PHI2002 : Cultural Contradictions of Scientific Rationality

  • Offered for Year: 2012/13
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Lars Iyer
  • Owning School: Chemical Eng & Advanced Materials
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
Semester 2 Credit Value: 10
ECTS Credits: 5.0


This module aims to introduce students to the problematic of contemporary Western modernity with a view to elucidating the radical transformation of the character, practices, and status of rational thought – and of the scientific method in particular - and its manifestations in social and cultural contexts created in response to novel technologies. In particular, it will furnish the student with the capacity to recognise and appreciate the limits of applicability and sustainability of different forms of knowledge, scientific, technological, geo-political, philosophical, religious, aesthetic, etc.

Original Summary:
This module uses the background material introduced in Knowledge and Human Interests (PHI 2001) to establish a case based link between knowledge generation and the human condition in the 21st century. This is done by in depth critique and analysis of key concepts such as consciousness, freedom, intelligence, normality and creativity, and of the actuality of such concepts in the age of intelligent machines, digital media, identity politics, and somatic engineering. A comparison is also made with the civilisation of China.

Outline Of Syllabus

Our values have been strongly influenced by ideas generated by exact sciences, particularly by the method of science and by the peculiarly Western notion of individuality, creativity and progress leading in the course of 18th- 20th century to what is summarily known as modernity. However, very recently, advances in science created social and material structures which often turn against the very rationality of which they were born. The course highlights the fertile interplay between the rational (ordered, eternal…) and the irrational (dis-ordered, transient, spontaneous…) and its manifestations in what constitutes the born and made, freedom and creativity, good and bad etc. in Western and Eastern cultures.

•       Introduction and Revision of Background Ideas
•       Natural Law and Rationality of Individual Freedom: From Divine to Modern Reason and
Intelligent Machines
•       Pure Reason versus Practical Reason: Order, Justice, and Sanity after Newton
•       Reason and Ritual: Reason’s interventions in traditional forms of communication, and in
representations of order, purpose, and bodily life in the 21st century
•       Western versus Eastern Cultural Traditions in Science, Philosophy, and Arts
•       The Principle of Uncertainty and "Death of the Author": Truth and Creativity in the Digital

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion251:0025:00Preparation and completion of assessment
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture141:0014:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching101:0010:00Seminars
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study511:0051:00Review lecture material and prepare for small group teaching
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

This module provides students with a systematic account of the cultural contradictions created by the impact of very recent advances of techno-science upon various forms of contemporary human enquiry, such as norms of what constitutes the natural and man made, human and artificial intelligence, creativity and rights, good and bad. The module is an extension of the account of the rise of modern theory of knowledge presented in PHI2001 to bring the curriculum to the present. It is delivered via five case studies.

Students are given a structured reading list and lecture notes supported by control questions.

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Essay2M1002000 words
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

The assessment scheme which the students are given and explained at the start of the module shows clearly how the mark emerges out of expected competences and their link to specialist knowledge. The emphasis is on independent learning linked to the personal development plan grounded in the project scheme staged throughout V000. The student is expected to recognise key epistemological concepts of the modern era, be able to position them in the context chosen for the essay and supported by the references to the primary and secondary literature or application niche.

Reading Lists


Disclaimer: The University will use all reasonable endeavours to deliver modules in accordance with the descriptions set out in this catalogue. Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information, however, the University reserves the right to introduce changes to the information given including the addition, withdrawal or restructuring of modules if it considers such action to be necessary.