Philosophy of Nature (PHIL497)

Reasonable Measures: Science, Women, and Tranditoinal Knowledge

Course Description

Philosophy of science in the twentieth century focussed on problems of epistemology: what are the specific features of scientific method and reasoning that make scientific knowledge distinctive, and especially effective? However, philosophers of science spent little time thinking and writing about the ethical and political dimensions of science. Twenty-first century philosophy of science is changing direction: the books on the reading list for this course are evidence of this shift. An important insight that emerges from these books is that science has for too long ignored the wisdom collected by traditional societies and dismantled by colonialism and modern technology, as well as the domestic knowledge collected by women. The current environmental and economic crises call for the novel synthesis of scientific and traditional knowledge. What would it look like? Wangari Maathai's book offers the successful example of the Green Belt Movement. Other examples show how this synthesis may develop, like Will Allen's N.G.O. Growing Power, devoted to urban farming in Milwaukee and Chicago; COMPAS, an international network that promotes endogenous development; the Community Led Environmental Action Network in India; and the World Agroforestry Center, and locally and globally funded projects in the Brazilian rainforest and Indonesia,

A number of Penn State faculty members will speak with us and present detailed case studies of successful, or instructively flawed, examples of such attempted synthesis: Gabeba Baderoon, Assistant Professor, Women's Studies and African and African American Studies; Karl Zimmerer, Professor and Head, Geography Department; Christian Becker, Assistant Professor, Science, Technology and Society, and Philosophy; Ikubolajeh Logan, Professor of African and African American Studies and Geography; and Ruth Mendum, Rural Sociology and Women's Studies, Director, University Fellowships Office. (One or two others may be added.) We will also include a lecture by Stephan Rist, Centre for Development and Environment, University of Bern, Switzerland. Wehnee Browne, a Biobehavioral Health undergraduate major from Liberia, will coordinate the course and website as a student intern.

Another version of this course in 2011 included a visit by Nobel Laureate Roald Hoffmann, who spoke with the students about devising an ‘environmental impact index' for assessing the true cost of products we use every day, with the support of the Schreyer Honors College.

We will make use a website that accompanies this course: Reasonable Measures

Reading List:

  1. Richard Lewontin, The Triple Helix: Gene, Organism and Environment (Harvard UP, 2002)
  2. Bruno Latour, Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy (Harvard UP, 2004)
  3. Sandra Harding, Sciences from Below: Feminisms, Postcolonialities, and Modernities (Duke UP, 2008)
  4. Wangari Maathai, Unbowed: A Memoir (Anchor Books, 2007)
  5. Vandana Shiva, Soil, not Oil: Evironmental Justice in an Age of Climate Change (South End Press, 2008)
  6. Various websites (t.b.a.)


Reasonable Measures - Phil497A (SP2010) Syllabus
Philosophy of Environmnet Phil497A (SP2011) Syllabus