Sidoli, Nathan Camillo
Fall, 2021
Office hours: Thursday, 4th and 5th

SILS, 11, 1409
[email protected]


I will put announcements about the class in this space. Please check here periodically as the term progresses.

Introduction to
the History and Philosophy of Science

Course Description

Science and technology have become defining features of modern life. In this course, we will explore aspects of the history of human thought about the natural world and philosophical ideas about the special status of scientific knowledge by focusing attention on four episodes in the history of science - the development of rational and mathematical accounts of the world in the ancient and medieval periods, the transformation of this approach through experimentation in the early modern period that resulted in the Newtonian physics, the rise of the theory of evolution by natural selection and, finally, the development of the new physics of the early 20th century.

We will examine these topics in the history of science using themes in contemporary philosophy of science. While the topics of the lectures are structured around episodes and figures in the history of science, each class we will also reflect on how the history of science has been used by philosophers of science to provided examples for the key themes in the philosophy of science, such as the relationship between theory and evidence, the verifiability or falsifiability of theories and the historical contingency of scientific practice.

Students who apply themselves in this class will learn the broad chronological development of the physical sciences, how to appreciate science as a social institution, and obtain insight into major shifts in overall worldview that have taken place in conjunction with the growth of the sciences.

Required Texts

  • Richard DeWitt, 2018, Worldviews: An Introduction to History and Philosophy of Science, Third Edition (or Second Edition) (Wiley-Blackwell: New York). (To be purchased from the Co-op.)
  • David Lindberg, 1992, The Beginnings of Western Science, (UCP: Chicago), chap. 8, “Science in Islam” (Download, below.)
  • Suggested Reading

  • 中山 茂『パラダイムでたどる科学の歴史』ベレ出版、2011。
  • Peter Galison, 2008, Ten Problems in the History and Philosophy of Science, Isis, 99: 111-124.
  • Grading

    Midterm exam 50%
    Final exam 50%

    General Format

    The class meets once a week for a lecture. Students are expected to attend the lectures, and write a midterm and a final exam.


    There will be two exams, a midterm and a final. The midterm will be take-home format; questions will be distributed at the end of the class before the exam. You will have one week to answer all of the questions. Please bring a printed copy of your answers to class on the day of the exam. The final will be an in-class written exam. It will take place during normal the normal class time and you will have 1.5 hours to write your answers.

    Classroom Etiquette

    Please follow basic rules of decorum – do not sleep, eat, or carry on individual conversations in class. Finally, do no use mobile phones, smart phones, or laptops in class. (Unfortunately, a large percentage of students use their laptops to do unrelated things during class, and this distracts both them and everyone behind them.)

    Discussion Topics, Readings and Assignments

    Week 1: Sep 27

    Introduction to history of science

  • Reading: DeWitt chap. 1.
  • Introduction to thinking about science in history

    Week 2: Oct 4

    Introduction to philosophy of science

  • Reading: DeWitt chaps. 2-4.
  • Introduction to philosophy of science

    Week 3: Oct 11

    Aristotle’s natural philosophy

  • Reading: DeWitt chaps. 9-12.
  • Suggested activities: Go to You Tube and search for “The Mark Steel Lectures-Aristotle” (parts 1-3) and listen to the talk, which discusses a number of Aristotle’s political and social ideas that are not included in my lecture.
  • Aristotle’s natural philosophy

    Week 4: Oct 18

    Ptolemy’s mathematical cosmology

  • Reading: DeWitt chaps. 13 and 5.
  • Ptolemy’s cosmology

    Week 5: Oct 25

    Science in the Islamic Middle Ages

  • Reading: Lindberg, Science in Islam.
  • Science in Medieval Islam

    Week 6: Nov 1

    The European Renaissance
    Short movie: William Harvey and the Circulation of the Blood (38 min)

  • Reading: DeWitt chaps. 7 and 8.
  • Movie: The documentary on William Harvey can be viewed online at the Wellcome Collection. A transcript of the movie can also be downloaded. The movie can also be viewed on YouTube here.
  • Primary source for Harvey: De motu cordis. The English translation follows the Latin.
  • Suggested Reading: A recent news article by M. Schulz discusses a current project that uses Ptolemy’s Geography to study the history of ancient Germany.
  • Science in the European Renaissance

    Week 7: Nov 8

    The new astronomy

  • Reading: DeWitt chaps. 14-16.
  • The new astronomy (No movie files)

    Week 8: Nov 15

    Francis Bacon
    Galileo’s physical cosmology (Movie, part 1)

  • Reading: DeWitt 17 and 18.
  • Further listening: For a BBC radio program on Francis Bacon see In Our Time, Thu, 2 Apr 2009.
  • For an attempt by modern observers to recreate what Galileo saw with his telescope see the website What Galileo Saw (Tom Pope and Jim Mosher).
  • Francis Bacon

    Week 9: Nov 22 (Midterm exam distributed)

    Galileo’s realist arguments (Movie, part 2)

  • Reading: A slightly edited version of Galileo’s The Starry Messenger. (Although not required reading, a full English translation that corresponds to the pagination of the Latin original is also provided, Translation of Sidereus Nuncius)
  • To see images of the 1610 original edition, visit the Linda Hall Library of Science webpage. Take a look at the images in this text. The text itself is in Latin.
  • Galileo’s arguments

    Week 10: Nov 29 (Midterm exam)

    Midterm exam: Discussion of the questions and answers.

  • No reading.
  • Week 11: Dec 6

    Newton (Movie)

  • Reading: DeWitt chaps. 19, 20 and 22.
  • Newton’s mathematical physics

    Week 12: Dec 13

    The theory of evolution

  • Reading: DeWitt chaps. 29 and 30 (or 27 and 28 in the Second Edition).
  • Here is an online version of Darwin’s Origin of Species that shows the variations in the six editions: Variorum of Darwin’s Origin of Species.
  • Darwin’s theory of natural selection

    Week 13: Dec 20

    The theories of relativity

  • Reading: DeWitt chaps. 23 and 24.
  • Einstein’s theory of relativity

    Holiday: Dec 27

    No Class

  • No Reading.
  • Holiday: Jan 3

    No Class

  • No Reading.
  • Holiday: Jan 10

    No Class

  • No Reading.
  • Week 14: Jan 17

    Quantum theory

  • Reading: DeWitt chap. 25 (or 26 in the Second Edition).
  • Quantum theory

    Week 15: Jan 24 (Final exam)

    Final exam.

  • No reading.