Please see University of Chicago Class Search for specific class schedule information.

The courses listed below are subject to change. Please refer to the University of Chicago class search for meeting times.

Autumn 2023

CHSS 31000 - Good Hands: Research Ethics
Instructor: Laurie Zoloth
Description: Basic research is intended to explore and evaluate truth claims at the edge of our understanding of the natural and physical world, and it is this very quality that renders it useful as science. Yet, this often creates significant ethical questions for the research as well as for the social order in which all research takes place. Often, courses in research ethics focus on the establishment and enforcement of canonical rules of behavior, where the goal is to inform the investigator about how to follow these established rules. This course will turn to a different set of problems in research ethics. While we will begin with a foundation in the history of research ethics, reviewing the key cases that shaped the policies about which we have consensus, (human and animal subject protections; authorship, etc.) will consider the problems about which there is not yet a clear ethical course: what are the limits of human mastery? Why is research deception so prevalent? Are there experiments which are impermissible and why? What is the obligation of the researcher toward their community? How can we think clearly and ethically in situations of deep uncertainty? We will consider how moral philosophy as well as theological arguments have shaped research science and reflect on the nature, goal and meaning of basic and translational research in modernity.

CHSS 32504 - Science, Governance, and the Crisis of Liberalism
Instructor: Isabel Gabel
Description: In the era of "post-truth" it has become common to link a crisis of scientific authority with a crisis of liberalism. Democracies around the world are under threat, this reasoning goes, in part because of an attack on scientific truth. But what does liberalism - as political culture and as a form of governance - need (or want) from science? Depending where you look, the answer might appear to be facts, truth, a model 'public sphere,' an ethic of objectivity, tactics for managing risk and uncertainty, or technologies of population management (to name a few). In addition to exploring the complex historical relationship between science and liberalism in the modern era, this course will critically assess how the history of science and the history of political thought have theorized truth and governance. We will examine what models of "coproduction" and "social construction" - nearly ubiquitous in the historiography of modern science - fail to capture about the histories of science and state power. We will also think about how political and intellectual historians' theories of truth and mendacity in politics might be enriched by more attention to scientific knowledge in both its technical and epistemological forms. This course focuses on 19th- and 20th-century Europe and the United States in global perspective, and readings will draw from political theory, history, economic thought, the natural and human sciences, and critical theory.

CHSS 32709 - Introduction to Philosophy of Quantum Mechanics
Instructor: Thomas Pashby
Description: In this class we examine some of the conceptual problems associated with quantum mechanics. We will critically discuss some common interpretations of quantum mechanics, such as the Copenhagen interpretation, the many-worlds interpretation and Bohmian mechanics. We will also examine some implications of results in the foundations of quantum theory concerning non-locality, contextuality and realism.

CHSS 33500 - Introduction to Logic
Instructor: Paskalina Bourbon
Description: An introduction to the concepts and principles of symbolic logic. We learn the syntax and semantics of truth-functional and first-order quantificational logic, and apply the resultant conceptual framework to the analysis of valid and invalid arguments, the structure of formal languages, and logical relations among sentences of ordinary discourse. Occasionally we will venture into topics in philosophy of language and philosophical logic, but our primary focus is on acquiring a facility with symbolic logic as such.

CHSS 34921 - Darwinism and Literature
Instructor: Dario Maestripieri
Description: In this course we will explore the notion that literary fiction can contribute to the generation of new knowledge of the human mind, human behavior, and human societies. Some novelists in the late 19th and early 20th century provided fictional portrayals of human nature that were grounded into Darwinian theory. These novelists operated within the conceptual framework of the complementarity of science and literature advanced by Goethe and the other romantics. At a time when novels became highly introspective and psychological, these writers used their literary craftsmanship to explore and illustrate universals aspects of human nature. In this course we read the work of several novelists such as George Eliot, HG Wells, Joseph Conrad, Jack London, Yuvgeny Zamyatin, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, Italo Svevo, and Elias Canetti, and discuss how these authors anticipated the discoveries made decades later by cognitive, social, and evolutionary psychology.

CHSS 35205 – The Scientific Image
Instructor: Michael Rossi
Description: This course explores the broad field of scientific image-making, focusing in particular on problems of formalism, abstraction, and realism. What makes a “good” scientific image? What kind of work do scientific images do? What philosophical, ideological, and political constraints underwrite attempts to render the complexity of events and entities in the world in stylized visual vocabularies? And how might we approach the work of aesthetics and style in image-making? We will examine these questions through a survey of several contemporary scholarly frameworks used for thinking about problems of representation in scientific practice, and will attend to such image-making practices as graphing, diagramming, modeling, doodling, illustrating, sculpting, and photographing, among other methods.

CHSS 35301 – Global Science
Instructor: Emily Kern
Description: Is all science global, and if so, how did it get that way? Are some sciences more global than others? What has been at stake historically in describing scientific activity as variously local, transnational, international, or global, and how have these constructions influenced the historiography of the field? In this graduate colloquium, we will explore different approaches to writing and examining scientific knowledge production as a global phenomenon, as well as considering different historiographic attempts at grappling with science's simultaneously local and global qualities, poly-vocal nature, and historical coproduction with global political and economic power.

CHSS 35605 - Life and A Life
Instructor: Arnold Brooks
Description: This course is about the aims of human life. We address the question through two contrasting conceptions of life: 1) life in the sense of an ongoing activity—and its associated values of pleasure, enlightenment, and happiness, and 2) life in the sense of a biographical story—and its associated values of achievement, glory, meaning, and purpose. We will attempt to understand how these two conceptions of life are compatible, and if one or the other is prior. Readings include: Aristotle, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, William James, Bernard Williams, Iris Murdoch, and Jonathan Lear.

CHSS 36080 - Technologies of the Body
Instructor: Melanie Jeske
Description: From models and measures to imaging technologies and genomic sequencing, technologies have profoundly shaped how we know and understand human bodies, health, and disease. Drawing on foundational and contemporary science and technology studies scholarship, this class will interrogate technologies of the body: how they are made, the ways in which they have changed understandings of the human condition, their impact on individual and collective identities, and the interests and values built into their very design. Course readings will examine how technologies render bodies knowable and also construct them in particular ways. We will also focus on how technologies incorporate, and reinforce, ideas about human difference. Students will conduct an independent, quarter-long research project analyzing a biomedical technology of their choice. By the end of this course, students will be able to identify and explain the social, political and economic factors that shape the design and production of biomedical technologies, as well as the impact of these technologies on biomedicine and the social world more broadly. This course provides students with an opportunity to conduct a quarter-long research project, using a biomedical technology as a case study. Students will be introduced to foundational and cutting-edge scholarship in science and technology studies, and will use this scholarship to conduct their independent research.

CHSS 36311 - Aspirations of Justice
Instructor: Kaushik Sunder Rajan
Description: This class thinks through questions of what justice means, what justice promises, what justice betrays, and what possibilities for politics are opened by aspirations of justice at moments of radical rupture. It does so through a focus on critical conceptual terms that also become the frameworks for praxis and institutionalization after war/violence/trauma/revolution/colonialism/slavery/casteism: terms such as transition, transformation, restoration, reconstruction, and repair. The readings will be comparative but grounded out of South Africa’s experience of transition from apartheid, a process that remains frictioned, fractured and far from finished. At the core of the class are two concerns. First: how does one think about non-retributive forms of justice, and what aporias of forgiveness lie at their core? Second, how do these imaginaries and forms of justice get constituted and instituted, out of different histories of foundational violence, different transitional processes, at different moments in time? How, in the process, do histories themselves get rewritten through a process of rewriting wrongs?

CHSS 37402 - History and Philosophy of Biology
Instructor: Robert J. Richards
Description: This lecture-discussion course will consider the main figures in the history of biology, from the Hippocratics and Aristotle to Darwin and Mendel. The philosophic issues will be the kinds of explanations appropriate to biology versus the other physical sciences, the status of teleological considerations, and the moral consequences for human beings.

CHSS 38307 - Global Environmental Humanities
Instructor: Isabel Gabel
Description: This course is an introduction to the interdisciplinary field of environmental humanities, which calls on us to study the global environment, and the threats posed by globalization and climate change, using the tools of history, cultural studies, philosophy, and literature. Reading texts from these and other disciplines, we will attend to the ways that "environment" registers in political, aesthetic, and social life across the globe. Sample authors: Fernand Braudel, William Cronon, Dipesh Chakrabarty, Amitav Ghosh, Ursula Heise, Joseph Masco, Jed Purdy, Anna Tsing.

CHSS 39001 - Counterhistories of Mathematics and Astronomy
Instructor: Prashant Kumar
Description: Mathematics and astronomy are often taught as packaged universal truths, independent of time and context. Their history is assumed to be one of revelations and discoveries, beginning with the Greeks and reaching final maturity in modern Europe. This narrative has been roundly critiqued for decades, but the work of rewriting these histories has only just begun. This course is designed to familiarize students with a growing literature on the history of mathematics and astronomy in regions which now make up the global south. It is structured as a loosely chronological patchwork of counterexamples to colonial histories of mathematics and astronomy. Thematic questions include: How were mathematical and astronomical knowledge conjoined? How were they embedded in political contexts, cultural practices, and forms of labor? How did European scientific modernity compose itself out of the knowledges of others? Where necessary, we will engage with older historiographies of mathematics and astronomy, but for the most part we will move beyond them. No mathematics more advanced than high school geometry and algebra will be assumed. However, those with more mathematical preparation may find the course especially useful.

CHSS 47015 - Scientific and Humanistic Contributions to Knowledge Formation
Instructor: Dario Maestripieri
Description: In this course, we will explore whether the sciences and the humanities can make complementary contributions to the formation of knowledge, thus leading to the integration and unification of human knowledge. In the first part of the course we will take a historical approach to the issue; we will discuss how art and science were considered complementary for much of the 18th and 19th century (for example, in the views and work of Wolfgang Goethe), how they became separate (‘the two cultures’) in the middle of the 20th century with the compartmentalization of academic disciplines, and how some attempts have recently been made at a reunification under the concept of ‘consilience’.

In the second part of the course, we will focus on conceptual issues such as the cognitive value of literature, the role of ideas in knowledge formation in science and literature, the role of creativity in scientific and literary production, and how scientific and philosophical ideas have been incorporated into literary fiction in the genre known as ‘the novel of ideas’. As an example of the latter, we will read the novel ‘One, No One, and 100,000’ (1926) by Luigi Pirandello and discuss how this author elaborated and articulated a view of the human persona (including issues of identity and personality) from French philosophers and psychologists such as Henri Bergson and Alfred Binet.

Instructor consent required.

Winter 2024

CHSS 32000 - Colloquium: Introduction to Science Studies
Instructor: Michael Rossi
Description: This course explores the interdisciplinary study of science as an enterprise. During the twentieth century, sociologists, historians, philosophers, and anthropologists all raised interesting and consequential questions about the sciences. Taken together their various approaches came to constitute a field, "science studies." The course provides an introduction to this field. Students will not only investigate how the field coalesced and why, but will also apply science-studies perspectives in a fieldwork project focused on a science or science-policy setting. Among the topics we may examine are the sociology of scientific knowledge and its applications, actor-network theories of science, constructivism and the history of science, images of normal and revolutionary science, accounts of research in the commercial university, and the examined links between science and policy.

CHSS 31406 - Britain 1760-1880: The Origins of Fossil Capitalism
Instructor: Fredrik Albritton Jonsson
Description: Britain rose to global dominance after 1760 by pioneering the first fossil-fuel economy. This course explores the profound impact of coal and steam on every aspect of British society, from politics and religion to industrial capitalism and the pursuit of empire. Such historical investigation also serves a second purpose by helping us see our own fossil-fuel economy with fresh eyes through direct comparison with Victorian energy use. How much does the modern world owe to the fossil capitalism of the Victorians? Assignments include short essays that introduces students to primary sources (texts, artifacts, and images) and a longer paper that examines in greater depth a specific aspect of the age of steam.

CHSS 32100 – Space and Time
Instructor: Kevin Davey
Description: This course is an introduction to some traditional philosophical problems about space and time. The course will begin with a discussion of Zeno’s paradoxes. We will then look at the debate between Newton and Leibniz concerning the ontological status of space and time, and will examine reactions to this debate by thinkers such as Mach and Poincare. Finally, we will discuss the question of what sense is to be made of the claim that space is curved, looking at the writings of Poincare, Eddington, Einstein, Grunbaum, and others. Students will be introduced to the basics of the special and general theories of relativity, at a qualitative level.

CHSS 32277 – The Philosophy of Thomas Kuhn
Instructor: James Conant
Description: Thomas Kuhn was both an historian and a philosopher of science, with broader interests in philosophical issues pertaining to the nature of language, truth and knowledge — and, in particular, pertaining to questions concerning the possibility of communicability, commensurability, and inter-translatability across radically divergent conceptual schemes, theoretical frameworks, or grammatical/ linguistic structures. This course will be devoted to a close examination of the treatment of these topics in Kuhn’s work. For purposes of orientation, we will begin with several class meetings in which we read his classic work The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, first published in 1962, along with some the central texts which figured in the controversies that book ignited in connection with the aforementioned topics. We will then examine some of the second thoughts Kuhn himself expressed concerning that work in scattered essays written between 1969 and 1977 (some of which are collected in The Essential Tension). The second half of the course will be on Kuhn’s work from 1978 until his death in 1996, starting with the essays collected in The Road Since “Structure", and further developed in The Presence of Science Past (his 1987 Shearman Lectures) and The Plurality of Worlds (his final unfinished magnum opus).

CHSS 33300 - Introduction to Philosophy of Science
Instructor: Thomas Pashby
Description: We will begin by trying to explicate the manner in which science is a rational response to observational facts. This will involve a discussion of inductivism, Popper's deductivism, Lakatos and Kuhn. After this, we will briefly survey some other important topics in the philosophy of science, including underdetermination, theories of evidence, Bayesianism, the problem of induction, explanation, and laws of nature.

CHSS 33500 - Introduction to Logic
Instructor: Molly Brown, Ryan Simonelli
Description: An introduction to the concepts and principles of symbolic logic. We learn the syntax and semantics of truth-functional and first-order quantificational logic, and apply the resultant conceptual framework to the analysis of valid and invalid arguments, the structure of formal languages, and logical relations among sentences of ordinary discourse. Occasionally we will venture into topics in philosophy of language and philosophical logic, but our primary focus is on acquiring a facility with symbolic logic as such.

CHSS 37400 - Colloquium: Environmental History
Instructor: Elizabeth Chatterjee
Description: This graduate colloquium provides an advanced introduction to the vibrant field of environmental history. We will trace the evolution of this rich historiography, from first-generation classics-often focused on the American West-through to the geographical and thematic diversification of recent years. The course will give a flavor of this diversity, touching too upon influential works in emerging subfields like animal history, climate history, enviro-tech, and evolutionary history. Throughout, we will study how historians have addressed new analytical and aesthetic challenges: negotiating the insights of the natural sciences, incorporating nonhuman agency, and writing history at the vast scales of deep time and the planetary. The course is ideal for PhD students preparing a general examination field and/or designing a research paper, but is open to MA students as well.

CHSS 51609 - Concepts in Clinical Medical Ethics
Instructor: Dan Brudney
Description: Philosophical concepts are rife at the hospital bedside.  An account of their proper clinical use requires both philosophical analysis and pragmatic judgment.  In this seminar we will look closely at such central clinical concepts as paternalism, autonomy, surrogate decision-making, and decisional capacity.  We will also examine the ethics of the disputed clinical practices of framing and slow codes.  We will finish by asking in what way, in a world of hospital medicine – that is, of stranger medicine -- the concept of patient/physician trust can play a positive role.  American clinical medicine uses a moral model that is not much more than a generation old.  The point of the seminar is to examine and assess the components of that model to see how far and in what ways the model needs to be changed.

Instructor Consent Required

Spring 2024

CHSS 30576 - Social Theory for the Digital Age
Instructor: Karin Knorr Cetina
Description: Society rearranges itself, though we don’t always know where it is heading. When the postmodern moment had arrived in the 1980s it perplexed social theorists, hence its characterization as simply a “post”-stage of modernity. Digitization is one answer to the question of direction of change in the last decades.  In this class, we take the ongoing transformations that we attribute to digital media as a starting point to ask what challenges they provide to social theory that may force us to reconsider some of our most basic concepts and premises. We will understand the term digital age broadly to refer to the rise of algorithms, sensors, (big) data, machine learning, and computational methods, all developments that swirl in and around the Artificial Intelligence scene and intersect with and replace purely human relations. The class gives particular attention to concepts such as action and interaction, embodiment, social situations, subjectivity and autonomy, as wells as society as communication.

CHSS 31302 - Radicals in Early Modern Britain
Instructor: Adrian Johns
Description: Throughout the 1640s and 1650s it seemed to many in England that the world they had grown up in—a world characterized by patriarchy and hierarchy, by inequality and privilege, by an established church and a monarchical state—was being turned upside down. Against a backdrop of conflict between Parliament and Crown, a power vacuum had opened, and in this vacuum both organized radical groups and individual visionaries saw the opportunity to make a revolution. The goals of these radicals were diverse, and often in contradiction. Some wanted the creation of a strict republic, even a democracy; some sought the elimination of private property; others the abolition of marriage; still others the creation of a millenarian Fifth Monarchy led by King Jesus himself. What they shared was a common desire to remake England into a fundamentally different society, and a failure to achieve their goals. Or was it a failure? Today the voices of these radicals have disappeared from most histories of modern political thought. And yet this forgotten corpus of writing reveals a very different early modern world, with strains of communism, proto-feminism, and dissent that fed the imaginations of radicals for centuries, including many well beyond England. This seminar introduces students directly to the ideas of the seventeenth-century English radicals. They will engage with the history and historiography of the English Revolution, read a variety of primary sources, and complete a research paper.

CHSS 32709 - Introduction to Philosophy of Quantum Mechanics
Instructor: Thomas Pashby
Description: In this class we examine some of the conceptual problems associated with quantum mechanics. We will critically discuss some common interpretations of quantum mechanics, such as the Copenhagen interpretation, the many-worlds interpretation and Bohmian mechanics. We will also examine some implications of results in the foundations of quantum theory concerning non-locality, contextuality and realism.

Prior knowledge of quantum mechanics is not required since we begin with an introduction to the formalism. Only familiarity with high school geometry is presupposed but expect to be introduced to other mathematical tools as needed.

CHSS 51725 - The Irreducibility of the Mind
Instructor: Jason Bridges
Description: Cognitive science, and much allied work in metaphysics and epistemology, adopts a ‘naturalistic’ orientation to the mind: they treat thought, perception, reasoning, intentional agency, and so on as phenomena tractable to natural-scientific explanation. On the other hand, some of the deepest ideas that emerged from 20th century philosophy stand in apparent opposition to this orientation. In various way, they suggest that a ‘naturalism’ of the mind does not make sense. In this seminar we will do our best to understand and adjudicate this dispute.

CHSS 55804 Naturalized Metaphysics
Instructor: Thomas Pashby
Description: This course examines the feasibility of doing metaphysics in a way that is responsive to, or determined by, the results of the natural sciences. In an influential book, Everything Must Go: Metaphysics Naturalized, published just over 15 years ago, philosophers of science James Ladyman and Don Ross advocated for a newly naturalized metaphysics and argued forcefully against alternative analytic approaches to metaphysics (in a chapter later described by Kyle Stanford as “embod[ying] the most admirable characteristics of a good slap across the face”).  Unsurprisingly, many analytic metaphysicians responded defensively to this assault. Aside from providing the occasion for a good philosophical dispute, however, this debate resulted both in a literature full of fascinating methodological reflections on metaphysics, and a camp of metaphysicians who decided that being responsive to the results of science might not be a bad idea, leading to the creation of a (now thriving) Society for the Metaphysics of Science.  As it happens, though, the outgoing President of the Society, Kerry McKenzie, has apparently become disillusioned with the project, arguing against the possibility of metaphysics tout court in a recent paper entitled “A Curse on Both Houses.” Against this argument we will place the detailed work of self-avowed naturalized metaphysicians, including David Wallace’s award-winning book The Emergent Multiverse.

CHSS 56801 - Introduction to Environmental History
Instructor: Fredrik Albritton Jonsson
Description: We live in an age of planetary emergency. Environmental history offers a powerful lens to explore the historical roots of the present moment. This course introduces graduate students to the history of the field, sampling its methods and toolbox, strengths and weaknesses. Readings include a survey of the classics (Merchant, Cronon and Worster) as well as a number of new voices (Demuth, Barnett, Seow).