Monday, January 25, 2010

Philosopher of Physics--and Phemale

Many helpful responses to my last post requesting references on philosophy and wine. Thanks for those!

So here's another request.
I'm putting together my spring quarter syllabus for a course on those topics in philosophy of science which are more closely related to physics and metaphysics:
  • determinism and causality
  • the nature of laws
  • realism
  • time and space

But I'm shocked and embarrassed that my draft syllabus has only one female author on it (Nancy Cartwright, of course). It can't be too hard to find female authors, or can it?

Here are the criteria:
--on the above topics or providing a historical setting for philosophy of science or reflecting on the relationship between metaphysics and science;
--not too technical (these undergrads have had only a couple of prior philosophy courses and no physics);
--able to stand on its own (e.g., not a response to a prior article which would also have to fit in the syllabus);
--written by a woman.


Noumena said...

I just finished Laura Snyder's Reforming philosophy, which is a very nice history of Victorian philosophy of science (particularly Whewell and Mill). I think it would work fairly well for your purposes except for the fact that it's a book, not a set of papers. She has published some papers on these topics, though:

Evelyn Brister said...

Thanks! I'll look at both the book and her papers. At the very least, the book sounds like something that I would enjoy reading for the sake of my own interests! For the sake of the course, are the issues more methodological or metaphysical? Can I link them to what was going on in mechanics and physical science?

I had hoped for an underlying theme of the course to be the ways that general relativity and quantum mechanics challenge notions about realism, causality, etc. But I've also thought about taking a look at the Leibniz/Clarke correspondence, so 20th century is not a requirement.

Evelyn Brister said...

Another possibility is Karen Barad on agential realism.

And I want to clarify: it's not that I don't know female philosophers of physics! Alisa Bokulich, Laura Ruetsche... What's really giving me trouble is the additional requirement of finding a paper that is not TOO technical or narrow. It's not easy to find something that is current and is ALSO accessible to undergraduates and non-specialists.

Kenny said...

1) For historical perspective, Lady Mary Shepherd is widely considered to have been one of the most perceptive critics of Hume on causation. The relevant texts are included in Margaret Atherton's anthology of women in early modern philosophy. Of course, if you haven't got Hume on your syllabus, this will not count as 'able to stand on its own' but if you want historical perspective and you are going to talk about causation, you can't very well avoid Hume, can you? I haven't read this myself, so I don't know how difficult it is.

2) On the modern debate on descriptive vs. governing laws of nature, there is Helen Beebee's "The Non-Governing Conception of Laws of Nature" which appeared in PPR in 2000, and a response by Susan Schneider, entitled "What is the Significance of the Intuition that Laws Govern?" which appeared in the Australasian Journal of Philosophy in 2007. These are a little on the technical side, but I don't think they are out of the question for undergrads who are taking their second or third philosophy class, especially if the earlier classes have done at least some contemporary analytic philosophy. Also, because they approach the issue from a primarily metaphysical direction, these papers don't assume knowledge of physics.

Evelyn Brister said...

Marvelous! Hume is indeed on the syllabus, so both of these suggestions wind up in exactly the right place.

Brandon said...

I've taught a bit of Shepherd in intro courses. Shepherd can be tough going, but the primary challenge is her organization -- she tends to respond to Hume point-by-point and that means her own view tends not to get laid out in any noticeable order (e.g., she'll make a claim she only argues for much later, or in another book, or in several different sections scattered over a number of discussions), which can be confusing; she's very analytical, though, so once you get past that, students find that she makes a lot of sense (indeed, I find that the class usually splits over whether Hume or Shepherd is right, with Shepherd having a slight upper hand).

As I recall, though, Atherton's selections are from Shepherd's criticism of Berkeley rather than Hume -- still interesting, but I don't think it would be immediately relevant. You'll have to go to her collected works; I recommend Essay V (probably also with Essays VI and VII, at least in excerpts) from the Essays on Several Subjects appended to the _Essays on the Perception of an External Universe_. Essay V is only very indirectly concerned with Hume, but there Shepherd lays out her claim that induction is in fact just mathematical reasoning (either precise or vague) in which we cannot stipulate as we can in purely mathematical contexts, and in a fairly readable way; adding Essay VII in particular would make clear how Shepherd opposes her view to Hume's.

If you have any difficulty laying hands on a copy of Shepherd, let me know; I should be able to send you the relevant chapters.

I seem to remember Anscombe having a couple of papers on natural laws, but I don't have a copy handy to be able to check.

Eric Winsberg said...

How about Morrison and Morgan's intro to the models as mediators volume. If you are doing NC on laws, surely that fits.

And continuing in that vein, why not slip in Lisa Lloyd's recent piece in proceedings of the aristotlean society on the confirmation of climate models and Wendy Parker's reply. both very nice pieces that relate to realism and confirmation, are by women, and tie the issues into a matter of current real world interest.

Evelyn Brister said...

So many great suggestions, thanks!

Eric, I particularly like the pieces by Lisa Lloyd and Wendy Parker that you mention. I can't use them in this course because I'm *already* using them in my usual phil-sci course. They're among my favorites to teach, though I've found that the topic of climate change is so compelling (and political), that the students have trouble focusing on the articles' arguments. They suspect that skepticism about the consistency of the models is being used as a stand-in for climate skepticism. I assure them it is not!

I'll look at the Intro to the Morrison/Morgan volume as a possibility.

And while we're on the subject of NC on laws...The textbook I've chosen (Marc Lange's) contains a piece that's clearly too technical for the undergrads that I teach. Any suggestions of something by her that is, um..., more of an overview of what her view is about and less into the nitty-gritty of her arguments?

Eric Winsberg said...

Hardly an-unbiased suggestion, but have you looked at this:

Eric Winsberg, Mathias Frisch, Karen Merikangas Darling and Arthur Fine
The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 97, No. 7 (Jul., 2000), pp. 403-408

(and one of the four authors is a woman!)

Evelyn Brister said...

I couldn't fit Susan Schneider's piece in the syllabus, but I did use Beebee's. The text I'm using contained excerpts from David Lewis and from Dretske on laws. I followed those up with Beebee's paper and the students found her writing to be breath of fresh air in its clarity and breadth.