LS 812: Science and Human Values

Spring 2013  | Dr. Michael Kenny

The year 2012 marked the 50th anniversary of Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Kuhn, himself a physicist by training, examined what leads to shifts in scientific theory and practice – specifically what leads to revolutionary change, whereby one ‘paradigm’ is supplanted by another (e.g. Ptolemaic astronomy by Copernicanism).  His interpretation is both epistemological and sociological, and has proven to be controversial and enduring. As a result, the concepts of ‘paradigm’ and ‘paradigm shift’ have become common currency in our language. This seminar will use Kuhn’s book as the starting point for examining revolutionary changes in a number of scientific fields, and their implications for the understanding of our place in the scheme of things.

Required Readings:

Thomas Kuhn: The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (4th Edition). U. of Chicago Press:

 …………………      The Copernican Revolution. Harvard University Press

 Michael Polanyi, The Tacit Dimension. University of Chicago Press

 Ludwig Fleck, Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact. U. of Chicago Press

 James Watson, The Double Helix. Touchstone

 Erwin Schrödinger, What is Life? Cambridge University Press

 Thomas Henry Huxley, Man’s Place in Nature. Modern Library

 Werner Heisenberg, Physics and Philosophy: The Revolution in Modern Science. Harper Perennial

Norbert Wiener, Cybernetics: The Human Use of Human Beings. Da Capo Press

Simon Winchester, The Map that Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology. Harper Perennial

Stephen Jay Gould, Time’s Arrow/Time’s Cycle. Harvard University Press

M.G. Kenny – Custom Courseware (articles & supplementary material)


As in the Reason/Passion seminar, participants will be asked to comment on and open the discussion of specific readings.  A final paper of ~15/20 pages, and a brief presentation near the end of the semester, will apply our basic themes to some specific issue of personal concern: not necessarily ‘science’ per se, but perhaps a ‘paradigm shift’ and its consequences in another realm of discourse or academic endeavor.  Proposal to be handed in for review and comment in 4th week.