If the world has a universal order, then the sciences studying it should be unified too. This connection between metaphysical questions (how the world is) and questions of epistemology and philosophy of science (how and what kind of knowledge is and should be produced) has accompanied philosophy ever since pre-Socratic cosmology. Contemporarily, most would associate a belief in a unity of science with the Vienna Circle and logical positivism (Neurath and Carnap as probably most well known in that respect), and with successor projects on reduction (such as Oppenheim and Putnam’s or Nagel’s model). Within that classic tradition (not to mention ancestors) there were significant differences regarding the assumed kind of unity. Which variants of a unity of science can we discern? And what legacy have these ideas left for contemporary views regarding the relationships between scientific disciplines and the phenomena they study? What are recurring methodological and metaphysical assumptions? Are they justified? What are the connections to visions of unity in society?
In this course, which has a Research and Publish Lab attached to it, we will explore these and related questions. After a brief historical introduction, the course begins with John Dupré’s The Disorder of Things (1993), almost itself a classic approach by now. We will read and discuss this book in order to get a first overview and a firm grasp and a detailed critique of three fundamental assumptions behind the idea of a cosmic order in the universe and the respective unity of the sciences studying aspects of this order: essentialism, reductionism and determinism. Over the following three weeks we will then read three classic texts defending a unity of science point of view and then discuss papers from the contemporary literature on the topic.
As part of the course, students will have the opportunity to train three kinds of necessary know-how related to research and its publication: (a) know-how to write different formats of texts, (b) know-how to use professional databases for research, and (c) know-how to publish one’s research results (see below for details). As part of this, students will be required to explore the contemporary literature within groups and present papers that they deem relevant and interesting to the issues explored in the group.
The setup will allow in-depth reflection and practice of the targeted know-how in relation to actual study assignments connected with the course (rather than abstract, ‘dry’ or ‘disembodied’ training). It will also allow students to discuss with peers problems that occur during the research process, since they will all be in similar situations and assisted by a peer tutor. Students will thus approach the learning goals regarding both know-that (the knowledge about the state-of-the art regarding the dis/unity of science) and know-how (the knowledge about how to do research and publish it) in a problem oriented, peer-oriented and reflective manner.
The overview below illustrates how the know-that and the know-how shall be integrated, which written assignments the students will be given and which reflective learning units are planned. Students will have to keep a learning notebook (the “Research-and-Publish Notebook”) in which they reflect on their individual learning goals, on methods they learned to reach them and on problems they individually have. Twice in the term they consult with the course instructor and discuss the notebook, which is not graded, in contrast to the other assignments.