Fall 2016

James Collier
Office: 215 Lane Hall (Bay 1, 2nd floor)
Hours: 11:00-12:00 M, W and by appointment

Course Description

This course will address central issues in both the philosophy of science and in the philosophy of technology. These issues include the demarcation of science and pseudo-science, the nature of scientific reasoning, the formation, structure and explanatory role of scientific theories, the relationship between science and technology, and the status and character of artifacts. We will read widely within the canon of the philosophy science, including Ayer, Popper, and Laudan, and take up the burgeoning literature in the philosophy of technology, including Feenberg, Jarvie, and Simon. Our focus will be on how philosophers define problems, form questions and pose arguments regarding modern science and technology.

Course Goals

• To identify and examine main themes and issues in the philosophy of science and the philosophy of technology.

• To analyze the relationship between the philosophy of science and the philosophy of technology.

• To consider the conduct of philosophy in a world defined increasingly by science and technology.

Course Narrative

Every course assumes and, hopefully, tells a story. Let me make explicit some assumptions guiding the course so that we might craft a more cogent narrative during the semester.

This course brings arguments and ideas from distinct but related fields — the philosophy of science and the philosophy of technology — into conversation. Since their origins, science and technology have been matters of broad philosophical concern. However with the arrival of modern science, the rise of the Prussian education system and the industrial revolution philosophical study of science and, later, technology, became organized and influential. The designation of a "modern" philosophy of science and technology in the course title generally refers to the conduct of Anglophone, analytic philosophy. However, in taking up the philosophy of technology, we have an opportunity to compare philosophy done in a Continental key with an analytic counterpoint. In developing the narrative of this course, then, you will have the opportunity to examine how approaches to conducting philosophy vary and lead to differing outcomes.

Another dynamic informs this course — the relationship between philosophy and STS. Of the disciplinary troika comprising STS, philosophy's place has been recently neglected and, with respect to the analytic tradition, generally ignored. While history and philosophy of science (HPS) appeared kindred spirits, especially in the wake of Kuhn's Structure, the gap between sociology and philosophy remained. Social epistemology attempted to reconcile the methodological impulses of strong programme sociology and analytic (Popperian) philosophy of science, but the project has been eclipsed by the current penchant for actor-network theory. What, if any, place, does analytic philosophy, with its own penchant for the particular sciences, have in STS? Or, does the philosophy of technology offer a new way of analyzing the problem of science and technology in society? Ultimately, might we best view philosophy of science and philosophy of technology as a prelude to an integrated analysis of science and technology?

Questions over philosophy's "place" invite careful consideration (to my mind at least) of how philosophy is, and ought to be, performed. I ask that as you take up the course readings you not only pay attention to the specific issues but also to meta- philosophical and methodological concerns. For example: How are philosophical problems identified and formed? What questions get asked? Why? What do you understand the qualities of good and poor argument to be (leaving aside fallacies)? How do those qualities translate into how we render the world? What counts as a solution or end to a problem? When are solutions "just" clever? Such questions may reframe the esoteric philosophical issues we will face as common concerns for how we are live in a world increasingly defined by science and technology.

I invite each of you to challenge the assumptions guiding this course and to challenge accepted notions of the conduct and purpose of philosophical inquiry. I look forward to beginning our story.



Leading Discussion: Question Formation, Keyword Entry, Class Discussion, Synthesis

Each group will pose questions and post keywords to the appropriate forum on the wiki will lead the class discussion. Each group member will revisit the questions, keywords and discussion and post a synthesis to the wiki. Members of the class will evaluate the presentation through an on-line form. Scores and comments will be forwarded to me. I will share comments, anonymously, with the presenters. I will provide an overall assessment of the presentation. (Please refer to the Question Formation assignment.)

Question Responses

Class members not leading a given week's discussion will provide 350-500 word responses to selected questions to the appropriate forum on the wiki. As the responses are time sensitive, you will not have an opportunity for late submission. Responses will be evaluated, given the number completed, as follows:

    • 3 responses: A
    • 2 responses: B
    • 1 or nil responses: F

Essays and Exams

I will provide feedback on Essay and Exam One. You may revise these assignments as many times as you wish during the term. I will average the grades. Given the timing of Essay and Exam Two, you will not have the opportunity to revise.

Collaborative Dialogue

Given the highly experimental nature of the assignment, risk and imagination yields reward. My assessment resides, in large part, on your willingness to complete the steps of the assignment. The components of the assignment lend opportunities for assessing progress.


A note: Most, if not all, the articles included in the anthologies by Curd and Cover and Kaplan were published as journal articles and can be found with a bit of database searching.

Texts listed as they appear in the course.

Honor System

This course follows university policies pertaining to academic honesty and plagiarism. If you any have questions please ask me, or consult the Graduate Honor System web site.

Principles of Community

This course adheres to Virginia Tech's Principles of Community. If you have any questions, please ask me or consult the Principles of Community web site.

Philosophy of Modern Science and Technology