The Cohn Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Ideas is a research and graduate teaching institute. It forms part of the School of Philosophy, Linguistics and Science Studies, one of the four schools that together make up the Lester and Sally Entin Faculty of Humanities at Tel Aviv University. The Cohn Institute was founded in 1981 and endowed generously by Barbara and Bertram J. Cohn and their children in 1989. Today, the Cohn Institute ranks among the most prominent institutes for the history and philosophy of science in the world.
The faculty of the Institute consists of about ten tenured scholars and a number of affiliated and junior scholars, who are attached to the Institute. The Institute also has three endowed chairs: The Bertram J. and Barbara Cohn Chair for the History and Philosophy of Science; The Joseph and Ceil Mazer Chair for the History and Philosophy of Science and The Simon P. Silverman Chair for Visiting Professors in the History and Philosophy of Science.
Faculty and research students at the Cohn Institute explore a wide range of topics in the history and philosophy of science, ranging from antiquity to the present. Some of the work undertaken at the Institute may exceed the traditional boundaries of the field, and although the members of the Institute diverge in their particular interests and research approaches, they share a strong intellectual curiosity, a broad horizon and a willingness to cross disciplinary boundaries. The aim of questioning and crossing boundaries is to allow a creative reexamination of the ways in which different forms of knowledge are formed, transformed, juxtaposed, mobilized, used and abused. Thus the Institute teaches its graduate and research students to ask questions they were not taught to raise within their discipline and prompts them to undertake research without, necessarily, segregating considerations drawn from history, philosophy and sociology. By promoting an ongoing dialogue across research programs and disciplines, the Cohn Institute seeks to advance a contextual and integrative understanding of all types of human knowledge, which is informed by and upholds a critical and open humanism.
The Institute's curriculum reflects its general academic credo as well as the staff's specific research interests. These include
- the history of science and the intellectual history of the Western world
- the philosophy of science, with emphasis on the periods following the Scientific Revolution
- the anthropology of knowledge
- the history and philosophy of biology
- the history of technology from ancient Greece to the present
- the history and philosophy of ancient and of modern mathematics
- the history and politics of psychiatry and psychoanalysis
- intellectual history of the Islamicate world
- critical cultural studies
- the interaction of science, society and religion.
As a highly regarded, interdisciplinary graduate-level teaching department, the Institute attracts students from diverse academic backgrounds, driven by a strong desire to broaden their intellectual horizons as offered by the Institute. Since its inception in 1983, the Institute’s students have completed close to 100 Ph.D. dissertations and more than 150 Master’s theses. Currently, the student body counts approximately 130 M.A. students and 40 Ph.D. candidates. The academic background of our students divides between Humanities, Exact Science, Life Sciences, Arts, Social Science and Law.
- Master’s Degree: The Institute offers both a research track, which requires writing a thesis, and a general program that includes course work only, for a Master's Degree in History and Philosophy of Sciences and Ideas.
- Ph.D.: The Institute’s Ph.D. students are registered in the School of Philosophy, Linguistics and Science Studies. The Ph.D. dissertation is written under the supervision of one of the institute’s faculty members, with the option of an additional supervisor from any acknowledged higher education institution in Israel or abroad.
- Postdoctoral Fellowship: The Institute offers one postdoctoral fellowship every year. The recipient spends the academic year at the institute pursuing his/her own research project while interacting with faculty and students. In addition, the Institute welcomes postdoctoral fellows with external funding.
In 2013 the Institute established a special study-trajectory, focusing on the social origins and effects of digital technology and culture. In cooperation with partner units at the Hebrew University and Bar Ilan University, the Institute also offers an Inter-University Ph.D. Program in the History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences (IHPLS). The program started in 2016, supported by the Humanities Fund of the Council for Higher Education and the Yad Hanadiv foundation.
Although the Institute is affiliated with the School of Philosophy, Linguistics and Science Studies, it also works in cooperation with departments in the other schools of the Faculty of Humanities and with other departments at Tel Aviv University, such as
- The School of Medicine
- The School of Mathematics
- The School of Physics and Astronomy
- The Sagol School for Neuroscience
- The George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences.
In addition, the Institute maintains close working relations with the
- Minerva Humanities Center at Tel Aviv University
- Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Tel Aviv University
- The Van Leer Jerusalem Institute
and with related departments and programs at other Israeli universities:
- The Sidney M. Edelstein Center for the History and Philosophy of Science, Technology and Medicine at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem,
- The History and Philosophy of Science Program at Bar-Ilan University.
Moreover, the Institute conducts ongoing cooperation and exchange programs with leading institutions of its kind in the world. The Cohn Institute holds contracts for the exchange of faculty and research students with
- The Center History of Knowledge of the University of Zurich and the ETH Zurich
- The Max Planck Institute for History of Science, Berlin
With the support of the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute, the Institute edits Science in Context, a highly regarded international journal committed to an interdisciplinary approach to the study of science and its cultural development. The Journal is published by Cambridge University Press.
The Institute’s director is elected by the staff of the Institute and appointed by the Rector and President of Tel Aviv University for a 3-year term. S/he is assisted by the Institute’s administrative manager.
The Institute’s teaching and research activities, as well as all financial matters, are supervised by the Academic Committee, which has to approve the Institute’s annual report. Members of the committee include the Dean of the Faculty of Humanities, as well as a number of senior faculty from the Humanities and the Natural and/or Exact Sciences. The Academic Committee of the Institute convenes annually.
The Institute was endowed by Barbara and Bertram J. Cohn in 1989. The proceeds of the initial endowment, additional contributions from the Cohn family and donations for scholarships and for specific projects from Moshe Yannai and Alfred Tauber have enabled the Institute to operate semi-independently of university budgets and to develop extra-curricular activities and projects that would have been financially inconceivable otherwise.