HPSC X755/X320 — Scientific Concepts of Culture
Mon-Wed 12:20-2:00 @ Goodbody 107
Instructor: Colin Allen, PhD <email@example.com>
Office / Telephone: Goodbody 113 / 855-8916
Office hours: Wed 2-4 and by appointment Course Texts
All readings will be provided electronically or placed on paper reserve in the HPS department reading room. (Note that if you cite a published work for which a non-paginated electronic version is provided, it is your responsibility to check the citation against the official published version and supply proper citation info.) Course Description
What is culture? Can it be studied scientifically? Is it a uniquely human phenomenon, or do other animals possess culture? These and related questions interest a wide range of scientists, including behavioral biologists, anthropologists, and sociologists, who have tried to bring culture into the scientific fold by applying ideas from evolutionary theory in various different ways. Such attempts by scientists to "naturalize" culture are often derided by scholars in the humanities as being excessively "reductionist" and overly deterministic, and as trivializing the richness and diversity of human cultures.
In this course, we will survey different approaches that have been taken towards culture, including those that would treat culture itself as an evolved trait and those that treat the transmission of ideas or "memes" (memetics) as a formal analog to the transmission of "genes" (genetics). We will also consider different ways of defining culture, and as philosophers of science, we will step back and ask about the role of definitions in scientific research. Our investigation of different ways of applying evolutionary ideas, including ways of accommodating the the study of cultural phenomena at different levels of detail, will also lead us to deeper understanding of the nature of evolutionary explanation, allowing us to address the question of whether there might be anything like scientific laws of culture.
Getting clearer on what might be meant by reductionism and determinism in this context will put us in a position to assess the debates about culture that are internal to science and to assess the merits of the worries raised by humanists from outside science.
The "additional-reading abstracts" assignments require you to choose, find, read, and produce analytical abstracts of articles that are cited in the primary assigned readings. For each article, you must turn in a one-page (X320) or two-page (X755) abstract along with a photocopy of the first page of the article. As the name "analytical abstract" suggests, I am not looking for a linear summary of the article, but instead something that describes the logical structure of the arguments for the main thesis [example]. All written work should be typed, double-spaced, with 1-inch margins and a font size of 11 or 12 points. X320 students especially may find my writing guide useful. Where necessary or appropriate, an opportunity to rewrite will be provided.
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University rules concerning scholastic dishonesty will be rigorously enforced in this class. See IU Code of Ethics, Part 3A for details.