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Committee on Conceptual and Historical Studies of Science

This is an archived copy of the 2012-13 catalog. To access the most recent version of the catalog, please visit


  • Adrian Johns


  • Lorraine Daston, Social Thought
  • Arnold Davidson, Philosophy
  • Judith B. Farquhar, Anthropology
  • Michael Foote, Geophysical Sciences
  • Jan Goldstein, History
  • Adrian Johns, History
  • Karin Knorr Cetina, Sociology and Anthropology
  • Karl Matlin, Department of Surgery
  • Salikoko Mufwene, Linguistics
  • Robert J. Richards, History
  • Stephen M. Stigler, Statistics
  • Alison Winter, History

Associate Professors

  • James A. Evans, Sociology
  • Joseph Masco, Anthropology

Emeritus Faculty

  • Leo Kadanoff, Physics and Mathematics
  • Robert Perlman, Pediatrics
  • William C. Wimsatt, Philosophy

The Committee on Conceptual and Historical Studies of Science (CHSS) is an interdisciplinary graduate program dedicated to advancing social, historical, and philosophical perspectives on science. Its areas of interest are broad, extending across the sciences and from the ancient world to the present day. Its faculty derive from many departments in the University, but particularly from History, Sociology, Anthropology, and Philosophy. We currently have major strengths in the study of evolutionary biology, psychology, and medicine, and in issues of the social activity of science, such as those relating to scientific authority, credibility, communication, and intellectual property. Students in the Ph.D. program have an opportunity to investigate such aspects of the scientific enterprise in depth, within its many rich historical, social, and philosophical contexts. They are also encouraged to grapple with the practices and approaches of science itself.

A brief description of the Committee’s degree requirements is provided below, along with a representative list of courses that have been taught in recent years. For more complete information, you are encouraged to consult the website at . This site contains an up to date description of faculty research interests, a complete statement of degree requirements, descriptions of individual courses being taught this year, a calendar of events (including meetings of the Committee’s regular Workshop in the History, Philosophy, and Sociology of Science), a list of students who have received Ph.D.s from the Committee with the titles of their dissertations, and more.

Those with questions about the Committee should write to the Secretary, The Committee on Conceptual and Historical Studies of Science, The University of Chicago, 1126 East 59th Street, Chicago, IL 60637 ( ).


New students are admitted to the Committee through the Division of the Social Sciences. Applicants will be expected to submit undergraduate transcripts, scores from the general Graduate Record Examination, three letters of recommendation, short descriptions of their interests and/or reasons for wanting to study in CHSS, and a writing sample.

The application process for admission and financial aid for all Social Sciences graduate programs is administered through the divisional Office of the Dean of Students. The Application for Admission and Financial Aid, with instructions, deadlines and department specific information is available online at:

Questions pertaining to admissions and aid should be directed to or (773) 702-8415.

Our application process is now entirely online (paperless). All supporting material - including letters of recommendation, transcripts, and writing samples (if required by a specific department) - must be submitted electronically through the online application.

More information about applying to programs in the University of Chicago's Division of the Social Sciences can be found at  

Degree Requirements

Every new student in CHSS is assigned an advisor, with whom he or she designs an individual program of study. Because the interests of students within CHSS vary widely, so too do these programs. Yet all students are expected to fulfill certain common requirements. Full and up to date details are given on the website, but the main elements are described here.

Students choose one of the following options:

  1. SCIENCE OPTION: The student may earn a master’s degree in a science (here understood to include mathematics, statistics, and social science).
  2. PHILOSOPHY OPTION: The student may earn a master’s degree in philosophy.
  3. HISTORY OPTION: The student may earn a master’s degree in history.

All students must complete a total of at least eighteen courses at the University for a grade of B or better, including at least seven CHSS courses. They must maintain at least a B+ average every quarter. Those selecting the philosophy or history options must take a coherent series of six courses in a scientific area at the University, approved by the committee and of an appropriately advanced nature. This will normally mean that students must take at least some portion of their science work at a graduate level. Note that if a student enters the program with a master’s degree in an appropriate area, the committee determines what level of credit is given for it.

The expected timetable is that students entering with a master’s degree will complete coursework by the end of the second year, and those entering without will complete it by the end of year three (see the website for this and other details of the expected timetable).

Among the coursework of the first two years, students should take three courses offered by the committee: Philosophy of Science, History of Science, and Introduction to Science Studies.

Students must them pass two oral examinations. Each student has the option of taking the exams in history of science, philosophy of science, sociology of science, or anthropology of science; but at least one of the exams must be in either history of science or philosophy of science. These exams are, in part, designed by the students themselves.

At this point the student writes a dissertation proposal, and defends it at a hearing before his or her dissertation committee. He or she is then considered to have advanced to Ph.D. candidacy, and proceeds to write the dissertation itself.


The department website offers descriptions of representative courses offered in recent years:

Conceptual/Historical Studies of Science Courses

CHSS 30217. Introduction to Science and Technology Studies. 100 Units.

Science, technology and information are the ‘racing heart’ of contemporary cognitive capitalism and the engine of change of our technological culture. They are deeply relevant to the understanding of contemporary societies. But how are we to understand the highly esoteric cultures and practices of science, technology and information? During the twentieth century, sociologists, historians, philosophers, and anthropologists raised original, interesting, and consequential questions about the sciences and technology.  Often their work drew on and responded to each other, and, taken together, their various approaches came to constitute a field, "science and technology studies."  The course furnishes an initial guide to this field.  Students will not only encounter some of its principal concepts, approaches, and findings, but will also get a chance to apply science-studies perspectives themselves by performing a fieldwork project. Among the topics we examine are the sociology of scientific knowledge and its applications, constructivism and actor network theory, the study of technology and information, as well as recent work on knowledge and technology in the economy and finance. Beginning with the second week of classes, we will devote the second half of the class to presentations and discussion.

Instructor(s): K. Knorr Cetina     Terms Offered: Spring
Equivalent Course(s): SOCI 30217,ANTH 32410,ANTH 22410,SOCI 20217

CHSS 32805. Nature/Culture. 100 Units.

Exploring the critical intersection between science studies and political ecology, this course interrogates the contemporary politics of "nature." Focusing on recent ethnographies that complicated our understandings of the environment, the seminar examines how conceptual boundaries (e.g., nature, science, culture, global/local) are established or transgressed within specific ecological orders).

Instructor(s): J. Masco     Terms Offered: Spring
Equivalent Course(s): ANTH 23805,ANTH 43805,HIPS 26203

CHSS 32900. History of Statistics. 100 Units.

This course covers topics in the history of statistics, from the eleventh century to the middle of the twentieth century. We focus on the period from 1650 to 1950, with an emphasis on the mathematical developments in the theory of probability and how they came to be used in the sciences. Our goals are both to quantify uncertainty in observational data and to develop a conceptual framework for scientific theories. This course includes broad views of the development of the subject and closer looks at specific people and investigations, including reanalyses of historical data.

Instructor(s): S. Stigler     Terms Offered: Spring
Prerequisite(s): Prior statistics course
Equivalent Course(s): STAT 26700,HIPS 25600,STAT 36700

CHSS 33300. Introduction to the Philosophy of Science. 100 Units.

The natural sciences aim at discovering and explaining truths about the world. This enterprise gives rise to various philosophical questions, among them are: What distinguishes science from other forms of enquiry? Is there anything unique about the scientific method—in both its conceptual and experimental elements—that enables the discovery of different aspects of reality? Is science a progressive enterprise advancing towards uncovering truths about the world, or does it consist of one theory arbitrarily replacing its predecessor, without ever coming closer to a final truth? Is there such a thing as scientific objectivity, or are scientists trapped in their preexisting theoretical assumptions? What are the criteria for a scientific explanation? What are scientific laws? In discussing these questions, we will engage with some of the most influential views in the philosophy of science, and critically examine their arguments in light of important case-studies from the history of science. (B)

Instructor(s): C. Bloch     Terms Offered: Autumn
Equivalent Course(s): PHIL 22000,HIST 25109,HIST 35109

CHSS 33500. Elementary Logic. 100 Units.

This course will examine historical and contemporary approaches to the relation of ontological dependence, focusing on Aristotle, Descartes, and among more recent authors, Kit Fine.  Questions to be discussed will include: What is ontological dependence and how does it differ from other dependence relations, e.g., causation or priority in definition? How does this relation bear on notions such as substance and essence, and vice versa? What is the historical trajectory from Aristotle onwards concerning these questions?

Instructor(s): M. Malink     Terms Offered: Autumn
Note(s): Course not for field credit.
Equivalent Course(s): PHIL 20100,HIPS 20700,PHIL 30000

CHSS 33600. Intermediate Logic. 100 Units.

In this course, we will prove the soundness and completeness of standard deductive systems for both sentential and first-order logic. We will also establish related results in elementary model theory, such as the compactness theorem for first-order logic, the Löwenheim-Skolem theorem and Lindström’s theorem. (B) (II)

Instructor(s): A. Vasudevan     Terms Offered: Winter
Equivalent Course(s): PHIL 39400,HIPS 20500,PHIL 29400

CHSS 35208. Motion Pictures in the Human Sciences. 100 Units.

This course will examine the relationship between moving images, particularly motion-picture films, and the human sciences broadly construed, from the early days of cinema to the advent of FMRI.  It will use primary source documents alongside screenings to allow students to study what the moving image meant to researchers wishing to develop knowledge of mind and behavior - what they thought film could do that still photography, and unmediated human observation, could not.  The kinds of motion pictures we will study will vary widely, from infant development studies to psychiatric films, from documentaries to research films, and from films made by scientists or clinicians as part of their laboratory or therapeutic work, to experimental films made by seasoned film-makers.  We will explore how people used the recordings they made, in their own studies, in communications with other scientists, and for didactic and other purposes.  We will also discuss how researchers' claims about mental processes - perception, memory, consciousness, and interpersonal influence - drew on their understandings of particular technologies.

Instructor(s): A. Winter     Terms Offered: Spring
Equivalent Course(s): HIST 25208,HIPS 25208,HIST 35208

CHSS 36901. History and Philosophy of Psychology. 100 Units.

This lecture-discussion course will trace the development of psychology from the early modern period through the establishment of behaviorism. In the early period, we will read Descartes and Berkeley, both of whom contributed to ideas about the psychology of perception. Then we will jump to the nineteenth centruy, especially examining the perceptual psychology of Wundt and Helmholtz. Next, we will turn to the origins of experimental psychology in the laboratory of Wundt, and follow some threads of the development of cognitive psychology in the work of William James. The course will conclude with the behavioristic revolution inaugurated by Chicago's own John Watson and expanded by B. F. Skinner.

Instructor(s): R. Richards     Terms Offered: Winter
Equivalent Course(s): HIST 25302,HIPS 26901,HIST 35302,PHIL 22810,PHIL 32810

CHSS 37502. Energy and Energy Policy. 100 Units.

This course shows how scientific constraints affect economic and other policy decisions regarding energy, what energy-based issues confront our society, how we may address them through both policy and scientific study, and how the policy and scientific aspects can and should interact. We address specific technologies and the policy questions associated with each, as well as with more overarching aspects of energy policy that may affect several, perhaps many, technologies.

Instructor(s): S. Berry, G. Tolley     Terms Offered: Autumn
Prerequisite(s): Third- or fourth-year standing. For ECON 26800: ECON 26500 and consent of instructor.

CHSS 38400. Darwin's "On the Origin of Species" and "Descent of Man" 100 Units.

This lecture-discussion class will focus on a close reading of Darwin's two classic texts.  An initial class or two will explore the state of biology prior to Darwin's Beagle Voyage, and then consider the development of his theories before 1859.  Then we will turn to his two books.  Among the topics of central concern will be: the logical, epistemological, and rhetorical status of Darwin's several theories, especially his evolutionary ethics; the religious foundations of his ideas and the religious reaction to them; and the social-political consequences of his accomplishment.  2009 is the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth and the 150th of the publication of the "Origin."

Instructor(s): R. Richards     Terms Offered: Autumn
Equivalent Course(s): HIST 24905,HIPS 24901,HIST 34905,PHIL 23015,PHIL 33015

CHSS 39405. Advanced Logic. 100 Units.

In this course we will prove the Undecidability of Predicate Logic, and both Gödel’s First and Second Incompleteness Theorems. We will also examine the concept of interpretability, and will make some connections with broader issues in mathematics. Finally, we will discuss some uses and abuses of Gödel’s Theorems that can be found outside logic and mathematics. For instance, do Gödel’s Theorems entail that the mind is not a machine? (B) (II)

Instructor(s): K. Davey     Terms Offered: Spring
Prerequisite(s): Elementary Logic or equivalent
Equivalent Course(s): PHIL 39405,PHIL 29405

CHSS 41920. The Evolution of Language. 100 Units.

How did language emerge in the phylogeny of mankind? Was its evolution saltatory or gradual? Did it start late or early and then proceed in a protracted way? Was the emergence monogenetic or polygenetic? What were the ecological prerequisites for the evolution, with the direct ecology situated in the hominine species itself, and when did the prerequisites obtain? Did there ever emerge a language organ or is this a post-facto construct that can be interpreted as a consequence of the emergence of language itself? What function did language evolve to serve, to enhance thought processes or to facilitate rich communication? Are there modern “fossils” in the animal kingdom that can inform our scholarship on the subject matter? What does paleontology suggest? We will review some of the recent and older literature on these questions and more.

Instructor(s): S. Mufwene     Terms Offered: Winter 2013
Equivalent Course(s): ANTH 47305,CHDV 41920,EVOL 41920,PSYC 41920,LING 21920,LING 41920

CHSS 42300. Scientific/Technological Change. 100 Units.

Equivalent Course(s): HIPS 20300

CHSS 43500. Do Ideas Evolve? 100 Units.

In the decades after Darwin, scholars from James to Simmel suggested that knowledge might evolve. The past 30 years have witnessed an explosion of related research, providing rigorous and empirically grounded theories of cultural and linguistic evolution. In this course, we will ask whether these insights extend to the world of ideas and knowledge. We begin by surveying key aspects of biological evolution. We then turn to cultural evolution, exploring issues like the units of selection and the mechanisms of cultural reproduction. We will spend the bulk of the course applying these insights to knowledge evolution. We will explore theories of innovation to assess where new ideas come from. We will investigate cognitive biases and heuristics to uncover regularities in the generation and selection of ideas. We will see how social context and economic incentives affect the “fitness” and fecundity of facts and theories. And we will develop an understanding of the interdependent “ecology” of ideas as constitutive of disciplinary formations. Where appropriate, we will introduce relevant empirical techniques. The course will be organized as a highly participatory seminar, focused on readings from diverse literatures. Students will also pursue projects of their own choosing in small groups.

Instructor(s): J. Evans and J. Foster     Terms Offered: Spring 2013
Equivalent Course(s): SOCI 40183,CDIN 43500