Current Reading

Current Reading

The following books have been nominated for Spring 2013. Click on a title to see more information.

List of nominees

Further information

Cartwright, The Dappled World.

In this book Nancy Cartwright argues against a vision of a uniform world completely ordered under a single elegant theory, and proposes instead a patchwork of laws of nature. Combining classic and newly written essays, The Dappled World offers important methodological lessons for both the natural and the social sciences, and will interest anyone who wants to understand how modern science works.

Cartwright will give the Spring 2013 University of Dallas Science Conversations lecture. She is currently professor of philosophy at Durham University and the University of California, San Diego. Her books include Evidence-based Policy: Doing It Better. A Practical Guide to Predicting if a Policy Will Work For You, with Jeremy Hardie (2012); Causal Powers: What Are They? Why Do We Need Them? What Can and Cannot be Done with Them? (2007); Hunting Causes and Using Them: Studies in Philosophy and Economics (2007); Measuring Causes: Invariance, Modularity and the Causal Markov Condition (2000); The Dappled World; Otto Neurath: Philosophy between Science and Politics, with Jordi Cat, Lola Fleck, Thomas E. Uebel (1996); Nature's Capacities and their Measurement (1989); How the Laws of Physics Lie (1983).

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Levere, Transforming Matter.

In 1980, writes historian Trevor Levere, University of California physicists turned an "unimaginably small sample of bismuth into gold," turning one element into another through the medium of a particle accelerator. We call such things experimental science; a medieval scholar would have called it alchemy, a lay observer magic--all of which, by Levere's account, describe modern chemistry. The history of chemistry is being rewritten every day, notes Levere. In the last three decades alone, more than 7.5 million chemical compounds have been discovered, while great advances have been made in our understanding of the chemical composition of the heavens and our own planet. Locating its origins in ancient and medieval alchemy, the quest to divine the nature of the universe, Levere traces the development of chemistry over a series of conceptual forward steps: from Francis Bacon's development of experimental method to Lavoisier's elucidation of the part of oxygen in combustion and respiration, from Mendeleyev's invention of the periodic table of the elements to the manufacture of modern microcircuitry (which, Levere observes, "involves nearly one hundred different chemical processes"). Much as science has progressed, the author notes, the alchemical aspects of chemistry have not disappeared, as that California experiment shows. What lies ahead is anyone's guess, but, Levere concludes, the history of chemical science is one of ever-changing boundaries, and "there is no reason to assume that this fluidity will come to a sudden stop."

Levere is in the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology at the University of Toronto. He has written or edited thirteen books, including Transforming Matter (2001); Instruments and Experimentation in the History of Chemistry, ed. with F. L. Holmes (2000); Chemists and Chemistry in Science & Society 1750-1878 (1994); Science and the Canadian Arctic: A Century of Exploration 1818-1918 (1993); Poetry Realized in Nature: Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Early Nineteenth-Century Science (1981); Affinity and Matter: Elements of Chemical Philosophy 1800-1865 (1971, repr. 1993).

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Gilson, From Aristotle to Darwin and Back Again.

From the author's preface:  The notion of final causality has not been treated kindly. One of the principle reasons for the hostility toward it is its long association with the notions of a creator God and providence.... Whether through hostility to the notion of God; or through a desire to protect scientific explanation against all theological contamination, even though it be from natural theology; or whether, finally, through an alliance of these motives, the representatives of what can be called scientism today agree upon the proscription of the notion of final causality.

We have no intention of discussing scientism. That is the resolve not to admit, in any discipline, any solution to any problem which cannot be rigorously demonstrated by reason and is not verifiable by observation. The object of the present essay is not to make of final causality a scientific notion, which it is not, but to show that it is a philosophical inevitability and, consequently, a constant of biophilosophy, or philosophy of life. It is not, then, a question of theology. If there is teleology in nature, the theologian has the right to rely on this fact in order to draw from it the consequences which, in his eyes, proceed from it concerning the existence of God. But the existence of teleology in the universe is the object of a properly philosophical reflection which has no other goal than to confirm or invalidate the reality of it. The present work will be concerned with nothing else: reason interpreting sensible experiencedoes it or does it not conclude to the existence of teleology in nature? It is not certain that every truth concerning nature is scientifically demonstrable: Scientific demonstration as well as reason may not have anything to say about what experience indemonstrably suggests. Thus understood, the existence of natural teleology appears to be one of these philosophical constants whose inexhaustible vitality in history can only be recorded.

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