Archive for the ‘History’ Category


“Boundary Work: Nanoscience Meets Philosophy at Material Surfaces” (10/23/14)

October 21, 2014

Julia Bursten

Abstract: Nanoscience is an inherently interdisciplinary field of study. Because it developed around a scale, rather than a set of laws or phenomena, it invites research programs from fields as diverse as materials science, biology, physics, chemistry, engineering, and design. For instance, gold nano-cubes are synthesized and characterized by chemists and physicists; modeled on computers by mechanical engineers; studied for their color-changing properties in stained glass by art historians, designers, and materials scientists; and manipulated for smarter drug delivery by chemists and biologists.
This scale-centric character of nanoscience means that knowledge in nanoscience is often grouped not along disciplinary lines, but rather around instrumentation techniques (as Mody (2011) has argued), around individual materials, as described above, or around particular applications. Consequently, the structure of knowledge in nanoscience is better understood as clusters of Galisonian “trading zones,” rather than a taxonomy of laws, theories, models, and heuristics. These trading zones permit contributions from diverse research perspectives—including those from history and philosophy of science.
I have spent over 2 years working with a nanoscience laboratory with the aim of understanding the structure of knowledge in nanoscience. Through this work I have become convinced that philosophers and historians of science can impact the development of new knowledge in nanoscience alongside practitioners in STEM fields. My talk shows how contributions from history and philosophy of science can provide new knowledge in nanoscience by describing how philosophical reflection on the concept “surface” led to reforms in experiment design in my lab.

Charles Darwin’s Reaction to William Sharp MacLeay

September 11, 2014

Aaron Novick

Abstract: Charles Darwin, in his notebooks of the late 1830s, engaged in a sustained attempt to sort out the merits and demerits of the quinarian system (developed by William Sharp MacLeay and William Swainson in the 1820s and 1830s). By 1844, he could quickly dismiss the quinarian system as incompatible with his transmutationist theory. As yet there is no fully satisfying account (a) of this shift in opinion and (b) of the nature of Darwin’s engagement with the quinarian system. I aim to provide such an account.



DAY-O-WIPs 4.0

July 14, 2014

“The Nature of Models and Modeling: Two Perspectives” Yoichi Ishida

“The Curious History of the Footless Tortoise” Aaron Novick

Evan Pence


Four Issues in the History of the Quinarian System

January 24, 2014

Aaron Novick

Abstract: The secondary literature on the Quinarian system in biology, developed in the early 1800s by William Sharp MacLeay, is sparse. As a result, it is beset by insufficiencies. In part, it is simply missing information. All descriptions of the system (that I have read, which is most of them) have left out important aspects that are clear even on a first reading of MacLeay’s main work. In other parts, it is flatly contradictory: no one can agree on MacLeay’s philosophical influences, and the two sentences that exist discussing how the system developed over time are polar opposites. In one part, at least, the story of the Quinarian system’s death, there is a received view. But we cannot breathe easily, because I suspect it is wrong or least only partial. My presentation is aimed at helping me move from this mess to a clear history comp topic. As such, I will isolate four promising issues—what was the Quinarian system?; how was it born?; how did it live?; how did it die?—and then solicit advice on how to proceed.


Reason and Passion in the State of Nature

January 10, 2014
Marcus Adams
Abstract: The relationship of the passions to reason has been a focal point of debate for philosophers generally and for scholars of Thomas Hobbes’s politics in particular. According to one recent view about this relationship, called the “definitional” view, the Laws of Nature in the Leviathan arise independently of the passions as edicts that follow from the command of reason alone, and it is reason that enables humans to escape from the state of nature. Such a view relies upon two widely-held assumptions about Hobbes’s project: first, that it was “scientific” because it was modeled upon a type of geometrical demonstration that began with axioms, such as the definition of a law of nature in Leviathan XIV, and proceeded by deduction to demonstrate the remaining Laws of Nature; and second, that it was grounded in a conception of reason as being in conflict with the passions, a conflict which ought to be resolved by reason’s intervention.
My goal in this paper is to reorient scholarship on Hobbes’s politics by providing a new way of understanding the politics as a science. I argue that Hobbes’s physics sheds light on this issue and clarifies the place of reason and the passions. Specifically, instead of deduction in an axiomatic system, I show that “geometrical” in this context means that one learns causal principles by engaging in a construction beginning with simple bodies and motions. This form of geometrical construction grounds geometry in a thought experiment in De corpore (“On Body”) and provides scientific knowledge of the motions of natural bodies; in the state of nature thought experiment this form of geometrical construction provides scientific knowledge of the passions as the only motions responsible for human action. Understanding the nature of Hobbes’s argumentative structure in Leviathan and De corpore is the key to understanding the relation between reason and the passions. Once this structure is understood, it becomes clear that passions are the only motives for human action.

When is Harmonics a Science?

November 22, 2013

Marina Baldissera Pacchetti

Abstract: Aristotle bases the principle of harmony on the diesis being the indivisible unit that can be represented by number. This, in a passages of De Anima and De Sensu, sets aesthetic standards for ratios of numbers representing melodious concords (`symphonia’), which are demonstrated by arithmetic. This allows him to define harmonics to be one of the `more physical of the mathematical sciences’ because it shares the principle of indivisible unit number with arithmetic, and the demonstrations that provide knowledge about concords are arithmetical.

Aristoxenus says that this is not an appropriate treatment of harmonics and a proper explanation of what justifies aesthetic perception of consonant sounds. The principles of this science cannot rely on mathematics, but on movement with respect to pitch space. Harmonious sound arises from intervallic movement (to be defined), which is recognized only in terms of its phenomenology. He does not discard the use of arithmetic, but he rather sees it as a useful tool to calculate modes – as Barker says (note 50 GMW II p.135), Aristoxenus does not have a problem in including intervals smaller than a quarter tone (the diesis) in his `science of harmonics’. The inclusion of tones smaller than a quarter tone was problematic in explanations of concords for his predecessors (esp. Pythagoreans) and those who will come afterwards (Ptolemy 2C AD, Boethius 6C AD, Gafurio 15C AD, Zarlino 16C AD). Aristoxenus does not deny that the use of mathematics is not useful in harmonics, but as his `first principles’ are not mathematical, he seems to be able to accommodate standard calculations within his framework without incurring in inconsistencies in his philosophical framework.


The Early History of the Observatory on Cerro San Cristóbal: 1900-1929

November 1, 2013

Nora Mills Boyd

Abstract:   History tends to forget the patient and diligent episodes of cooperative science, which are eclipsed by the biographies of great individuals and their most brilliant discoveries and novel explanations.  This is too bad, since it means forgetting the careful cumulative work of long term research programs.  Resisting this trend, I look closely at the early history of astrophysics in Chile, focusing on the first few decades of an observatory originally established by astronomers from the Lick Observatory near Santiago, which today is called the Manuel Foster Observatory.  The observatory was initially funded as a short term “expedition” to collect the spectra of the approximately 200 brightest stars in the Southern sky with the aim of measuring the motion of the solar system with respect to the galaxy.  I will present some details of the physical construction and installation of the observatory and emphasize the motivation for the expedition.  I conclude by suggesting that this observatory emerges as a pivot-point on the eve of observational cosmology.