HPS 323: History of Science

Fall 2009

Last modified: August 12, 2009

Aug 25

Introductory material

A copy of the syllabus is available here.

Aug 27

Scientific Revolutions and Conceptual Change

We will be discussing the concept of revolutions in science and the work of Thomas Kuhn.

Key People: Kuhn; Laktos; Popper.

Key Concepts: Theory; Hypothesis; Fact; Cohen's stages of a revolution; Pre-science; "Normal" Science; Crisis; Paradigm; Incommensurability; "Conjecture & Refutation"; Research programmes;

Suggested Reading to clarify some issues from class:

Sep 1

The Scientific Revolution I: Introduction

The Scientific Revolution saw a radical change in the means by which knowledge was generated and disseminated. We're going to concentrate on astronomy and look at how the developement of instruments and experiments influenced the development of scientific thought.

Key People: Copernicus; Brahe; Kepler; Galileo; Bacon; Hooke;

Key Concepts: The Scientific Revolution; Ptolemaic system; Copernican System;

Sep 3

The Scientific Revolution II: Newton

We are going to concentrate on the life of Isaac Newton and his monumental Principia.

Key people: Newton; Hooke; Leibnitz;

Key concepts: Conic sections; Centripetal force; "active principles"; inverse-square law; mass; laws of motion; universal law of gravitation; vortices; gravity as fact, pathway & mechanism;

Required reading:

  • Squashed Philosophers version of Principia (Newton in 3,000 words)
  • Voltaire discussed Newton's ideas in his Letters Concerning the English Nation (1733) and offers a clear overview of how Newton's system differed from Descartes. Letter's XIV and XV are worth reading. [pdf]

Suggested reading for the Newtonophile:

  • A summary overview of the Principia [pdf]
  • The first three sections of Book I of Principia [pdf] - the limit of what Newton felt readers would understand of his methodology. Take a quick look at it so as to get a feel for his analytical style. Newton suggested that readers could then understand Book III.

Sep 8

Natural Theology in the Eighteenth Century

Natural theology, or natural religion, the inferring of the existence and characteristics of the Christian god from observations of nature, has a long tradition. The argument can actually be traced back to Plato and Aristotle and was christianized by Thomas Aquinas. Natural theology received a boost during the Scientific Revolution with the writings of such individuals as Isaac Newton but reached its most elegant expression in Paley's 1802 work.

William Paley (1743 - 1805) was an English churchman and author of popular apologetic works. One of these - Natural Theology - begins by making his famous watchmaker argument; just as the complexity of a watch implies a watchmaker, so too the complexity of living things implies a designer. The latter portion of the book (and the majority of our reading) attempts to argue for the attributes of God from observations of nature.

Key people: Newton; Paley; Hume

Key concepts: Natural theology; a priori and a posteriori proofs; evidentialism; Theism vs Deism; mechanical philosophy; Paley's argument as abduction to the best explanation; Paley's argument as argument from analogy; Argument to/from design; Hume's critique of natural religion; The problem of evil;

Required reading:

  • Newton, "General Scholium" to Principia [pdf]
  • Newton, "Query 31" of Opticks [pdf]
  • Paley, Natural Theology [pdf]

Sep 10

Natural History and Taxonomy Before Darwin [Johnny Winston]

Key People:

Key concepts:

Required Reading:

Sep 15

“Into the Abyss of Time:” The Rise of Geology

Key people: Stensen; Ussher; Smith; Hutton; Anning; Buckland; Mantell; Lyell;

Key concepts: Stratigraphy; Ways of reconciling scripture with geology; discover of dinosaurs; actualism; uniformitarianism

Sep 17

Professionalization and Popularization in the 19th Century

Key People:

Key concepts:

Required Reading:

Sep 22

Charles Darwin: Scenes From A Life

As background to examining Darwin's theory of descent with modification through natural selection, we will look at the broad outline of Darwin's life.

Key people: Darwin; Lamarck;

Key concepts: evolution as fact, pathway & mechanism; the origin of Darwin's ideas; Darwin's religious views;

Sep 24

Darwin’s Dangerous Idea

Key people: Darwin

Key concepts: The logic of natural selection; Analysis of selection; Sexual selection; Darwinism

Required Reading:

Sep 29

Darwin and Morality

Key people: Arnhart; Hamilton; Trivers;

Key concepts: Evolution of ethics; altruism; kin selection; reciprocal altruism; naturalistic fallacy;

Oct 1


Key People:

Key concepts:

Required Reading:

Oct 6

Was there a Darwinian Revolution?

Key concepts: Whether or not there was a Darwinian Revolution and what form did it take.

Oct 8

Twentieth Century Systematics [JW]

Key People:

Key concepts:

Required Reading:

Oct 13

Ecology [JW]

Key People:

Key concepts:

Required Reading:

Oct 15

Mid-term examination

The examination will begin at 10:30 sharp and you will not be allowed take the examination if you arrive late. Please bring a #2 pencil and your student ID card.

Oct 20

The Chemical Revolution

Key people: Lavoisier; Stahl; Priestley; Scheele; Cavendish;

Key concepts: Phlogiston; combustion; calcination; oxygen; importance of nomenclature; conservation of matter; stoichiometry; Lavoisier's chemical revolution;

Required Reading:

  • Lavoisier, "Memoir on combustion in general" Mémoires de l'Académie Royale des Sciences 1777, 592-600 [link]

Oct 22

Atomic Structure and Radioactivity [JW]

Key people: John Dalton, Dimitri Mendeleev, Marie Curie, J. J. Thompson, Ernest Rutherford

Key concepts: Dalton's Atomic Theory, Radioactivity, Alpha Particle, gold foil experiment, Thomson's plum pudding model

Oct 27

Thermodynamics [JW]

Key people: James Watt, Sadi Carnot, James Joule, Emile Clapeyron, William Thompson, Rudolf Clausius, W.J. Rankine

Key concepts: Conservation of Energy, Imponderable Fluids, Heat Engine, 1st and 2nd Laws of Thermodynamics


Oct 29

20th Century Physics: Relativity [JW]

Key People: Einstein, Liebniz, Clark, Eddington

Key concepts: special relativity, general relativity

Required reading:

  • Einstein's letters to Roosevelt [link]
  • Einstein in 4,200 words [link]


Nov 3

20th Century Physics: Quantum Mechanics [JW]

Key people: Einstein; Bohr; Schrodinger

Key Concepts: Causal vs statistical interpretation of nature; Einstein/Bohr methodological dispute; Schrodinger's cat

Nov 5

It's An Old Earth After All!

Key people: Joly; Buffon; Kelvin; Huxley; Chamberlain; Holmes; Patterson;

Key concepts: salt clock; cooling of the Earth; problems with theromodynamic method; isochron dating;

Required Reading:

  • Kelvin 1864, "On the Secular Cooling of the Earth" [pdf; read sections 1 - 12].
    • Physics fans may like to read the whole paper ... math included! [pdf]
  • Holmes 1911, "The association of lead with uranium in rock-minerals and the measurement of geological time" Proceedings of the Royal Society [pdf]

Nov 10

A Mobile Earth

Key people: Wegener; Holmes;

Key concepts: (evidence for) continental displacement/drift; plate tectonics; subduction; cooling Earth model; reasons for different reactions to continental drift;

Nov 12

In The Beginning

Key people: Einstein; Friedman; Lemaitre; Leavitt; Hubble; Gamow; Hoyle

Key concepts: Cepheid variables; Cosmological constant; Hubble's Law; Big Bang v Steady State; Cosmic Microwave Background; End of the universe; Evidence for the Big Bang.

Required reading:

  • 2006 Nobel committee information for the public [pdf]

Nov 17

Science and Religion

Key people: Galileo; Haeckel; Draper & White;

Key Concepts: The Merton Thesis; Theistic evolution; The new physics and religion;


Nov 19

Opposition to Evolution

Key People:

Key concepts:

Required Reading:


Nov 24

Climate Change and the Nature of Scientific Consensus

Key People:

Key concepts:

Required Reading:

Nov 26

No class (Thanksgiving)

Dec 1

The Science Wars

Key People: C.P. Snow; E.O. Wilson; Paul Feyerabend;

Key concepts: Changing representations of scientists; The two cultures; Wilson's consilience; Epistemological anarchism; Social constructionism; SSK; The Sokal Affair;

Required Reading:

  • C.P. Snow, extract from "The Two Cultures" [pdf]
  • Alan Sokal, "Transgressing The Boundaries" Social Text [pdf, read pp. 2 & 3 as a minimum]
  • Alan Sokal, "A Physicist Experiments With Cultural Studies" Lingua Franca [pdf]
  • A reply by the editors of Social Text [pdf]

Dec 3

Science Literacy

Key People:

Key concepts:

Required Reading:

Dec 8

Final Examination

The examination will begin at 10:30 sharp and you will not be allowed take the examination if you arrive late. Please bring a #2 pencil and your student ID card.