global.

21 October Paul Sampson (Rutgers University)
The lungs of a ship: labour, medicine and the maritime environment, 1740–1800
My overall project, 'Ventilating the Empire: Environmental Machines in the British Atlantic World, 1700–1850', investigates the pre-industrial origins of efforts to improve air quality as a measure for preventing the spread of contagious disease. The portion I will present examines the attempt to ventilate and reform the 'close, confined, putrid air' on Royal Navy ships during the mid-18th century. Alarmed at the high mortality rates of sailors, British experimenter and clergyman Stephen Hales (1677–1761) invented new 'ventilators': hand- or wind-powered bellows constructed to mimic the action of human lungs. Required on all Navy ships after 1756, these machines were unpopular with captains and many sailors, but Hales' theories deeply influenced the work of maritime medical experts James Lind, John Pringle and Gilbert Blane, who viewed ventilation as a vital necessity to be cultivated through hygienic discipline. Management of the shipboard environment was fiercely debated in moral terms that cast the clean, well-ventilated ship as the 'nursery' of sailors and the dirty ship as a 'pestilential maw' – an appellation most frequently applied to slave ships. My work will examine how shipboard ventilation played into debates over the use and abuse of labour both in the Royal Navy and the West Indies slave trade.
28 October Cabinet Annual Fungus Hunt
4 November Nathan Smith (Zoology, Cambridge)
It takes a village: the life and legacy of Henry Thomas Soppitt (1858–1899)
Henry Thomas Soppitt was a greengrocer-turned-drysalter and artisan experimental mycologist whose work primarily focused on discerning the life-cycles of rust fungi. His death on 1 April 1899 was a seminal event in the history of the Yorkshire nature study. Occurring at a critical junction in British mycology, it saw unprecedented response by Yorkshire mycologists to cement his legacy through preservation of his library and herbarium. As time passed, and the fortunes of Yorkshire mycologists continued to decline, there was a continuous return to the work of Soppitt within the community. Focusing on Soppitt's elucidation of the lifecycle of Puccinia bistortae, this paper will explore the significance of the discovery to Yorkshire mycologists and the scientific landscape in which it took place.
11 November Matt Holmes (CRASSH, Cambridge)
Hybrid or chimera? Reinterpreting the botanical exchange of William Bateson and Erwin Baur
After several years fighting in defence of Mendelian genetics, William Bateson was appointed Director of the John Innes Horticultural Institution in 1910, where he investigated the development of plant chimeras. Recent scholarship has portrayed this research as something of a misstep by Bateson, which left him out of touch with modern developments in biology, including the chromosome theory of heredity. This paper argues that Bateson's interest in plant chimeras was partly an attempt to address a longstanding controversy in the annals of natural history: the existence, or non-existence, of graft hybrids. Previously unpublished correspondence between Bateson and the German botanist Erwin Baur reveals that Bateson sought to expose graft hybrids as chimeras in order to preserve Weismann's distinction between somatic and germ cells. For his part, Baur helped Bateson to grasp the true nature of plant chimeras and sent him specimens to display at the Royal Society. The timing of this exchange is significant. In Germany, a former debunker of the graft hybrid hypothesis, botanist Hans Winkler, claimed to have created a genuine botanical graft hybrid. In the United States, leading Mendelian William Castle was engaged in a heated exchange with physiologist Charles Guthrie over the existence of animal graft hybrids. Castle portrayed this clash as an attempt by neo-Lamarckians to overthrow both Weismann and Mendel. This wider context revises our picture of Bateson's interest in plant chimeras from that of a scientific misstep to a necessary effort to tackle an immediate threat to the future of Mendelian genetics.
18 November Joanne Green (HPS, Cambridge)
'We the tormentors, the destroyers': death, emotions and gender in entomology
This paper explores a female entomologist's feelings towards the insects she collected during the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. Entomology, ostensibly an exact and objective science, was in actuality filled with emotions, such as the aesthetic joy derived from the beauty and diversity of insects, and the excitement and heightened emotions of the hunt. This paper will place a special focus on the gendered aspects of the relationship between death and natural history, and how entomologists felt about killing insects and turning them into specimens, by focusing on the lepidopterist Margaret Fountaine. Fountaine's entire life revolved around entomology and her collection, but she was also deeply conflicted, and oscillated between the joy of the hunt and the beauty of her captures, and pity and guilt over killing the insects. In her diary she habitually anthropomorphised butterflies and portrayed them as having feelings, while she herself sometimes felt as a murderer for killing them. However, these emotions were repressed in her scientific writing, illustrating one facet of the gendering of emotions among entomologists.
25 November Cancelled
2 December Cancelled


AD HOC (Association for the Discussion of the History of Chemistry) is a group dedicated to the history of chemistry. While our main focus is historical, we also consider the philosophical, sociological, public and educational dimensions of chemistry.

The group meets on Mondays at 5.00–6.30pm in Seminar Room 1. Coordinated by Hasok Chang, and funded by the Society for the History of Alchemy and Chemistry (SHAC).

18 November Sarah Hijmans (Laboratoire SPHERE, Université Paris 7 Diderot)
Composition and analogy in 19th-century chemistry: the case of aluminium
2 December Cancelled

History of Medicine

Seminars, funded by Wellcome, are on Tuesdays from 5.00 to 6.30pm in Seminar Room 1. Tea and biscuits are available from 4.40pm. All welcome!

Early Science and Medicine

Organised by Lauren Kassell and Dániel Margócsy.

22 October William Tullett (Anglia Ruskin University)
Smell and 18th-century medicine: 'powerful and active atoms'?
Schedule note: We will begin with tea at 5pm. The talk and discussion will run from 5.30 to 6.45.
19 November Elaine Leong (University College London)
Learning medicine by the book: reading and writing surgical manuals in early modern London
3 December Cancelled

History of Modern Medicine and Biology

Organised by Jenny Bangham, Nick Hopwood and Mary Brazelton.

15 October Michael Sappol (Uppsala University)
Anatomy's photography: objectivity, showmanship and the reinvention of the anatomical image, 1861–1913
Advisory: This presentation will contain historical photographs of anatomized human bodies and body parts.
5 November Lara Keuck (Humboldt University, Berlin)
Alzheimer's disease: the history of a working title
12 November Lochlann Jain (Stanford University)
In the same vein: the hepatitis B vaccine and America's dirty blood

Generation to Reproduction

Organised by Nick Hopwood and Lauren Kassell.

29 October Katherine Harvey (Birkbeck, University of London)
A question of balance? Thinking about sexual health in medieval Europe
26 November Cancelled


CamPoS (Cambridge Philosophy of Science) is a network of academics and students working in the philosophy of science in various parts of the University of Cambridge, including the Department of History and Philosophy of Science and the Faculty of Philosophy. The Wednesday afternoon seminar series features current research by CamPoS members as well as visitors to Cambridge and scholars based in nearby institutions. If you are interested in presenting in the series, please contact Matt Farr (mwef2). If you have any queries or suggestions for other activities that CamPoS could undertake, please contact Huw Price, Jeremy Butterfield or Anna Alexandrova.

Seminars are held on Wednesdays, 1.00–2.30pm in Seminar Room 2.

23 October Miriam Solomon (Temple University)
On validators for psychiatric categories
The concept of a validator for a psychiatric category developed in the second half of the 20th century and is still in use. Surprisingly, the term 'validator' has never been explicitly defined in the psychiatric literature. Moreover, although lists of different kinds of validators have often been stated, there has been no explicit discussion in the literature about how different kinds of validator evidence should be aggregated in a decision about how to create, revise or remove a psychiatric category. The goal of this paper is to trace the development of the concept of a psychiatric validator, showing how our understanding has changed over time. With this in mind, I evaluate possible recommendations for aggregating validator evidence.
30 October Henry Shevlin (Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence)
Theories of consciousness and animal minds: a modest theoretical proposal
The scientific study of consciousness has made considerable progress in the last three decades, especially among cognitive theories of consciousness such as the Global Neuronal Workspace account, Higher-order Thought theory, and Attention Schema theory. Such theories are typically concerned to identify correlates of conscious and unconscious processing in human beings. However, in light of heightened recent interest in consciousness in animals and even artificial systems, a key question for researchers is whether and how we can apply these frameworks to non-human subjects. In this talk, I review the prospects of this endeavour and discuss some challenges. I focus in particular on what I call the Specificity Problem, which concerns how we can determine an appropriate level of fineness of grain to adopt when moving from human to non-human cases. In light of this and other problems, I argue that most theories of consciousness currently lack the theoretical resources to allow for their straightforward application to non-humans. However, I also argue that a purely behavioural approach to non-human consciousness that eschews explicit theoretical considerations is unlikely to give clear answers to some important cases. Instead, I defend what I call a Modest Theoretical Approach, that aims to combine insights from the theories of consciousness debate with data from behavioural ecology, comparative neuroscience, and other sciences of non-human minds.
6 November Sahanika Ratnayake (Philosophy, Cambridge)
An appraisal of scientific reasoning as therapy in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is one of the most popular schools of contemporary psychotherapy. One of the reasons for CBT's success is its ability to present itself as 'scientific'. This claim to scientific legitimacy not only influences how CBT's efficacy is established, but also influences its therapeutic techniques.

Aspects of scientific reasoning and the scientific method are used as part of CBT's arsenal of therapeutic techniques. For instance, clients are encouraged to evaluate problematic thoughts – referred to as 'cognitive distortions' – by testing them as if they were hypotheses.

In this paper, I will examine CBT's account of cognitive distortions and the way in which scientific reasoning is used to evaluate and rectify them. I shall suggest that these therapeutic techniques cannot be working in the straightforward manner that CBT claims they are, as they fall afoul of some traditional objections from the philosophy of science.

13 November Wesley Buckwalter (University of Manchester)
The replication crisis and philosophy
The replication crisis is perceived by many as one of the most significant threats to the reliability of research in cognitive science. Though news of the replication crisis has been dominated by social psychology, all signs indicate that it likely extends to several other fields. This paper assesses the possibility that the crisis and related challenges extend to philosophy. According to one possibility, philosophy simply inherits a crisis by drawing on the same body of questionable evidence as in science. According to another possibility, a crisis is likely to extend to philosophy because philosophers engage in similar practices and structures as those implicated by the crisis in science. Proposals for improving philosophical research are offered in light of these possibilities.
20 November Enno Fischer (Leibniz Universität Hannover)
Pluralism about actual causation
In this talk I will suggest a pluralism with regard to actual causation: there is not a single and unified concept but a plurality of concepts of actual causation. The motivation for this pluralism is functional. The concepts need to be distinguished because otherwise they do not facilitate some of their key purposes: intervention and the ascription of responsibility. I will also explore some consequences for theories of causal models.
27 November Cancelled
4 December Cancelled

The Dialectic

The Dialectic is a new, experimental seminar series premised on the notion that the format of a constructive dialogue (not: debate) is uniquely well-suited for the exposition and analysis of novel ideas and unconventional views on the nature of history, philosophy, science and everything in between.

Each session shall take the form of a dialogue between a Proponent and an Opponent. The Proponent shall advance a thesis, about which they will be questioned by the Opponent. The Opponent may seek to rebut the Proponent's thesis, defend their own counter-thesis, or simply question the Proponent so as to better understand their reasoning.

In the academic year 2019–2020, The Dialectic will be held on a termly basis. For questions, please contact the organiser, Bobby Vos (bfmv2).

Tuesday 29 October, 11am, Seminar Room 1
Hasok Chang (proponent) and Tim Lewens (opponent)
Thesis: Scientific knowledge is about real objects, which are constrained creations of our minds

Aims and Methods of Histories of the Sciences

Mondays, 11.30am–1pm, weekly from 21 October (6 sessions)
Nick Jardine, with Geoffrey Lloyd, Hasok Chang, Cristina Chimisso, Jeffrey Skopek

These graduate seminars will consider aspects of the history, aims, methods and current problems of the history of science. The opening sessions will give an overview of the formation of history of science as a discipline and of the range of recent approaches. Subsequent sessions will discuss uses of histories of the sciences by scientists, the pioneering work of Hélène Metzger on the methods and purposes of history of science, the relations between history and philosophy of science, and historical studies of cross-cultural communication in the sciences.

Participants will be invited to offer contributions and to suggest further readings.

Science in Print

Tuesdays, 3pm–4.30pm, weekly from 29 October (5 sessions)

Understanding how the book is made is vital to the study of its contents, helping to locate its economic and social context, its audience, and ultimately its historical significance. Using examples from the Whipple Library's rare book collections, the manuscript holdings of the Parker Library, and the University Library's Historical Printing Collection, this series will explore some bibliographical techniques to identify and describe the structure and production of printed material from the manuscript era through to the hand press period (16th–18th centuries), and consider the uses and abuses of online derivatives. Although the focus will be on scientific texts and illustrations, these sessions will be of interest to book historians in all disciplines, and all are welcome.

The sessions on 29 October and 12 November will be in the Old Library; the session on 5 November will be in the Parker Library, Corpus Christi College; and the sessions on 19 and 26 November will be in the Historical Printing Room at the University Library.

Kinds of Intelligence Reading Group

What? A reading group focused on comparative and theoretical issues in the philosophy of psychology and cognitive science, with particular focus on the puzzles, insights, and challenges presented by non-human intelligence.
When? Thursdays, 11am–12.30pm
Where? Upstairs Boardroom, Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence
Convener: Henry Shevlin

PART 1: Methodology and Theory

3 October Miracchi (2019), A competence framework for artificial intelligence research
10 October Brown (2019), Infer with care: a critique of the argument from animals
17 October Figdor (2017), On the proper domain of psychological predicates
24 October Guest: Ali Boyle. The impure phenomenology of episodic memory

PART 2: Scientific Frontiers

31 October Marino and Merskin (2019), Intelligence, complexity, and individuality in sheep
7 November Ha & Schmidhuber (2018), World models
14 November Gagliano (2017), The mind of plants: thinking the unthinkable
21 November Guest: Dan Williams. Socially adaptive belief

PART 3: Ethics, Intelligence, and AI

28 November Haas & Klein (draft), Modeling moral problems
5 December Monsó, Benz-Schwarzburg, & Bremhorst (2018), Animal morality: what it means and why it matters
12 December Tomasik (2014), Ethical issues in artificial reinforcement learning

Twentieth Century Reading Group

The group discusses books and papers relating to the history and historiography of 20th-century science, technology and medicine, broadly construed. We meet fortnightly (starting 10 October) on Thursdays, 1pm to 2pm in the Board Room. Organised by Mary Brazelton, Josh Nall and Richard Staley.

Everyone is welcome – feel free to bring along your lunch.

10 October: Introductions and Research Interests

Our first Reading Group meeting will be a general one, aiming to bring together those who are working in the history and historiography of the sciences in the long twentieth century, or who are interested in doing so for MPhil/Part III papers and dissertations. We aim to share interests and projects, get a sense of common concerns, and refine an agenda for the rest of the term and year based around participants' research interests. We do have a suggestion for the immediate programme, that we focus on material culture to take advantage of the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the opening of the Whipple Museum. Is there something you'd like to read with others, a good issue to explore? We welcome contributions.

24 October: Thick Things

This week we discuss contributions to an Isis 2007 focus section on 'Thick Things' in our own celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Whipple Museum. Please read Ken Alder's brief introduction and Bruno Latour's 'afterword', and perhaps one other of the several excellent contributions from John Tresch, Gabrielle Hecht, Wiebe Bijker and Alder himself. References to the intro and afterword are:

And the other articles take in technological world-pictures, nuclear things, dikes, dams, bombs and polygraphs...

7 November: The Matter of History – The Copper Atom

This week we consider Timothy LeCain's neo-materialist approach, focusing on chapter 7, 'The Copper Atom' in his recent book The Matter of History, which gives a comprehensive understanding of his approach and also offers an overview of critical issues. Although this can be read on its own, you may also wish to read the book's introduction. The book is available electronically through the University Library, and the reference and a link to the chapter follow:

21 November: The People's War Against Earthquakes; And Scientific and Pedagogical Instruments in Japan

This week the Twentieth Century Reading Group will be discussing a Fa-Ti Fan chapter on cultures of mass science in Mao's China, along with work from an special issue of Historia Scientiarium: The International Journal of the History of Science Society in Japan devoted to Historical Studies of Scientific and Pedagogical Instruments. Amongst them we suggest in particular Boumsoung Kim's paper on seismology in Meiji Japan.

  • Fa-Ti Fan, 'The People's War against Earthquakes: Cultures of Mass Science in Mao's China', In Cultures without Culturalism: The Making of Scientific Knowledge, edited by Karine Chemla and Evelyn Fox Keller (Durham, NC: Duke Univ. Press, 2017), pp. 296-323.
  • Boumsoung Kim, 'Detecting, Recording and Expanding: Instrumentation of Earthquake and Tsunamic Observations in Meiji Japan', Historia Scientiarum 20, no. 3 (2011): 179-95.
  • Yukio Nagahira, 'The Physical Apparatus Collection at Kyoto University: Historical Material as Thing Knowledge', Historia Scientiarum 20, no. 3 (2011): 212-19.
  • Takuji Okamoto, 'The First Higher School's Instruments for Science and Engineering Education', Historia Scientiarum 20, no. 3 (2011): 196-211.

Calculating People

Calculating People is a reading group on history and philosophy of social sciences dedicated in Michaelmas 2019 to the theme 'What counts as evidence in social sciences?'. The group reads leading social science research in alternation with methodological and philosophical articles. All participants commit to doing the reading each time and to attending all sessions. The session starts with each participant briefly describing their impressions/questions on the reading assigned, after which the chair conducts a discussion on the recurring themes.

The meetings take place on Thursdays at 2pm in the Board Room. Organised by Anna Alexandrova and Christopher Clarke.

10 October

Daniel Hirschman, 'Stylized Facts in the Social Sciences', Sociological Science, July 19, 2016.

17 October

Wood, Elisabeth Jean (2003). Insurgent collective action and civil war in El Salvador. Cambridge University Press. Chapters 1–2.

24 October

Devault, Marjorie L. 'Talking and Listening from Women's Standpoint: Feminist Strategies for Interviewing and Analysis', Social Problems, vol. 37, no. 1, 1990, pp. 96–116.

31 October

Wood, Elisabeth Jean (2003). Insurgent collective action and civil war in El Salvador. Cambridge University Press. Chapters 3–4.

7 November

Freese, J., & Peterson, D. (2017). 'Replication in social science', Annual Review of Sociology, 43, 147–165.

14 November

Wood, Elisabeth Jean (2003). Insurgent collective action and civil war in El Salvador. Cambridge University Press. Chapters 5–6.

21 November

Freese, J., & Peterson, D. (2018). 'The Emergence of Statistical Objectivity: Changing Ideas of Epistemic Vice and Virtue in Science', Sociological Theory, 36(3), 289–313.

Social Epistemology of Science Reading Group

This reading group aims to look at some of the important themes in contemporary social epistemology of science – including, but not limited to division of cognitive labour, the mechanisms driving novelty versus conservatism in science, the incentive structures in which scientists are embedded, and the gender productivity gap in scientific research. These themes connect to many issues in integrated HPS, therefore we believe the group will offer a platform for productive intellectual exchange in the Department and beyond.

When: Fridays 10am
Where: Seminar Room 2

Organisers: Olesya Bondarenko and Lukas Beck
Faculty sponsor: Anna Alexandrova

18 October: Division of epistemic labour and cognitive diversity

  • Kitcher, P. (1990). The division of cognitive labor. The Journal of Philosophy, 87(1), 5–22.
  • Zollman, K. J. (2010). The epistemic benefit of transient diversity. Erkenntnis, 72(1), 17.

25 October: Conservatism in science (1st session)

  • Kummerfeld, E., & Zollman, K.J. (2015). Conservatism and the scientific state of nature. The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 67(4), 1057–1076.
  • Stanford, P.K. (2015). Unconceived alternatives and conservatism in science: The impact of professionalization, peer-review, and big science. Synthese, 1–18.

1 November: Conservatism in science (2nd session)

  • Azoulay, P., Fons-Rosen, C., & Graff Zivin, J.S. (2019). Does science advance one funeral at a time? American Economic Review, 109(8), 2889–2920.
  • Jones, B.F. (2009). The burden of knowledge and the 'death of the renaissance man': Is innovation getting harder? The Review of Economic Studies, 76(1), 283–317.

8 November: Priority rule and incentives system in science

  • Azoulay, P., Graff Zivin, J.S., & Manso, G. (2011). Incentives and creativity: evidence from the academic life sciences. The RAND Journal of Economics, 42(3), 527–554.
  • Strevens, M. (2003). The role of the priority rule in science. The Journal of Philosophy, 100(2), 55–79.

15 November: Gender productivity gap in academia

  • Bright, L.K. (2017). Decision theoretic model of the productivity gap. Erkenntnis, 82(2), 421–442.
  • Discussion: Gender publication gap in philosophy of science

22 November: Problems of social epistemological modelling

  • Frey, D., & Šešelja, D. (2018). What is the epistemic function of highly idealized agent-based models of scientific inquiry? Philosophy of the Social Sciences, 48(4), 407–433.
  • Muldoon, R., & Weisberg, M. (2011). Robustness and idealization in models of cognitive labor. Synthese, 183(2), 161–174.

29 November

  • Cancelled

6 December

  • Open – readings to be decided by participants

Power and Identity in Philosophy of Science

This reading group (formerly the Intersection of Gender, Race and Disability with Philosophy of Science) meets on Mondays, 2–3pm, in Mill Lane Lecture Room 10. Organised by Azita Chellappoo (asc63).

14 October

Toole, Briana (2019). From Standpoint Epistemology to Epistemic Oppression. Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy.

21 October

Brancazio, Nick (2018). Irreducible Aspects of Embodiment: Situating Scientist and Subject. Australasian Philosophical Review 2 (2):219–223.

28 October

Berenstain, Nora (2018). Implicit Bias and the Idealized Rational Self. Ergo: An Open Access Journal of Philosophy 5:445–485.

4 November

Goering, S. (2008). 'You Say You're Happy, but...': Contested Quality of Life Judgments in Bioethics and Disability Studies. Journal of Bioethical Inquiry, 5(2-3), 125–135.

11 November

McKinney, C. (2019). A Good Abortion Is a Tragic Abortion: Fit Motherhood and Disability Stigma. Hypatia, 34(2), 266–285.

18 November

Cull, M. J. (2019). Against Abolition. Feminist Philosophy Quarterly, 5(3).

25 November


2 December


Philosophy of Psychology and Psychiatry Reading Group

Philosophy of Psychology and Psychiatry will join forces with the Philosophy of Medicine Reading Group this term and meet during their usual time slot, Tuesdays from 1–2pm in Seminar Room 1. This term's theme is 'Psychiatric & Psychotherapeutic Ethics'.

Organised by Riana Betzler and Sahanika Ratnayake.

Week 1 (15 October) – Introduction & Codes of Conduct

Week 2 (22 October) – Historical Development of the 'Ethics Code' (The American Psychological Association's Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct)

  • American Psychological Association. (2017). Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct.
  • Pope K.S & Vasquez M.J.T., (2011; 4th Ed.). Ethics in Psychotherapy and Counselling: A Practical Guide, 85–92.
  • Pope K.S & Vasquez M.J.T., (2011; 4th Ed.). Ethics in Psychotherapy and Counselling: A Practical Guide, Chapter 12: Different Conclusions: Examples from the Interrogation Controversy, 122–154.

Week 3 (29 October) – Politics & The Goldwater Rule

  • Lilienfeld, S. O., Miller, J. D., & Lynam, D. R. (2018). The Goldwater Rule: Perspectives From, and Implications for, Psychological Science. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 13(1), 3–27.

Week 4 (5 November) – Ethics of Diagnosis: Focus on Personality Disorders

  • Shaw, C. & Proctor, J. (2005). Women at the Margins: A Critique of the Diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder. Feminism and Psychology, 15(4), 483–490.
  • Pickersgill, M. D. (2009). NICE guidelines, clinical practice and antisocial personality disorder: the ethical implications of ontological uncertainty. Journal of Medical Ethics, 35, 668–671.

Week 5 (12 November) – Ethics of Treatment: Moral Content

  • Pearce, S. & Pickard, H. (2009). The moral content of psychiatric treatment. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 195, 281–282.
  • Charland, L. C. (2006). Moral Nature of the DSM-IV Cluster B Personality Disorders. Journal of Personality Disorders, 20(2), 116–125.

Week 6 (19 November) – Autonomy, Capacity, Rationality, Diagnosis

  • Craigie, J. & Bortolotti, L. (2015). Rationality, Diagnosis, and Patient Autonomy in Psychiatry. In J. Z. Sadler, W. M. Fulford, & C. W. van Staden (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Psychiatric Ethics (available online through the UL website).

Week 7 (26 November) – Involuntary Treatment/Commitment

  • Levenson, J. L. (1986–87). Psychiatric Commitment and Involuntary Hospitalization: An Ethical Perspective. Psychiatric Quarterly, 58(2), 106–112.
  • Sjöstrand, M. & Helgesson, G. (2008). Coercive Treatment and Autonomy in Psychiatry. Bioethics, 22(2), 113–120.

Week 8 (3 December) – Pregnancy & Mental Health Care

Philosophy of Medicine Reading Group

This term we will be holding joint sessions with the Philosophy of Psychology and Psychiatry Reading Group.

Philosophy and History of Physics Reading Group

This reading group meets on Tuesdays, 4.30pm to 6pm in the Board Room. Organised by Jeremy Butterfield, Matt Farr and Bryan Roberts.

Our theme this term is The Arrow of Time. Weekly meetings start on 15 October, but we will not meet on 29 October or 5 November. The last two sessions of term (26 November and 3 December) have been cancelled.

12 November

We will discuss Eran Tal, 'Making Time: A Study in the Epistemology of Measurement', British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 67 (2016), 297–335.

Early Science and Medicine Work-in-Progress

This is a termly forum, supported by Wellcome, for early career scholars to discuss their work-in-progress. We usually discuss two pieces of work at each session. If you would like to participate, please email the organisers, Justin Rivest (jr723) and Carolin Schmitz (cs2003).

Meetings are held in the Board Room at the start of each term. The meeting this term is on Tuesday 8 October, 5–8pm.

Convened by Lauren Kassell, Silvia De Renzi (OU) and Dániel Margócsy.

Latin Therapy

Latin Therapy is an informal reading group. All levels of Latin are very welcome. We meet on Fridays, 3.00 to 4.30pm in the Board Room, to translate and discuss a text from the history of science, technology or medicine. This is an opportunity to brush up your Latin by regular practice, and if a primary source is giving you grief, we'd love to help you make sense of it over tea and biscuits!

To be added to the mailing list, or to suggest a text, please contact Arthur Harris.

Manchu Therapy

The Manchu Therapy group meets fortnightly on Tuesdays, starting on 15 October, from 10.00 to 11.00am in the Board Room.

Manchu Therapy is an informal group for those who have an interest in the Manchu language, or who are working with Manchu documents, to learn more and improve their reading skills. (See this brief description of the Manchus and the Manchu language.) Every other week, we will meet to read texts together. All are welcome.

For more information or to be added to the mailing list, please contact Mary Brazelton.

Greek Therapy

Greek Therapy meets every Wednesday during term time in the Board Room from 5.30 to 6.30pm.

We are an informal group for beginners and for experienced readers of Greek seeking to brush up their skills – all levels are welcome. Sessions usually involve a basic grammar session at the beginning followed by reading through a more advanced text. This term we will read selections from Plato's Timaeus.

For more information or to be added to the mailing list, please email Liz Smith.