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Ideologies of Science

Nick Jardine; Mondays 11am–12.30pm, weekly from 5 February (6 sessions)

These seminars will explore rival conceptions of the nature of science and of the educational, social and political roles of science and scientists. Ideological conflicts considered will include: radical agnostic John Stuart Mill vs. conservative Anglican William Whewell on the methods of natural science and its roles in education and politics; liberal Ernst Mach vs. conservative Catholic Pierre Duhem on the history and prospects of the sciences; the 'two cultures' controversy sparked off by socialist C.P. Snow, champion of science education, and traditionalist F.R. Leavis, champion of literary education. 

5 February
Introduction followed by Science and Education: Whewell vs. Mill

After an introduction considering  the various senses in which histories, philosophies and sociologies of science may be considered as ideological, the seminar will discuss two mutually hostile visions of the nature of science and of its uses in education and social improvement:

  • The empiricist philosophy of science of John Stuart Mill (1806–1873), liberal individualist, protagonist of utilitarian ethics, promoter of women's rights, educational and social reformer.
  • The idealist history and philosophy of science of William Whewell (1794–1866), Tory pillar of the Anglican establishment, and fierce opponent of such radicals as Mill.

Readings on ideology:

  • R. Geuss, The Idea of a Critical Theory (Cambridge, 1981).
  • T. Eagleton, Ideology: An Introduction (London, 1991), or M. Freeden, Ideology: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2003).
  • J. Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere [1962] (Cambridge MA, 1989): this is heavy going – for a useful introduction, C. Calhoun (ed.), Habermas and the Public Sphere (Cambridge, MA), 1992.

Readings on Mill and Whewell:

  • Whewell is fairly readable, and the introductory chapters of his History of the Inductive Sciences (First ed. 1837, reprint of third ed., London, 1967) and Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences (First ed. 1840, facsimile of second ed., New York, 1967) provide useful overviews. Richard Yeo's Defining Science: William Whewell, Natural Knowledge and Pubic Debate in Early Victorian Britain (Cambridge, 1993), chs 1–4, is excellent. Fisch and Schaffer, eds., William Whewell: A Composite Portrait (Oxford, 1991) has fine essays by Cantor, Yeo and Williams.
  • For Mill's views on the methods of the natural sciences see the opening chapters of Book III of his System of Logic, 1843 (heavy going). Good accounts of Mill's views on induction, explanation and scientific laws are to be found in the Encyclopaedia of Philosophy and the Routledge Encyclopaedia of Philosophy. Allen Ryan's The Philosophy of John Stuart Mill, London, 1970, is useful, as is J. Skorupski, 'Mill and his age', ch. 2 of his English-Language Philosophy, 1750–1940 (Oxford, 1993).

Mill vs. Whewell:

  • L.J. Snyder, Reforming Philosophy: A Victorian Debate on Science and Society (Chicago, 2006) is excellent.

12 February
Purging Science of Metaphysics: Mach and Duhem

We shall look at two rival programmes for the elimination of metaphysical elements in the sciences:

  • The critical empiricism of the Austrian social-democrat Ernst Mach (1838–1916).
  • The conventionalism of the French Catholic, nationalist and conservative Pierre Duhem (1861–1916).

Particular attention is paid to the divergent educational programmes associated with these philosophies of science.

Mach's most accessible writings are the essays collected in his Knowledge and Error [1905], trans. T.J. McCormack (Dordrecht, 1976); try, for example, the essays on 'hypotheses', 'thought experiments', and 'adaptation of thoughts to facts'. The article in the Routledge Encyclopaedia of Philosophy is useful, as are the articles by Laudan and  Hiebert in P.K. Machamer and R.G. Turnbull, eds., Motion and Time, Space and Matter (Ohio, 1976).

Duhem, The Aim and Structure of Physical Theory [1906], trans. P.P. Wiener (Princeton, 1954), ch. 6,'Physical theory and experiment', and the appendix 'The physics of a believer'; and/or To Save the Phenomena [1908], trans. E. Doland and C. Maschler (Chicago, 1969), ch. 7, 'From the Gregorian reform of the calendar to the condemnation of Galileo'. There are useful articles in the Routledge Encyclopaedia of Philosophy and the Dictionary of Scientific Biography; also, special issues of the journal Synthese, 83, nos 2 & 3 (1990), devoted to Duhem. If you happen to read French, A. Brenner, Duhem. Science, réalité et apparence (Paris, 1990) is excellent. On Duhem's history and philosophy of science in relation to his Catholicism, see H. Paul, 'Pierre Duhem: the scientific philosophy of a modern believer' in his The Edge of Contingency: French Catholic Reaction to Scientific Change from Darwin to Duhem (Gainesville, FL, 1979) or, for enthusiasts, R. Martin, Pierre Duhem: Philosophy and History in the Work of a Believing Physicist (LaSalle, IL, 1991).

19 February
Science and Politics in the Logical Positivist Movement

The logical positivist movement flourished in Germany and Austria from 1907 (formation of the Ernst Mach Society) until its dispersal with the rise of Fascism in the 1930s. This session will consider the manifesto of the movement, 'The Scientific Conception of the World' (1929), together with the philosophies of science of Moritz Schlick (1882–1936), Otto Neurath (1882–1942) and Rudolf Carnap (1891–1970), in relation to the positivists' radical programmes for the unification of the sciences and the rationalisation of society.

Programmatic statements by the positivists themselves include O. Neurath and others, 'The scientific conception of the world: Vienna Circle' [1929], in Empiricism and Sociology (Dordrecht, 1973); A.E. Blumberg and H. Feigl, 'Logical positivism: a new movement in European philosophy', The Journal of Philosophy, 28 (1931), 281–296. A good collection of positivist writings is O. Hanfling, ed., Essential Readings in Logical Positivism (Oxford, 1981); try, for example, Carnap, 'Protocol statements', Neurath, 'Protocol sentences', and the articles on ethics.

Useful accounts of logical positivism include the articles 'Logical positivism', 'Vienna Circle', 'Carnap', and 'Neurath', in Routledge Encyclopaedia of Philosophy; and chapter 5 of J. Skorupski, English-Language Philosophy, 1750–1945 (Oxford, 1993). There is a brilliant article by Peter Galison on logical positivism and modernity, 'Aufbau/Bauhaus: logical positivism and architectural modernism', Critical Inquiry, 16 (1990), 709–752. N. Cartwright and others, Otto Neurath: Philosophy between Science and Politics (Cambridge, 1996), is very interesting on the politics of positivism. Also there is a remarkable, but highly technical book by Michael Friedman arguing that, contrary to the usual view of positivism as committed to a rigorous empiricism, the leading positivists in fact recognised the highly conventional nature of theoretical science: Reconsidering Logical Positivism (Cambridge, 1999).

26 February
Early Sociologies of Science

In the first half of the twentieth century (in the wake of the works of Karl Marx and Max Weber) a new discipline, sociology of science, started to emerge. This session will look at a series of striking claims about the economic and social roots of 'modern science'.

  • Robert K. Merton (1910–2003) on the links between science, Protestantism and capitalism.
  • Thorstein Veblen (1857–1929) on industry, technology and objective science.
  • J.D. Bernal (1901–1971) on the social and technological sources and functions of science.
  • Edgar Zilsel (1891–1944) on artisans and the origins of experimental science.

A useful introduction is P. Burke, A Social History of Knowledge (Cambridge, 2000), ch. 1, 'Sociologies and histories of knowledge'.

On the Weber/Merton thesis, Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905), ch. 5; and R.K. Merton, Science, Technology and Society in Seventeenth-Century England [1838] (New York, 1970), especially ch. 5, 'Motive forces of the new science'. A collection of articles on the thesis is I.B. Cohen, ed., Puritanism and the Rise of Modern Science: The Merton Thesis (New Brunswick, 1990).

Other sociological theses about the rise of modern science:

  • Bernal, The Social Function of Science (London, 1939), ch. 2, especially the section 'The birth of modern science'.
  • Zilsel, The Social Origins of Modern Science, ed. D. Raven and others (Dordrecht, 2000) (especially the introduction and 'The sociological roots of science').
  • T. Veblen, 'The place of science in modern civilisation’, American Journal of Sociology, 11 (1906), 585–609, also in Veblen, The Place of Science in Modern Civilisation, and Other Essays [1919] (London, 1994).

5 March
Mid Twentieth-Century Debates about the Purity of Science

This seminar will look at two mid-twentieth-century confrontations on the issue of the autonomy and disinterestedness of science and scientists. First, we shall consider the polemical pamphlets of the Society for Freedom in Science, defending the independence of science against those (notably J.D. Bernal in The Social Function of Science, 1939) who advocated governmental planning and control of science. We shall then look at  two essays of the 'founding father' of sociology of science, R.K. Merton, which argue for the disinterestedness, universality and objectivity of science. Merton's view is contrasted with that of one of his main targets, the Nazi ideologist Alfred Baeumler, who had argued in his Männerbund und Wissenschaft 'Fraternity and Science' of 1934 that all authentic science is passionate, politically committed and formed by national character.

  • M. Polanyi, 'The autonomy of science', The Scientific Monthly, 60 (1945), 141–150.
  • R.K. Merton, 'Science and the social order' [1938] and 'The normative structure of science' [1942], in The Sociology of Science, Chicago 1973, chs 12 and 13.
  • W. McGucken, 'On freedom and planning in science', Minerva, 16 (1968), 42–72.

12 March
The Two Cultures: Huxley vs. Arnold and Snow vs. Leavis

This final seminar will look at two debates about the roles of science and the humanities in our culture, both focussed on educational policy. In the first, 'Darwin's bulldog', T.H. Huxley, and the Schools Inspector and Professor of Poetry at Oxford, Matthew Arnold, politely disagree over the extents to which classical and scientific education are conducive to 'a critical and discerning approach to life'. In the second, the scientific administrator and novelist C.P. Snow, and the literary critic F.R. Leavis clash intemperately over the cultural status of literary intellectuals ('effete' and 'reactionary' according to Snow) and scientists ('robustly heterosexual' and 'with the future in their bones', again according to Snow). Time permitting, we may discuss the connections between the Two Cultures debate and the so-called Science Wars of the 1990s.

  • T.H. Huxley, 'Science and culture' [1880], in his Science and Culture, and Other Esaays (London, 1888).
  • M. Arnold, 'Literature and science' [1882], in R.H. Super, ed, Complete Prose Works of Matthew Arnold, vol. 10 (Ann Arbor, 1975), 53–73.
  • C.P. Snow, The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution [1959] (Cambridge, 1993) (This has a useful introduction by Stephan Collini).
  • F.R. Leavis, Two Cultures? The Significance of C.P. Snow (London, 1962).
  • Special Issue on the Two Cultures, History of Science, 43 (2005), especially articles by White, Ortolano and Edgerton.
  • G. Ortolano, The Two Cultures Controversy: Science, Literature, and Cultural Politics in Postwar Britain (Cambridge, 2009), excellent.
  • J.R. Brown, Who Rules in Science? An Opinionated Guide to the Science Wars (Cambridge MA, 2001).