This course addresses the concept of complexity. Complexity is an important issue in a diversity of scientific fields, be it mathematics, physics, life sciences, social sciences or humanities. The climate, organisms, diseases and societies are said to be complex. Socially important problems, such as the latest economical crisis, are said to be explainable, predictable and thus preventable only on the basis of complex system thinking. Important concepts from a variety of philosophical discussions are related to the concept of complexity, e.g. hierarchy and organization, emergence, contingency, non-linearity. Even though complexity is not yet a frequent keyword in standard philosophical encyclopedias, discussions about what complexity means, what it tells us about the ontology of science (e.g. whether there are levels of organization) and about the methods and values of sciences (e.g. regarding reductionist heuristics or the value of complexity in feminist philosophy of science) are becoming more and more important in history, sociology and philosophy of science. After a short introduction, we will read and critically discuss classical and contemporary papers on the concept of complexity.
Students will learn how entangled ontological, epistemic and social issues are, and how concepts like complexity become important in science and society. They will understand in an exemplary manner why philosophy is relevant for scientific fields and learn about an important topic in contemporary science by close reading of selected works from the field. The focus is on conceptual and argumentative analysis
Students are required to carefully read all the core readings, to regularly and actively participate in class, to present one of the core readings in class and to write a term paper. For general rules regarding class participation and term papers, see attachment to syllabus. Gradings will be based on written material 70%, in class participation 30%. Written assignment: 2000 word argumentative term paper on a topic of choice, either from the line-up of texts or related. To get such a paper assigned you need to write an abstract with a list of references before the end of the term.