Pluralism in the Practice of Science

HPSC-X420 — Spring 2021

Instructor
Ann-Sophie Barwich
Course Description

The course centers on ideas associated with Pluralism as applied to scientific practice. Pluralism itself has had a long tradition in the historical and political study of the individual and society, and it was championed, for example, by Isaiah Berlin in the 20th century. However, pluralism as a normative position has only rarely been applied to science studies (Charles S. Pierce, might be an exception here). More recently several philosophers of science have begun exploring the role for pluralism in scientific practice (Hasok Chang, Helen Longino, Stephen Kellert, for example). We examine the historical development of science towards an increasingly monistic practice and consider the philosophical and practical promises as well as challenges of driving science in a more pluralistic direction.

Scientific Pluralism is the philosophical view stating that science is most progressive when it maintains and works with various, sometimes even conflicting, models and methods. This may appear counterintuitive at first: How can we pursue and identify good science if anything goes? How do we avoid relativism in the objective study of scientific phenomena? This course will discuss the benefits and limits of such a pluralistic idea of science and how it translates into practice. The course is run as  a seminar  in historical and philosophical studies of science for students of the sciences (particularly biology and neuroscience) as well as the humanities. We will look at examples from neuroscience general biology, and other areas from the history of science (e.g., chemistry and medicine).  

The course aim is to discuss and develop pluralism as a methodological, policy and educational tool by looking at the fruitful interaction of alternative explanations in historical cases and the heuristics of developing counterfactual histories for modern research.