Topics in the Philosophy of the Human and Social Sciences

Course Description: 

The way scientists and scholars study human beings, their culture and society has often been considered to be different from the way other objects of science are studied, be it because of the reflexivity, freedom or the normativity involved in studying human beings. In addition, none of the academic disciplines is studying humans as humans, be it biological disciplines such as evolutionary biology, social sciences or the humanities. In contemporary science, ‘being human’ has become partitioned into different phenomena (e.g., human evolution, social structure, culture or history), each with particular experts devoted to them. We will look at these peculiarities of the human and social sciences and analyze their specific methods and epistemic goals. What are the ontological commitments of these fields? Is there a human nature? Is there more than the individuals composing a society? What’s left of the category of a self or person? Is the reflexivity involved only epistemic or is it causally making up people, creating kinds of people (e.g. races) in reality, via looping effects or processes of embodiment? Is and should human and social sciences be pure, i.e., free of social biases and values? Is science contributing to inequalities by assuming a specific ontology? Can the knowledge of the different fields be combined to reach a unified idea of what it means to be human? In this seminar, these and similar questions will be addressed in a research-oriented manner, with experts from a variety of fields occasionally joining as guests.

The ToPHSS seminar is an advanced seminar that builds on the course Philosophy of Science: Core Contemporary Issues. It will be offered each academic year. It is recommended to take the latter first, but qualified students can take the ToPHSS seminar even if they have not participated in the latter. The seminar is meant to attract an interdisciplinary crowd of CEU students and to discuss ontological and epistemic issues arising in the humanities and the social sciences from a reflective and interdisciplinary stance. 

Learning Outcomes: 

Students will

  • learn to understand and appreciate the nature of philosophical problems,
  • critically look at their discipline’s goals, practices and kinds of knowledge produced thereby,
  • train the ability to contextualize the humanities and social sciences within a broader scientific and social context, and
  • practice close reading and argumentation.

Grading: 80% written assignment; 20% participation in course
Written assignment: 3000 word argumentative term paper on a topic of choice, either from the line-up of texts or related. To get such a paper assigned you need to write an abstract with a list of references before the end of the term. In addition, there might be small written assignments announced during the meetings.
Participation in course: Students will be asked to present content in a manner that will be decided once it is clear who participates. Ideally it is 15 min presentations.

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