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Department of History and Philosophy of Science



Departmental Seminars

Seminars take place on Thursdays from 3.30pm to 5pm in Arts School Lecture Theatre A, New Museums Site.

Organised by Lewis Bremner.

19 October

David Arnold (University of Warwick)
Photography and the art of science in nineteenth-century India

What is the function and effect of photography in relation to science and technology in a colonial situation like that of India in the 19th century? This presentation considers the part played by photography in the making and dissemination of scientific knowledge and the sited rationality of empire – from monumentality to microscopy, from hydraulic engineering and bovine photography to biology and medicine. It assesses the limitations of photography relative to other forms of visual (and non-visual) representation and the creative role of both European and Indian artists.

26 October

John Dupré (University of Exeter)
Lineages as evolving processes

In this talk I shall consider some implications of a process philosophy for our theory of evolution. Starting with the entities in which evolution most commonly occurs, lineages, I explain what these are and why they should be seen as long-lasting processes. I then use this insight as a perspective to look at various factors in evolution, touching on the current debate between defenders of the now traditional modern synthesis and the extended evolutionary synthesis. I shall conclude with reflections on some unique features of the human lineage.

2 November (McConnell Lecture)

Catherine Eagleton (University of St Andrews)
If technology was the answer, what was the question? Digitisation and digital engagement with scientific collections

Digital access to collections is transforming the ways people access and use our galleries, libraries, archives and museums. New technologies and tools are opening up new possibilities for access to scientific collections by the people for whom we steward them, but we need to make choices about which technologies to use, and for what purposes.

This lecture draws on examples from recent research and digital engagement projects, and on material in Whipple collections and elsewhere. It will argue that we need better to understand who the audiences are for digitised collections, and what they want to do with them, if we are to maximise their potential while avoiding replicating and reinforcing the limitations and inequities of the past.

9 November

Jingyi Wu (London School of Economics)
Where inattention pays

(Joint work with Liam Kofi Bright)
It is easier to be mediocre when you are in the mainstream. This, at least, would be true if it were the case that mainstream academics have a preference for engaging with work from their own research traditions, while marginalized academics have to engage with mainstream work for career survival. Using computer simulations, we explore how under such attention asymmetry, mainstream work becomes over-credited, worse in quality, and over-represented, as compared to marginalized work. Along the way we present empirical evidence of this phenomenon and discuss how it relates to demographic disparities observed in the academy.

16 November

Alistair Isaac (University of Edinburgh)
Lifecycle of a constant: e

(Joint work with George Smith and Teru Miyake)
I trace the changing evidential status of the charge of the electron e during the last 100 years in order to tease out some distinctive features of the epistemology of high-precision measurement. Of special significance is the way functional interlinking between constants allows values of different constants to serve as crosschecks on each other. This holistic process of cross-checking established e as an anchor for other constants during the 1910s and '20s, when recommended values for constants such Avogadro's number and Planck's constant, which could only be directly determined at lower levels of precision, were adjusted to maintain consistency with Millikan's oil drop value for e. With the rise of x-ray diffraction determinations of NA, however, this changed, as these methods could derive values for e significantly more precise than Millikan's direct measurement. The tension between oil-drop and x-ray values for e ultimately exposed systematic error in Millikan's method due to uncertainty in the viscosity of air. After a long period as a derived value, in 2019 the value of e was fixed in order to define the ampere in the new SI. The changing status of e from anchor, to derived, to fixed illustrates three unique features of evidential reasoning in physical measurement. First, precision is given epistemic significance, and taken as a corollary to accuracy. Second, inconsistencies between high precision values of physical constants expose systematic error. Finally, fixing constants such as e as exact ensures that units are not a source of systematic error, thereby enabling progress on measurements at the forefront of new physics, such as that of the anomalous magnetic moment of the muon. I conclude with some controversial speculations of a realist bent.

23 November

Peder Roberts (University of Stavanger)
The dream of orderly development: selling the importance of science in Arctic North America after 1945

(Part of a joint project with Lize-Marié van der Watt)
Towards the end of the Second World War, individuals in Canada and the United States saw environmental information collected by the US military as a resource for the economic and social development of Arctic North America. From this agitation arose the Arctic Institute of North America (AINA), a private US-Canadian organization founded in 1944 to encourage and direct northern research within a broader framework of 'orderly development'. The term presumed a dichotomy not between development and its absence, but between more or less application of knowledge to optimise development. My aim is to explore how AINA asserted the importance of orderly development within the context of expanded state funding for science – but also anxieties (particularly in the Canadian government) toward the value of academic research for state administration, and continued US power over Canadian spaces. Wider debates over the importance of curiosity-driven over mission-oriented research met more local debates over who (and what) constituted a socially and politically appropriate source of expertise. Not uniquely, orderly development guided by science increasingly became a justification for maintaining spending on northern research projects as an end in itself. I conclude with reflections on how its apostles scrambled to retain authority in the late 1960s when environmental concerns grew, and when the Prudhoe Bay oil strike sparked massive interest in the North American Arctic – despite rather than because of science-backed planning.


Coffee with Scientists

The aim of this group is to explore and enhance the interface between HPS and science. Although many of us in HPS engage closely with scientists and their practices, 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.

We meet on Fridays, 3.30–5.00pm in HPS Seminar Room 1. Further information, any reading materials, and links for online meetings will be distributed through the email list of the group. Please contact Hasok Chang (hc372) or Marta Halina (mh801) if you would like to be included on the list.

13 October, from 9.30am

Plenary speakers include Prof. Sir David Spiegelhalter, Prof. Sander van der Linden, Prof. Hasok Chang, Prof. Giles Yeo, and Dr Roland Roberts
The Role of Academia in Misinformation 2023: Building Resilience in Information Ecosystems

This is a one-day conference organised by BRIE2023 at Darwin College. More information about the conference and how to register can be found here.

27 October – Zoom meeting

Will Bridewell (U.S. Naval Research Laboratory) and Alistair Isaac (University of Edinburgh)
Model Validation with Ambiguous Target Phenomena

10 November

Nicholas J. Butterfield (Department of Earth Sciences, University of Cambridge)
Disentangling Cause and Effect in Biological and Planetary Evolution

24 November

Ju Young Lee (Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics)
Constructive Empiricism in the Context of Human Brain Imaging


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.

Seminars are held on Mondays at 1pm in Seminar Room 1 (with the exception of 30 October, when the seminar will take place at 12noon and be followed by the Annual Fungus Hunt).

For further details about upcoming events, or to be added to the mailing list for the Cabinet of Natural History, please contact Thomas Banbury (tjb98).

16 October

Silvia M. Marchiori (HPS, University of Cambridge) – guest hosted by Dr Anna-Luna Post
Erudite medicine in the vernacular: the early modern translations of Celsus' De medicina

Despite recent interests in the kaleidoscopic articulations of translation processes and in a general reassessment of 'vernacular science' as an analytical category, the early modern translations of classical medical authors like Hippocrates and Galen are still an understudied topic. After providing a summary of these overlooked sources, this paper will focus on the fifteenth- and sixteenth-century vernacular translations of Cornelius Celsus' De medicina, a first-century AD medical textbook that became a bestseller in the early modern age, when it was especially renowned for its erudite Latin style and vocabulary. By investigating the translators' agency, the nature of these intellectual products, and their purpose, this talk will reconsider the reception of Celsus' De medicina in the light of its vernacular circulation. It will also show that the widespread interest in classical medical authors entailed the coexistence and intersection of different audiences, revealing a dialectic exchange between the ancients, the translators, and the readers.

23 October

Daniel Gettings (Department of History, University of Warwick)
To drink or not to drink: understanding 'types' of water in seventeenth-century England

'Water is not all alike in goodness; but much difference there is in this and that sort; which we may distinguish thus.' In his health treatise of 1683, Dr Everard Maynwaringe succinctly expressed a concept that occurred frequently across seventeenth-century literature on water, that there were many 'types' or 'sorts' to distinguish between. Seventeenth-century authors laboured to produce hierarchies of 'waters', ranking them from best to worst based on environmental origins and justifying their decisions through extensive prose. This paper takes this substantial literature and seeks to explore what it can tell us about water's place in early modern lives and, particularly, its status as a drink, a subject on which early modern authors had very strong, but divided opinions. Through examination of the wide variety of knowledge drawn upon by authors to justify their positions as well as the sharing and adapting of ideas across this literature, the paper will explore understandings of water while demonstrating the complex space it occupied in this period as a substance serving simultaneously as a scientific subject, a consumable beverage, and a facet of daily labour.

30 October at 12noon

Marissa Smit-Bose (Department of History, Harvard University)
Embodied knowledge: riding Ottoman horses in Renaissance Italy

In the 1490s, the Marquis of Mantua Francesco II Gonzaga successfully imported dozens of horses from Constantinople into Italy. Bolstering his family's famous breeding enterprise, these purchases involved staggering hardships and testify to the luxury status of Ottoman animals. Over the next decades, a new riding style, manéggio, would be popularized from Naples and disseminated in texts like Federico Grisone's landmark Gli Ordini di Cavalcare of 1550. While the significance of this burgeoning genre of riding treatises is widely recognized, the place of Ottoman horses and horse ways in these developments has gone underexplored.

Accordingly, I examine the material and discursive engagement of Europeans (primarily Italians) with Ottoman equestrian culture in the sixteenth century. During this period, the characterization of Ottoman horse care and training in European travel narratives and hippological works shifted dramatically. Denunciations of neglect became praises of gentleness and liberty which provided a rhetorical foil for the disciplined control sought in manéggio.

Despite such admiration, the bodily comportment of these mounts often frustrated the expectations of European riders. More than a commercial transaction, then, importing Ottoman animals necessitated acts of translation on the parts of both humans and horses and spurred the growth of cross-cultural riding knowledge. Charting the boundaries of these experiential, embodied, and innovative exchanges, I use alla Turchesca riding in Italy to showcase the active role of Ottoman interlocutors in the production of this knowledge. At the same time, I show how Italy's writing riders mobilized their command of these skills to claim expertise in the competitive arena of courtly riding schools, thereby consolidating a sense of civilizational difference and, increasingly, of European superiority.

Followed by the Annual Fungus Hunt, led by Nick Jardine

6 November

Rachel Feldberg (Department of History, University of York)
Beyond 'polite science': middling women and the thirst for natural knowledge in the late eighteenth century

Despite richly varied discussions on the state of natural knowledge in the second half of the eighteenth century, middling women have occupied little or no space in the dominant historiography. In recent years there has been an increased focus on elite women's engagement in a range of intellectual endeavours, most notably botanical classification. But the central vitality of everyday embodied practices and practical knowledge demonstrated by middling women within the household, and their engagement with natural philosophy beyond the domestic setting has been almost entirely ignored.

This paper argues that provincial women of the middling sort demonstrated hitherto unrecognised engagement with natural philosophy. By way of illustration, it traces two women's very different involvement with the production and transmission of natural knowledge and examines to what extent this was driven by the demands of domestic 'oeconomy', sociability, religious belief and conscious self-improvement, rather than a search for 'polite knowledge'. Jane Ewbank, the twenty-six-year-old daughter of a York druggist, demonstrated the breadth of her interest in the natural world in her Journal (1803–05), from observing a crocodile to visiting rural-industrial sites and attending lectures on natural philosophy, chemistry and galvanism. Mary Stacey, the wife of a farmer in rural Somerset, used her family recipe collection to document the results of her search for domestic improvement much in the manner of a laboratory notebook.

In a period which sought to encourage and celebrate women's knowledge of areas like dairying while limiting their access to scientific debate, the paper highlights the (often unseen) impact of print material and conversation on middling women's construction of the natural world. It teases out their observational and reflective practices, identifying shifts in the parameters of their knowledge and suggests the ways in which both Stacey and Ewbank sought to transmit their understanding to other women.

13 November

Museum Visit
A visit to the Polar Museum at the Scott Polar Research Institute, hosted by Museum Curator, Dr David Waterhouse

20 November

Erica Fischer (Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, King's College London)
Corresponding lepidopterists and the British Lepidoptera collection, Department of Entomology, British Museum (Natural History)

In this paper, I examine records of butterfly and moth specimens collected between 1881 and 1955 which are housed in the Natural History Museum (formerly the British Museum [Natural History]) along with associated correspondence to better understand the influence of outside collectors on the growth of the British Lepidoptera collection. A wide variety of collectors and correspondents contributed specimens to the Museum, and many who contributed specimens were also in contact with members of staff, especially lepidopterists Norman Riley and 'Tiger' Tams.

Through this case study, I demonstrate the utility of digitized museum specimen data in historical research when combined with archival materials, especially using quantitative methods. These two types of sources provide a better picture of the growth of the collection and the people involved than either source on its own. Combining sources also makes it possible to examine the influence of informal communication on specimen acquisition at the Museum. Letters provide examples of attempts by staff members to steer outside collecting to the benefit of the Museum, especially in efforts to create a 'complete' national collection of butterflies and moths from the British Isles. In particular, I examine the spatial distribution of both specimens and correspondents to identify inconsistencies and biases in collecting.

27 November

Phoebe McDonnell (Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, King's College London)
Health knowledge and its gatekeepers: exchanges of knowledge between Tsimshian and Euro-Canadian missionaries in nineteenth-century British Columbia

In nineteenth-century British Columbia, the process of colonization and the attempted elimination of traditional practices impacted greatly on how individuals understood health and medicine. Using the diaries of a Tsimshian man and irregular Indigenous missionary called Arthur Wellington Clah, we can see how health knowledge and disease events impacted the ways Indigenous individuals viewed and interacted with Euro-Canadian missionaries. As Clah navigated the rapidly changing world around him, how he understood health changed in interesting ways. Using the seventy-two volumes of his diary, supplemented by the writings of Euro-Canadian missionaries in the region, we can trace the change over time of the ways in which all of these missionaries, Indigenous and Euro-Canadian alike, saw the world around them. This helps us to better understand the importance of the medical dimension of proselytization and its significance to the wider colonial project.


History of Medicine

Seminars, supported by Wellcome, are on Tuesdays from 5.00 to 6.30pm in Seminar Room 1 unless otherwise stated. All welcome!

Early Science and Medicine

Organised by Dániel Margócsy and Philippa Carter.

17 October

Fabrizio Baldassarri (Ca' Foscari University of Venice)
Towards a physical botany: the ascent of water in plants in seventeenth-century studies

31 October

Philippa Carter (HPS, Cambridge)
Splicing the soul: brain anatomy and interspecies difference in early modern Europe

28 November

Neha Vermani (University of Sheffield)
The science of pleasure in early modern South Asia

History of Modern Medicine and Biology

Organised by Salim Al-Gailani, Mary Brazelton, Staffan Müller-Wille and Dmitriy Myelnikov.

10 October

Dong Guoqiang (Fudan University)
The campaign against leprosy in contemporary China

7 November

Claire Shaw (University of Warwick)
Towards a social(ist) model of disability? Exploring the Soviet roots of twentieth-century disability politics

21 November

Jules Skotnes-Brown (University of St Andrews)
Plague and plantations: science, extraction, and global connections in Mauritius, 1899–1933

Generation to Reproduction

Organised by Salim Al-Gailani and Dániel Margócsy.

24 October

Fabiola Creed (University of Warwick)
Baby Blues and BBC Television: Postpartum psychosis narratives, stigma and support in 1970s Britain

14 November

Rebecca Whiteley (University of Birmingham)
Challenging the Hunterian hegemony: rethinking the visual culture of pregnancy in mid-eighteenth-century Britain



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. In the 2023–24 year, CamPoS is being organised by Anna Alexandrova (HPS) and Neil Dewar (Philosophy).

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

18 October

Stephen John (HPS, Cambridge)
Why we shouldn't democratise science

1 November

Marion Godman (Aarhus University)
Can anyone be a target of discrimination? Lessons from philosophy of science and work on human kinds

15 November

Zuzana Parusniková (Czech Academy of Sciences, Prague)
The case of Ignaz Semmelweis revisited: a plea for Popperian science

22 November

Lena Kästner (Universität Bayreuth)
What explainable AI can learn from philosophy of science

29 November

Inkeri Koskinen (University of Helsinki)
Unifying the notion of objectivity


The Anthropocene

The Anthropocene (Climate Histories) offers alternating sessions in the related fields of climate history and Anthropocene studies. Meetings will involve a mix of invited speakers and reading group sessions, generally held on Thursdays at 1pm–2pm in Seminar Room 2. All are welcome!

Organised by Claire Oliver, Alexis Rider and Richard Staley.

26 October

Alexis Rider (University of Cambridge)
A Melting Fossil: Ice as an Instrument of Quaternary Climate Knowledge

Since the nineteenth century, ice has been an important material through which naturalists and scientists have understood and constructed climatological change on vast temporal scales. From geomorphological evidence of ice ages to geochemical tracers of CO2, the frozen material has given detail and texture to the Quaternary period and become a particularly pertinent interlocutor for climate change. As a material that has been taken up by diverse scientific disciplines and used to scale through space and time, can ice be understood as a kind of scientific instrument? In this talk, I will consider whether the materiality of ice – a viscous solid, a record-keeper and container, a bridge between lab and field, a geomorphological force, a lens through which to see nonhuman time – positions it as an instrument of sorts, and what the implications for such a reframing could be for histories of the cryosphere and climate.

2 November at 12noon – note unusual time!

Lilian Kroth (University of Fribourg)
Rethinking Limits – Reading French Philosopher of Science Michel Serres

The question of 'limits' is crucial to grasping structural aspects of discourses of climate change: tipping points, thresholds, planetary boundaries, or notions of scarcity rely extensively on the notion of limits – yet in strikingly heterogenous ways. Against this backdrop, I will try to reflect on such conceptual aspects of the formation and operative function of limits by presenting the broad outlines of my thesis on French philosopher of science Michel Serres (1930–2019).

Serres is often taken up as a philosopher who has taken up key problematics of the Anthropocene and the environmental humanities from early on, with contributions such as The Natural Contract, his writings on thermodynamics, fluid dynamics; his descriptions of oceans, ice, or his symbolic trope of the North-West-Passage. After briefly introducing his work, I will suggest a reading that focuses on quasi-systematic aspects of his thinking, and particularly his approach to conceptualising different models of limits. Taking a broad range of his work from the 1960s up until 2019 into account, I will try to systemise his methodological approach to three limit formations: geometrical, topological, and entropic limits; or: 'breaking the bound while preserving it', 'there isn't only one such line', and 'line abandoned in favor of random matter'.

As a philosophical method, in close interconnection with a mathematical structuralism of the 20th century, the idea of 'translation' between different areas of knowledge will be key. I take Serres as a starting point for this endeavour, as his thinking is on the one hand exemplary for 20th-century productive ambivalences with thinking limits, borders, and boundaries in political, legal, and ecological discourses. On the other hand, his contribution presents itself as critical in respect to how formations of limits develop over time and how they are translated into different disciplinary knowledges.

9 November

Jenny Bulstrode (University College London)
Reparations, racial justice, and the merchants of doubt

In August this year, leading UN judge, Patrick Robinson, described transatlantic chattel slavery as 'the greatest atrocity and crime in the history of mankind' and reparations as 'required by history and... required by law'. Two of the many salient manifestations of this crime against humanity today are the current climate crisis and the injustice of its most extreme impacts. Slavery, indenture and colonialism were all based on the theft of skills and knowledge, not just labour and resources. This talk will bring the significance of those points together with analysis of the way in which the Anthropocene has been marked and debated, to expose how reparations and racial justice are now and have always been the targets of the merchants of doubt.

23 November

Dipesh Chakrabarty, The Climate of History in a Planetary Age (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 2021)

This reading group discussion of Chakrabarty's work will also consider the craft of writing book reviews.


Calculating People

Calculating People is a reading group on current and past social sciences with a special focus on their methodological controversies. All postgraduate researchers are welcome to join, but participants undertake to do the readings ahead of time and endeavour to attend all meetings. The format is in-person with a possibility of a Zoom link if it proves practical.

The meetings take place fortnightly on Thursdays, 1–2pm in the Board Room. Organised by Anna Alexandrova.

5 October

Daniel Nettle, Willem E. Frankenhuis, Karthik Panchanathan, 'Biology, Society, or Choice: How Do Non-Experts Interpret Explanations of Behaviour?', Open Mind 2023; 7 625–651.

19 October

Ross, L. N. (2023), 'What is social structural explanation? A causal account', Noûs, 00, 1–17.

2 November

Herzog, Lisa, 'Experts in Democracies', Citizen Knowledge: Markets, Experts, and the Infrastructure of Democracy (New York, 2023; online edn, Oxford Academic, 24 Aug. 2023).

16 November

DesRoches, C. Tyler, S. Andrew Inkpen, and Tom L. Green, 'The eroding artificial-natural distinction? Some consequences for ecology and economics', Contemporary Philosophy and Social Science: An Interdisciplinary Dialogue (2019): 39–57. And Nagatsu, M. (2019), 'Commentary: Toward a Philosophy and Methodology for Interdisciplinary Research', Contemporary Philosophy and Social Science: An Interdisciplinary Dialogue, 59–66.


Measurement Reading Group

Every Friday from 13 October, at 2pm in the Board Room.

Organised by Miguel Ohnesorge (mo459) and Cristian Larroulet Philippi (cl792).

This term, we will be reading Ivan Moscati, Measuring Utility: From the Marginal Revolution to Behavioural Economics (Oxford UP, 2019). We will circulate the detailed readings for each week via email.


Teaching Global HPSTM

Following an idea that grew out of the 'Decolonise HPS' reading group that met at the Department from 2019 to 2023, 'Teaching Global HPSTM' will consist of a series of meetings with similar departments around the world to discuss questions of institutional resources, curricula, grand narratives and intellectual traditions underwriting the teaching of History and Philosophy of Science, Technology and Medicine (HPSTM). The meetings are driven, in the first place, by our curiosity about how HPSTM is taught elsewhere, but in the longer term we hope to create a more de-centralized network and series of events on traditions in HPSTM around the world, and where to take them in the future.

Meetings will be held bi-weekly on Fridays during Cambridge term times in the academic year 2023–24. We envisage the meetings to be hybrid via video link, but with in-person meetings at either end to facilitate lively discussion. Each meeting is supposed to last for 90 minutes, and colleagues from all career stages, including students and senior colleagues, are welcome to participate.

20 October

Meeting with colleagues in India, 2.00–3.30pm UK/6.30–8.00pm India

27 October

Meeting with colleagues in Vienna and Berlin, 2.00–3.30pm UK/3.00–4.30pm Germany & Austria

17 November

Meeting with colleagues in Mexico City, 2.00–3.30pm UK/8.00–9.30am Mexico

24 November

Meeting with colleagues at Tsinghua University, Beijing, 9.00–10.30am UK/4.00–5.30pm China


Pragmatism Reading Group

The Pragmatism Reading Group is held on Mondays at 11am–12noon in the Board Room.

Organisers: Damon Kutzin (dtk23), Helene Scott-Fordsmand (hs747), Ruward Mulder (ram202)

In Michaelmas Term, the Pragmatism Reading Group will explore scientific discovery. Pragmatist philosophers have always been interested in the process of discovery and highlighted it as an underexamined kind of inquiry in traditional philosophy of science. This is in part due to the influential distinction between the 'context of discovery' and 'the context of justification', which held that only justification could be subject to logical analysis, while discovery was a psychological process, irrelevant to the validity of the discovery itself.

The readings will question this argument in a variety of ways, starting from early pragmatist accounts of discovery, to examining analogical, heuristic, and sociological approaches. In this way, we consider various ways to overcome the context distinction and how to think about scientific discovery philosophically.

9 October

Schiller, F.C.S. (1917), 'Scientific Discovery and Logical Proof', in C.J. Singer (ed.), Studies in the History and Method of Science (Volume 1), Oxford: Clarendon, 235–89. [PDF scan provided]

16 October

Hanson, Norwood R. (1960), 'Is there a Logic of Scientific Discovery?', Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 38: 91–106.

23 October

Polanyi, Michael. (1967). 'The Creative Imagination', TriQuarterly (8), 111–124.

30 October

Hesse, Mary. (1973). 'Logic of discovery in Maxwell's electromagnetic theory', in Ronald N. Giere & Richard S. Westfall (eds.), Foundations of Scientific Method: The Nineteenth Century. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. pp. 86–114. [PDF scan provided]

6 November

Laudan, Larry. (1980), 'Why Was the Logic of Discovery Abandoned?' in T. Nickles (ed.), Scientific Discovery, Logic, and Rationality (Dordrecht: Reidel), pp. 173–183.

13 November

Achinstein, Peter. (1980), 'Discovery and Rule-Books', in T. Nickles (ed.), Scientific Discovery, Logic, and Rationality (Dordrecht: Reidel), pp. 117–132.

20 November

Schaffer, Simon. (1986), 'Scientific Discoveries and the End of Natural Philosophy', Social Studies of Science (16), 387–420.

27 November

Ippoliti, Emiliano (2020). 'Scientific Discovery Reloaded', Topoi 39(4): 847–856.


Foundations of Physics Reading Group

For physicists, philosophers and all other intellectuals: in this weekly reading group we look at state-of-the-art articles in the foundations of physics, both on philosophical methodology as well as interpretations of particular theories. Think of topics as what a physical theory should be like; how symmetries can be a guide to ontology; what the role of gauge variables is; or how to formulate the presumed underdetermination between different quantum theories. We occasionally invite authors to join the sessions.

We meet every Monday at 2.00–3.00pm. For the first four weeks, we meet online. After that, the format is hybrid: some will meet physically in the Board Room, others will join online. You'll find the Michaelmas schedule below.

If you are interested in attending, please send an email to: ram202. We welcome everyone interested in these topics, regardless of background: see you there!

Organisers: Ruward Mulder (ram202), Neil Dewar (nad42)

9 October: Intelligibility of quantum mechanics

  • Henk de Regt (2017). 'Chapter 7: Visualizability and intelligibility: Insight into the quantum world'. In Understanding Scientific Understanding. Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Science.

16 October: Coordinative definitions and relativity of geometry

  • Hans Reichenbach (1926/7) The Philosophy of Science & Time. Sections 3–8.

23 October: Einstein on theoretical physics and field theory unification

  • Jeroen van Dongen (2010). 'Chapter 2: On the method of theoretical physics'. Einstein's Unification. Cambridge University Press.
  • Jeroen van Dongen (2010). 'Chapter 3: Unification and field theory'. Einstein's Unification. Cambridge University Press.

30 October: Early alternatives to geometrical gravity theories – Reichenbach, Weyl, Einstein

6 November: Aharonov and Bohm on the reality of the electromagnetic potentials

13 November: More on the electromagnetic potentials – Vaidman vs. Aharonov-Cohen-Rohrlich

20 November: Locality and gauge variables

27 November: Equivalence and symmetries

  • Simon Saunders (2003). 'Physics and Leibniz's Principles'. In Symmetries in Physics: Philosophical Reflections. Edited by K. Brading and E. Castellani. Cambridge University Press.

4 December: More equivalence and symmetries – sophistication

11 December: Bonus: physics and phenomenology?


Integrating the History and Philosophy of Science

This intensive reading group explores how historical and philosophical approaches to science can be brought together into an integrated framework. We aim to learn from different approaches that scholars have taken to integrated HPS, and discuss challenging methodological questions surrounding them. Our focus lies equally on the general fruitfulness of 'iHPS' as a methodology and on its particular potential in illuminating various scientific, historical and philosophical subject-matter.

For each meeting we invite a leading scholar of integrated HPS, and invite them to bring along some of their local colleagues. We make an in-depth study of the featured scholar's work before the meeting, and go directly into a discussion about it. Participants are asked to do a significant amount of reading, and we try for a diverse range of contexts, questions and scientific disciplines across the meetings.

We continue to meet online so that we can easily invite teams of scholars from around the world.

Organised by Hasok Chang (hc372) and Miguel Ohnesorge (mo459), with the collaboration of Sarah Hijmans (Université Paris Diderot). If you would like to be on the mailing list for this group, please email one of us.

20 November, 5pm

Prof. Katherine Brading (Duke University) will discuss her book Philosophical Mechanics in the Age of Reason.


Values in Science Reading Group

We meet on Wednesdays from 11am to 12noon in Seminar Room 1. Organised by Ahmad Elabbar and Cristian Larroulet Philippi. This term's theme is the sciences of public policy.

Part I: Economics

  • [Week 1, 11 October] Graeber, D. (2014) Debt: The First 5,000 Years. Brooklyn: Melville House. [Chapter 2: 'The Myth of Barter']
  • [Week 2, 18 October] Anderson, E. (1995). Value in ethics and economics. Harvard University Press. [Chapter 9: 'Cost-benefit analysis, Safety, and Environmental Quality']

Part II: Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Part III: Measurement in public policy

Part IV: Environmental/climate science


HPS Workshop

Fridays, 5–6pm in Seminar Room 2
History sessions organised by Zsuzsanna Ihar (zdi20)
Philosophy sessions organised by Phillip Kieval (pzhk2)

HPS Workshop seeks to break the isolation of postgraduate research and encourage collaborative thinking by allowing students to present work in progress in a supportive seminar environment. The workshops will have alternate sessions focusing on Philosophy and History, but interdisciplinary presentations are always welcome.

Students are invited to present on any aspect of their research that they are grappling with or desire feedback on, including:

  • Unpacking complicated sources, concepts, or archives
  • Presenting drafts of chapters, conference papers, or publications
  • Proposing new ideas or strategies towards HPS research

The session is comprised of two parts: 20 minutes where the speaker outlines their work in progress (indicating areas that they would like feedback to be based upon) and 40 minutes of discussion.

13 October

Leo Chu: Development through diversity: systems ecology and agricultural development in south-east Asia, 1964–83

20 October

Ahmad Elabbar: Will the real victims of climate change please stand up

27 October

Theo Di Castri: 'Less social?' or 'less intercalated?': representing US prevention research during the 1980s

3 November

Dubian Cañas: A new pragmatist resolution to the conflict between history of science and philosophy of science

10 November

Maxime Guttin: Constructing the anatomy of the brain and race in colonial Europe (late 18th – mid-19th century): an intersectional approach

17 November

Henrik Sova: What do we mean when we use the phrase 'really real'?


Postgraduate Seminars

The Postgraduate Seminars offer a sustained and systematic introduction to specific cutting-edge areas of research, led by leading experts in those areas.

Aims and Methods of Histories of the Sciences

Michaelmas Term 2023: Thu 12noon, weeks 1–4 (4 one-hour seminars) in Seminar Room 2
Nick Jardine (leader)

These seminars will consider aspects of the history, aims, methods and current problems of the history of science. The opening session 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 purposes of history of science, and the relations between history and philosophy of science.

5 October

Nick Jardine: Formation and transformations of history of science
This opening session will sketch the ways in which history of science became established as a discipline. There will then be an overview of some of the main approaches that have dominated the field over the past century: positivist narratives of scientific progress, social histories of the sciences, cultural histories, and global histories.  

12 October

Jeff Skopek and Nick Jardine: Scientists' uses of history
This session will consider the ways in which scientists have used the histories of their sciences for purposes of teaching, promotion of their disciplines, and defence of their views.

19 October

Cristina Chimisso and Nick Jardine: Hélène Metzger on the methods and aims of history of science
Can the historian understand past texts just as readers who lived at the time when the texts were written did? Should this be the historian's aim? Is history of science relevant to current philosophy and science? These are some of the questions that the historian of chemistry Hélène Metzger (Chatou, France, 1889 – Auschwitz, 1944) aimed to answer. This session will discuss her innovative historiography of science.

26 October

Hasok Chang and Nick Jardine: Philosophers' uses of history of science
This session will consider ways in which philosophers of science can profit from close study of historical episodes and developments in the sciences.


Language Groups

Latin Therapy

Latin Therapy is an informal reading group. All levels of Latin are very welcome. We meet 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 Nick Jardine.

In Michaelmas Term 2023 we will meet weekly on Fridays, 1–2pm in the Board Room.