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Changing Images of Knowledge in Modernity

Lecturers: Matthew Sharpe and Kristian Camilleri

Originally Taught: Summer School 2012

This course will involve a critical examination of the dominant images of science in European thought: spanning the Enlightenment idea that science marks the decisive emergence of mankind from epochs of cultural darkness, to elegiac images of science as abstract, instrumental, and nihilistic.  After the opening lecture introduces these images and their history, we will spend two lectures challenging the notion that the so-called “Scientific Revolution” of the 17th century was a single, simple break with the West’s theological, philosophical, and occult legacies, and explore the idea that the birth of modern science was a complex process in which older styles of reasoning were transformed (for instance in the mechanical and astronomical sciences), and new styles (like the experimental style of reasoning) gradually emerged.  The final two lectures engage in contemporary debates in the philosophy of science.  In Lecture 4, we will critically examine arguments for the alleged, radical incommensurablity and/or relativity of different scientific paradigms hailing from Kuhn, post-Quinean analytic epistemology, and continental, post-Nietzschean and hermeneutic traditions.  The closing lecture the addresses the widest debates concerning the legitimacy of science, the contemporary return to realism in Francophone ideas, and science's relations to philosophy and modernity.  Students in this course will be introduced to key ideas from both the continental and analytic traditions and the philosophy of science, including theses propounded by Duhem, Koyre, Husserl, Heidegger, Bachelard, Kuhn, Quine, Hacking, Hadot, virtue epistemology, and the critical and the speculative realists.

Course Schedule:
(all lectures will be co-taken by KC and MS)

Monday: dominant images of science and modernity
Tuesday: Theology, Magic, and Mathematics: Rethinking the scientific revolution
Wednesday: Styles of scientific reasoning
Thursday: Relativity, incommensurability, instrumentality ... evaluating the postmodern critiques of science
Friday: Science, philosophy, modernity


  • A. Koyre, Metaphysics and Measurement
  • C. Norris, Epistemology and Philosophy of Science in the Two Traditions
  • I. Hacking, Historical Ontology, Harvard University Press, 2002.
  • A. Koestler, The Sleep-walkers: A History of Man's Changing Vision of the Universe
  • D. Lindberg * R. Westman (eds.) Reappraisals of the Scientific Revolution