EGMT 1520: Making Truth Claims - The Power & Limits of Empirical Reasoning


What makes a truth claim powerful and persuasive? In our everyday lives, most of us rely on at least some version of empirical reasoning to advance our own truth claims and assess others. For example, a person might say “Everyone is either male or female” because that person has never met anyone who isn’t and so s/he imagines the world is fully represented by male and female people. However, someone with different experience may assess this claim as ridiculous and obviously untrue. This is an example of rudimentary empirical reasoning – we have an idea of how things work in our heads and we check it against the “real world.” This is a central tenet of the scientific method – we test our theories against empirical data to see if they are supported. But we all know examples of “bad” science, or disputed “facts,” or questions that empirical data don’t seem to help answer. In this course, we will think about the process and evaluation of empirical observations and scientific reasoning. Through activities and discussion students will grapple with question such as:  What are the strengths of these knowledge systems and what might undermine them or make them less relevant? How do we turn the “real world” into data and what problems does that cause? What are the similarities and differences in empirical reasoning about the natural world and the social world?