HPSC4101 - Philosophy of Science

Semester 1 2017
Coordinator: Professor Christine von Oertzen, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science

Prerequisites: Available only to students admitted to HPS Honours, Graduate Diploma in Science (History and Philosophy of Science) and Graduate Certificate in Science (History and Philosophy of Science)
6 credit points.
1x 4-hour seminar per week for 6 weeks
Tuesdays, 10-12 and 1-3 starting March 7, 2017 until Tuesday, April 4, 2017 plus an additional meeting time during Week 1 tba (Australian museum)
and on Thursday, April 6: student presentations


Assessment: Presentation, paper

Humanity’s Baby Steps

What makes us human? This question counts among the most enduring raised by philosophers and theologians. It is a question that has in recent years acquired new urgency, as artificial intelligence calls humans’ global dominance into question. This unit examines how the question “What makes us human?” was reframed in the human sciences from the late 19th century to the present. Our starting point is the intellectual upheaval wrought by Darwin’s theory of evolution. Darwin’s work moved the study of infants – for centuries regarded as of marginal scientific interest – to the forefront of empirical enquiries into human cognition. After Darwin, tracing humanity’s roots entailed understanding first and foremost the unfolding of an infant’s mind. Tracing the emergence of the new discipline of developmental psychology, we will investigate the critical writings of key figures in the history of infant and child development. Examining the works of scholars from Darwin to Michael Tomasello, we will consider together responses to the perennial question of what it means to be human.

Our class convenes once a week for four hours. Scrutiny of primary sources and secondary literature will enable you to develop a research paper, an endeavour that will inform each of our sessions. Research papers must be completed by no later than three days before the end of the term (Week 6).