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Philosophy of Science

Purpose of Course  showclose

This course is a survey of philosophical issues surrounding the concepts and practices of modern science.  The course covers the major areas of contemporary philosophy of science, including scientific reasoning, scientific progress, interpretations of scientific knowledge, and the social organization of scientific practice.  Its aim is not only to familiarize you with philosophical issues about science but also to equip you to critically interpret popular reports about contemporary scientific research.

Unit 1 introduces philosophy of science as a discipline distinct from psychology of science, history of science, and sociology of science.  Unit 2 examines the nature and objectivity of observational evidence, and Unit 3 examines methods of reasoning relevant to induction, confirmation, and explanation.  Unit 4 examines accounts of theory change and scientific progress, and Unit 5 addresses the interpretation of scientific knowledge.  Finally, Unit 6 explores various topics concerning science in a social context.

Throughout this course, you will become acquainted with the views of a number of influential philosophers of science, including David Hume, Pierre Duhem, Carl Hempel, Karl Popper, Thomas Kuhn, Imre Lakatos, Bas van Fraassen, Philip Kitcher, and Helen Longino.  You will read some selections from scientific research too, by way of news articles and case studies, in order to connect philosophical views about science to actual scientific practice.  You should approach the content of this course with an attitude that is neither hostile toward nor naïve about science, but is instead critically engaged in trying to understand science as a human activity.

Course Information  showclose

Welcome to PHIL202: Philosophy of Science.  General information on this course and its requirements can be found below.

Course Designer: Professor Nicholaos Jones

Primary Resources: This course is composed of a range of different free, online materials.  However, the course makes primary use of the following materials:
  • Lyle Zynda’s Lecture Notes from Introduction to the Philosophy of Science (Princeton University, 1994)
  • Henry Folse’s Lecture Notes in Philosophy (Loyola University, New Orleans)
  • Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  • John Norton’s A Survey of Inductive Generalization
  • University of Pittsburgh, Digital Research Library: Science, Values, and Objectivity, P.K. Machamer and G. Wolters (eds.), University of Pittsburgh Press, 2004
Requirements for Completion: In order to complete this course, you will need to work through each unit and all of its assigned materials.

In order to pass this course, you will need to earn a 70% or higher on the Final Exam.  Your score on the exam will be tabulated as soon as you complete it.  If you do not pass the exam, you may take it again.

Time Commitment: This course should take you a total of approximately 93 hours to complete.  Each unit includes a “time advisory” that lists the amount of time you are expected to spend on each subunit.

Tips/Suggestions: Reading philosophy is not like reading literature or history.  Comprehending what you read often will require re-reading material.  For this reason, you might consider actively taking notes as you read (or as you re-read), attempting to summarize, in your own words, key ideas and arguments.  Often, it will be helpful to attempt to formulate the main theses being conveyed by each reading, secondary ideas and theses that explain or support that thesis, and the way in which the ideas and theses hang together to form a coherent whole.  Pay special attention to explicit definitions of technical terms and examples that illustrate the meaning of these terms.  Also take the time to look up words with which you are unfamiliar.

Learning Outcomes  showclose

Upon successful completion of this course, you will be able to:
  • identify some questions and tasks that are appropriate to philosophy of science;
  • identify the ways in which observation is theory-laden;
  • explain and illustrate some key processes of scientific reasoning;
  • compare different accounts of theory change and scientific progress;
  • compare different interpretations of scientific knowledge;
  • summarize different accounts of the social dimensions of science, including theses about the social organization of scientific research, the presence and effects of gender biases, the authority and objectivity of scientific knowledge, and the relation between science and politics;
  • assess a variety of philosophical views about scientific practice and scientific knowledge, including views about theory-ladenness and the objectivity of observation, scientific reasoning, theory change and scientific progress, and interpretations of scientific knowledge; and
  • interpret contemporary scientific research (as published, for example, in Scientific American, Science, or Nature) using philosophical concepts and accounts of science.

Course Requirements  showclose

In order to take this course, you must:

√    have access to a computer;

√    have continuous broadband Internet access;

√    have the ability/permission to install plug-ins or software (e.g., Adobe Reader or Flash).;

√    have the ability to download and save files and documents to a computer;

√    have the ability to open Microsoft files and documents (.doc, .ppt, .xls, etc.);

√    have the ability to listen to sound through computer speakers;

√    have competency in the English language; and

√    have read the Saylor Student Handbook.

Unit Outline show close


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  • Unit 1: What Is Philosophy of Science?  

    “Philosophy of science is about as useful to scientists as ornithology is to birds.” [1]

    Of all the intellectual disciplines, the sciences make the strongest claims to provide us with knowledge of the way the world is.  But how does science work?  What do scientists do that makes their research particularly worthy of our attention?  Why do they pursue some inquiries rather than others?  And does science really live up to its claims to provide us with objective and rational knowledge?  Answering these questions involves attention to scientific practice and the results of scientific research, as well as familiarity with past and present episodes of scientific inquiry.  But beyond such sociological and historical information, answering these questions requires subsuming the myriad details of scientific research and practice under general concepts and judging them in light of evaluative norms.  These further tasks fall within the province of the philosophy of science.


    [1] Attributed to Richard Feynman in Donald E. Simanek and John C. Holden, Science Askew: A Light-Hearted Look at the Scientific World (Philadelphia: Institute of Physics Publishing, 2002) , 215.

    Unit 1 Time Advisory   show close
    Unit 1 Learning Outcomes   show close
  • 1.1 Scientists on Science  
    • Lecture: YouTube: “Feynman on Scientific Method”

      Link: YouTube: “Feynman on Scientific Method” (YouTube)

      Instructions: Please click on the link above and watch the video.

      Nobel prize-winning physicist and popular science writer Richard Feynman offers his opinions about how scientists discover new laws and identifies the characteristics that distinguish science from non-science.  What are Feynman’s ideas on the distinctive features of the scientific method?  Write his opinions down for reference, in order to compare and assess his ideas with claims made by philosophers of science in later units.

      Watching this lecture and pausing to take notes should take approximately 1 hour.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

    • Lecture: TED Talks: David Deutsch’s “A New Way to Explain Explanation”

      Link: TED Talks: David Deutsch’s “A New Way to Explain Explanation” (Flash)

      Instructions: Please click on the link above and watch the video.  To read the transcript, click on the box in the lower right hand corner labeled “Show transcript” and select the appropriate language you wish to read.  The transcript will appear beneath the video.

      Physicist David Deutsch presents his thoughts on the nature and power of scientific investigation, as well as on the distinction between mythical and scientific thinking.  He relies, in part, on ideas from the philosopher Karl Popper (whom you will study later in this course).  Deutsch touches upon several topics you will learn about in this course: the theory-ladenness of observation, the significance of testability, the nature of explanation, and theory choice.  What are Deutsch’s opinions on these topics?  Write his opinions down for reference, in order to compare his ideas with claims made by philosophers of science in later units.

      Watching this lecture and pausing to take notes should take approximately 1 hour.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 1.2 Is Philosophy Relevant to Science?  
    • Reading: Philosophy Now: Mike Adler’s “Newton’s Flaming Laser Sword”

      Link: Philosophy Now: Mike Adler’s “Newton’s Flaming Laser Sword” (HTML)

      Instructions: Please click on the link above and read the entire article.

      With his version of the scientific method, mathematician Mike Adler represents a common opinion of scientists toward philosophy.  What reasons does Adler give for supposing that philosophy is not a reliable method for gaining access to truths about the world?  Why does he think science offers a better method?

      Reading this article and answering these questions should take approximately 1 hour.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

    • Reading: NPR: Alva Noë’s “A Little Philosophy is a Dangerous Thing”

      Link: NPR: Alva Noë’s “A Little Philosophy is a Dangerous Thing” (HTML)

      Instructions: Please click on the link above and read the entire article.

      Philosopher Alva Noë identifies certain problems that, in his opinion, scientists are not in a position to solve by doing science.  He also identifies certain philosophical ideas that some scientists take for granted without realizing their complexity.  What are some distinctively philosophical problems, prompted by science, that Noë identifies?  What are the philosophical ideas that he believes certain scientists have uncritically adopted?  Finally, relate Noë’s opinions about the relation of science and philosophy to Adler’s opinions in the previous reading.

      Reading this article and answering these questions should take approximately 1 hour.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 1.3 What Is Philosophy of Science?  
    • Reading: Iowa State University: Lyle Zynda’s “Lecture 1 – Introduction”

      Link: Iowa State University: Lyle Zynda’s “Lecture 1 – Introduction” (HTML)

      Instructions: Please click on the link above and read the entire transcript.

      You should be able to identify at least two differences between philosophy of science, on the one hand, and sociology of science, history of science, and psychology of science, on the other hand.  You also should be able to make a list of some questions and tasks that are appropriate to philosophy of science.  (As you do so, keep in mind the readings by Adler and Noë from the previous subunit.)

      Reading this lecture and taking appropriate notes should take approximately 1 hour.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

    • Assessment: The Saylor Foundation’s “Assessment 1”

      Link: The Saylor Foundation’s “Assessment 1” (PDF)

      Instructions: This assessment will ask you to use your initial understanding of the nature of philosophy of science to provide a preliminary evaluation of Richard Feynman’s remark that “Philosophy of science is about as useful to scientists as ornithology is to birds.”  Use the “Assessment 1 – Guide to Responding” (PDF) to help you.  Please check your essays against the “Assessment 1 – Self-Assessment Rubric” (PDF).

      This assessment will take approximately 2 hours to complete.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Unit 2: Observation, Theory-Ladenness, and Objectivity  

    [U]nless we make default assumptions, the world would simply make no sense.  It would be as useless to perceive how things ‘actually look’ as it would be to watch the random dots on untuned television screens.  What really matters is being able to see what things look like.” [1]

    Observation, whether performed in a natural or an experimental environment, is one of the key sources of scientific evidence.  Popular discussions of science often suppose that the information obtained through observation has a kind of objectivity that information obtained by faith or personal revelation does not.  But does it?  Some, such as Carl Hempel, maintain that observational evidence is especially objective by virtue of being directly and intersubjectively accessible.  Others, such as Norwood Russell Hanson, argue that background theoretical assumptions always influence the results of observation, and that this “theory-ladenness” renders observational evidence irremediably subjective.  Still others, such as Israel Scheffler, argue that theory-ladenness does not compromise the objectivity of observational evidence.


    [1] Marvin Minsky, The Society of Mind (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1985), 247 (italics in original).

    Unit 2 Time Advisory   show close
    Unit 2 Learning Outcomes   show close
  • 2.1 The Nature of Observation  
    • Reading: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Jim Bogen’s “What Do Observation Reports Describe?”

      Link: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Jim Bogen’s “What Do Observation Reports Describe?” (HTML)

      Instruction: Please click on the above link, which directs you to the second section of Bogen’s article “Theory and Observation in Science.”  In this section, Bogen summarizes Carl Hempel’s views about the nature of observation.  An account of the nature of observation does not characterize the physical and mental processes involved in observing the world; nor does it characterize the methods we use to perform observations.  Instead, an account of the nature of observation characterizes what it is that gets observed when an observation happens.  Hempel’s account of the nature of observation is the background for subsequent philosophical discussions regarding the objectivity of observation (discussions that you will study in the remainder of this section).

      Hempel provides an indirect account of the nature of observation with an account of the nature of observation reports.  An “observation report” is a spoken or written sentence that records an observation; and since these sentences describe the content of observation, we can determine the nature of observation by determining what it is that observation reports describe.  Bogen summarizes both Hempel’s account of the nature of observation as well as Hempel’s criticisms of a competing, phenomenalist account.

      As you read Bogen’s summary, answer the following questions in order to verify your understanding of the material: What is the phenomenalist account of the nature of observation—that is, according to the phenomenalist account, what gets observed when an observation happens?  What are some limitations of this account?  What is Hempel’s account, and how does his account avoid the limitations of the phenomenalist account?

      Reading this selection and answering these questions should take approximately 1 hour.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 2.2 The Theory-Ladenness of Observation  
  • 2.2.1 The Philosophical Case for Theory-Ladenness  
    • Reading: Norwood Russell Hanson’s Patterns of Discovery: “Chapter 1: Observation”

      Link: Norwood Russell Hanson’s Patterns of Discovery: “Chapter 1: Observation” (HTML)

      Instructions: Please click on the above link and read the entire chapter.

      Hanson begins this chapter with a brief discussion of situations in which two scientists, present at roughly the same spatiotemporal location and attentive to roughly the same objects and events at that location, differ in how they characterize the experience.  These situations raise the question: Do the scientists have the same experience, merely described in different language; or do their experiences differ?

      Hanson dismisses phenomenalist-style appeals to mental states and sense data to answer this question, according to which scientists have the same experiences because they have roughly the same sense data; and he dismisses appeals to variations of interpretation, according to which the scientists have different interpretations of the same experience.  He then defends the thesis that the scientists have different experiences, and he locates the source of this difference, not in the objects themselves, but rather in the context each scientist brings to the object.  In a scientific setting, these contexts typically involve theoretical commitments and concepts as well as other higher-order forms of knowledge.  These concepts, Hanson argues, lead the scientists to organize the elements of their experience differently; and so, Hanson concludes, the scientists’ experiences differ by virtue of being theory-laden.  (“Theory,” in this context, is used in a very broad sense to refer not only to scientific theories but also to naïve theories, mental models, perceptual schemata, and so on.)

      As you read this chapter, attempt to answer the following questions: Why does Hanson dismiss appeals to sense data as providing an answer to his central question?  Why does he dismiss appeals to variations of interpretation?  What does he take the various figures that appear in his chapter to show?  Finally, what reasons does he provide for the thesis that observation is a theory-laden undertaking?

      Reading this chapter and answering these questions should take approximately 2 hours.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

    • Reading: Loyola University New Orleans: Henry Folse’s “The Theory-Ladenness of Observation”

      Link: Loyola University New Orleans: Henry Folse’s “The Theory-Ladenness of Observation” (HTML)

      Instructions: Please click on the above link and read the lecture notes in their entirety.

      Folse’s lecture notes clarify and elaborate upon some of the concepts and positions involved in philosophical discussions of the nature of observation: sense data theory (also known as phenomenalism); physicalism (the view Hempel advocates); and theory-ladenness.  You should focus your reading on understanding these ideas.  Later course units will cover, in more detail, other ideas from Folse’s lecture notes, such as confirmation and theory choice.  Accordingly, while you should read Folse’s notes in their entirety, read with the aim of achieving some clarification of the prior readings in this course unit as well as some orientation to the significance of discussions about the nature of observation.

      Reading these notes and relating them to prior material will take approximately 1 hour.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 2.2.2 Psychological Evidence for Theory-Ladenness  
  • 2.3 Theory-Ladenness and Objectivity  
  • 2.3.1 The Ideal of Objectivity and the Threat of Theory-Ladenness  
    • Reading: Israel Scheffler’s “Objectivity Under Attack”

      Link: Israel Scheffler’s “Objectivity Under Attack” (HTML)

      Instructions: Please click on the above link and read the chapter in its entirety.

      Scheffler characterizes the ideal of objectivity, explains why satisfaction of this ideal is important to the authority of science, and discusses challenges to the idea that objectivity in scientific inquiry is possible.  Some of these challenges are based upon the claim that observation is theory-laden (refer to the previous reading from Hanson for details).  Scheffler indicates that he suspects these challenges must be mistaken; he does not, however, in this chapter, indicate his reasons for rejecting the challenges.

      You should read this chapter with the following questions in mind: What is the ideal of objectivity?  Why is satisfaction of this ideal important?  How does the thesis of theory-ladenness challenge the possibility of satisfying this ideal in scientific inquiry?

      Reading this chapter and answering these questions should take approximately 1 hour.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 2.3.2 The Compatibility of Theory-Laden Observation and Objectivity  
    • Reading: Digital Text International: Eugene Lashchyk’s “Facts Are Paradigm-Laden”

      Link: Digital Text International: Eugene Lashchyk’s “Facts Are Paradigm-Laden” (HTML)

      Instructions: Please click on the above link and read the chapter in its entirety.

      In this selection from his book Scientific Revolutions, Lashchyk addresses two questions: (1) Does the claim that there is no neutral observation language imply that there is no independent and objective reality that must be taken into account by our scientific theories?  (2) Does it imply that there is no independent check on the creation of our conceptual schemes?  He answers each question in the negative, arguing (contrary to Scheffler’s worries in the preceding reading selection) that the theory-ladenness of observation does not compromise the objectivity of science.

      Although Lashchyk frames his discussion as a response to Thomas Kuhn’s idea that observation is determined by a scientist’s paradigm, the discussion is relevant to Hanson’s idea that observation is theory-laden.  For Kuhn’s idea (which you will learn about in more detail later in this course) is an elaboration of Hanson’s idea: paradigms include not only theories (in Hanson’s sense) but also scientific practices and attitudes.  Accordingly, you may take Lashchyk’s argument to be addressing concerns about the objectivity of science in light of the theory-ladenness of observation.  Focus specifically on the reasons Lashchyk offers for maintaining that theory-laden observations can support the rejection of current theories and the development of new theories.  (The relevant discussion begins just over halfway through Lashchyk’s paper.)

      Reading this chapter and relating the content to prior material will take approximately 1 hour.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 2.4 Review of Observation, Theory-Ladenness, and Objectivity  
  • Unit 3: Scientific Reasoning  

    “When playing Russian roulette, the fact that the first shot got off safely is little comfort for the next.” [1]

    Science allows us to describe, predict, and explain what happens in the world around us.  Theories, and other representational vehicles, are central to these tasks.  But how do scientists develop these theories?  What, if anything, determines that scientists ought to accept a theory rather than reject it, or accept one theory rather than another?  And how do scientific theories help us to understand the world in a way that non-scientific theories do not?  Answering these questions involves attending to the different methods of inductive reasoning, understanding the confirmation relation between facts and theories, and identifying the distinctive features of scientific explanations.  While there are a variety of philosophical views about these issues, none of the views are problem-free.  Accordingly, you should adopt an exploratory and critical attitude toward the content in this unit: first seek to understand each view, and then seek to understand its limitations.


    [1] Richard P. Feynman, The Pleasure of Finding Things Out (Cambridge, MA: Perseus Publishing, 1999), 155.

    Unit 3 Time Advisory   show close
    Unit 3 Learning Outcomes   show close
  • 3.1 Induction  
  • 3.1.1 Enumerative Induction  
    • Reading: John Norton’s A Survey of Inductive Generalization, “Section 1 – Enumerative Induction”

      Link: John Norton’s A Survey of Inductive Generalization, “Section 1 – Enumerative Induction” (PDF)

      Instructions: Please click on the link above, and then find the term “download” at the top of the page after “A Survey of Inductive Generalization.”  Click on the “download” hyperlink in order to open the PDF.  Read pages 4-16.

      In this selection from A Survey of Inductive Generalization, John Norton discusses enumerative induction, a common method of scientific reasoning that purports to warrant inferences from some sample (such as an experiment) to a larger population.  Norton provides several examples of enumerative inductions that support scientific knowledge, traces a partial history of the way in which prior logicians understood enumerative induction, and briefly discusses some variant forms of enumerative induction.

      As you read, attempt to answer the following questions: What is the general pattern of an enumerative induction?  What are some significant scientific hypotheses that seem to have been inferred by enumerative induction?  What are some ways in which enumerative inductions yield hypotheses that “go beyond” their evidential basis?  What are some variant forms of enumerative induction, and how do they compare to the standard form in terms of their strength and reliability?

      Reading this selection and answering these questions should take approximately 1 hour.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 3.1.2 Mill’s Methods  
    • Reading: John Norton’s A Survey of Inductive Generalization: “Section 3 – Inferring to Causes: Bacon’s Tables and Mill’s Methods”; and Critical Thinking Web: “Mill’s Methods”

      Link: John Norton’s A Survey of Inductive Generalization: “Section 3 – Inferring to Causes: Bacon’s Tables and Mill’s Methods” (HTML); and Critical Thinking Web: “Mill’s Methods” (HTML)

      Instructions: Please click on first link above, and then find the term “download” at the top of the page after “A Survey of Inductive Generalization.”  Click on the “download” hyperlink in order to open the PDF file.  Read pages 34-40.

      Please click on the second link above and read the webpage in its entirety.

      In the selection from A Survey of Inductive Generalization, John Norton discusses Mill’s methods, a set of informal rules, first proposed by the philosopher John Stuart Mill, which purport to warrant inferences about the causes of various phenomena.  Norton explains why these methods (or something like them) are important to scientific inquiry, provides examples that illustrate each of Mill’s methods, and briefly discusses the range of applicability of these methods.  The content from Critical Thinking Web supplements Norton’s discussion with more examples, visual aids, and some brief comments on the limitations of Mill’s methods.

      As you read these materials, attempt to answer the following questions: What are Mill’s methods?  How do Mill’s methods differ from enumerative induction?  What are some significant scientific hypotheses that seem to have been inferred using Mill’s methods?  What are some ways in which inferences that involve Mill’s methods yield hypotheses that “go beyond” their evidential basis?

      Reading these selections and answering these questions should take approximately 1 hour.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the pages above.

  • 3.1.3 Colligation  
    • Reading: University of Wisconsin-Madison: Malcolm R. Forster and Ann Wolfe’s “The Whewell-Mill Debate in a Nutshell”

      Link: University of Wisconsin-Madison: Malcolm R. Forster and Ann Wolfe’s “The Whewell-Mill Debate in a Nutshell” (HTML)

      Instructions: Please click on the link above and read the article in its entirety.

      Forster and Wolfe provide helpful context for understanding the significance of Mill and Whewell’s disagreement about the nature of inductive inference in science.  They explain how the differing conceptions of induction lead to differing interpretations of the reasoning Johannes Kepler used to discover Mars’ elliptical orbit, argue that the disagreement between Mill and Whewell is not merely terminological, and defend the thesis that Whewell’s conception of induction is superior to Mill’s.

      As you read, attempt to answer the following questions: What are some points of disagreement between Mill and Whewell regarding the nature of induction?  How does Mill interpret Kepler’s reasoning?  How does Whewell interpret that reasoning?  Why, according to Forster and Wolfe, is Whewell’s interpretation superior to Mill’s?

      Reading this article and answering these questions should take approximately 1 hour.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

    • Reading: University of Pittsburgh Digital Research Library: William Whewell’s “Of Certain Characteristics of Scientific Induction”

      Link: University of Pittsburgh Digital Research Library: William Whewell’s “Of Certain Characteristics of Scientific Induction” (HTML)

      Instructions: Please click on the link above and read pages 138-144.

      John Stuart Mill, in addition to proposing his methods for causal inference (Mill’s methods), also maintained that induction – understood as enumerative induction – was an important component of scientific reasoning.  Writing in response to Mill, William Whewell proposed an alternative conception of induction, understood as “a Colligation of Facts by means of an exact and appropriate Conception.”  The primary difference between Whewell’s and Mill’s conceptions of induction is that for Whewell, but not for Mill, induction unites a set of facts by means of a novel concept, so that induction involves invention in addition to generalization.  This reading excerpt from Whewell elaborates upon, and provides examples to illustrate, this alternative conception of induction.

      As you read, attempt to answer the following questions: What is a “colligation of facts”?  What are some significant scientific examples of such colligations?  What are some ways in which inductions involving a colligation of facts “go beyond” their evidential basis?

      Reading this selection and answering these questions should take approximately 1 hour.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 3.1.4 The Problem of Induction  
    • Reading: Early Modern Texts: David Hume’s An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, “Section 4 – Sceptical Doubts about the Operations of the Understanding”; and Gideon Rosen’s “The Problem of Induction”

      Link: Early Modern Texts: David Hume’s An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, “Section 4 – Sceptical Doubts about the Operations of the Understanding” (HTML); and Gideon Rosen’s “The Problem of Induction” (HTML)

      Instructions: Please click on the first link above.  Open the PDF labeled “Sections 1 through 5,” and scroll down to page 11 to find the beginning of Section 4.  Read the section in its entirety (pages 11-18).

      Please click on the second link above and read the essay in its entirety.

      In Section 4 of his famous Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Hume develops an argument that has come to be known as the problem of induction.  Dividing the objects of human reason (that is, the statements upon which we rely in our reasoning) into two classes, he argues that objects in the first class – relations of ideas – can be known by mere thought without the assistance of sensory experience, while objects in the second class – matters of fact – cannot.  He then proceeds to ask how we come to know objects of this second class.  His answer, “by experience,” leads to a further question concerning the nature of inferences from experience.  For most of Part 1, Hume rejects various proposals about the nature of these inferences (nowadays known as inductive inferences); and in Part 2, he argues that we have no reason to be confident of the results of these inferences.  Attempt to understand Hume’s reasoning on your own.  Use Gideon Rosen’s “The Problem of Induction” to check the adequacy of your understanding, or to assist you in discerning Hume’s argument.

      Attempt to answer the following questions: What is the difference between a matter of fact and a relation of ideas, and what are some examples that illustrate this difference?  According to Hume, how do we typically form opinions about unobserved matters of fact?  According to Hume, why does the way we typically form opinions about observed matters of fact fail to give us good reason to believe that our opinions are likely to be true?  Why does Hume’s “solution” to the problem of induction not entail that we have just as much reason to accept scientific beliefs as we have for accepting religious beliefs based upon mere faith?

      Studying these resources and answering these questions will take approximately 1 hour.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpages above.

  • 3.1.5 Review of Induction  
  • 3.2 Confirmation  
  • 3.2.1 Falsificationism  
    • Reading: Loyola University New Orleans: Henry Folse’s “Comments on Popperian Falsificationism”

      Link: Loyola University New Orleans: Henry Folse’s “Comments on Popperian Falsificationism” (HTML)

      Instructions: Please click on the link above and read the essay in its entirety.

      This essay provides an overview of Karl Popper’s falsificationism.  Read it to help in understanding Popper’s essay, but also read it for its application of Popper’s view to the problem of the theory-ladenness of observation and for its brief summary of prominent criticisms of falsificationism.

      Reading this essay and relating it to prior material will take approximately 1 hour.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

    • Reading: The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: “Karl Popper” (HTML)

      Link: The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: “Karl Popper” (HTML)

      Instructions: Please read this article, focusing on section V.

      Ask a typical scientist to express their views about the nature of science and, more likely than not, you will hear ideas found in Karl Popper’s writings.  In this selection, Popper addresses two issues: first, the difference between science and pseudo-science (associated with what is known as the demarcation problem); second, the nature of scientific reasoning (associated with what is known as the problem of induction).

      In Section I of Science: Conjectures and Refutations, Popper defends falsificationism, the thesis that the distinguishing mark of scientific knowledge is its ability to be refuted (or falsified).  After applying this thesis in Section II to argue that astrology, psychoanalysis, and similar theories are not scientific, in Section III Popper argues that the problem of induction is a pseudo-problem.

      As you read this selection, attempt to answer the following questions: Why does Popper maintain that falsifiability distinguishes science from pseudo-science?  Why does Popper reject Hume’s problem of induction as a pseudo-problem?

      Reading this essay and answering these questions will take approximately 1 hour.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 3.2.2 The Duhem Problem / The Quine-Duhem Thesis  
    • Reading: Error Statistics Philosophy Blog: Deborah Mayo’s “Duhemian Problems of Falsification”; and Loyola University New Orleans: Henry Folse’s “Holism”

      Link: Error Statistics Philosophy Blog: Deborah Mayo’s “Duhemian Problems of Falsification” (HTML); and Loyola University New Orleans: Henry Folse’s “Holism” (HTML)

      Instructions: Please click on the first link above and read all of the content under “5. Duhemian Problems of Falsification.”

      Please click on the second link above and the webpage in its entirety.

      Mayo and Folse elaborate on a thesis about hypothesis testing first developed by the French physicist Pierre Duhem.  This thesis, known as the Duhem problem or the Quine-Duhem thesis (after Willard Van Orman Quine, a twentieth-century American philosopher who popularized Duhem’s objection), constitutes a powerful challenge to Popper’s falsificationism.  It thereby undermines Popper’s claim to have successfully dismissed David Hume’s problem of induction.

      As you read these entries, attempt to answer the following questions: What is the Duhem problem?  Why does Duhem’s problem show that falsificationism is incorrect?

      Reading these entries and answering these questions will take approximately 1 hour.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 3.2.3 Bayesianism  
    • Reading: Trinity University: Curtis Brown’s “An Introduction to Bayes’ Theorem” and the University of Hong Kong’s Critical Thinking Web: “Bayesian Confirmation”

      Link: Trinity University: Curtis Brown’s “An Introduction to Bayes’ Theorem” (HTML); and the University of Hong Kong’s Critical Thinking Web: “Bayesian Confirmation” (HTML)

      Instructions: Please read each essay above in its entirety.

      In light of the problem of induction and the Duhem problem, many philosophers of science adopted the view that, even if we have no reason for confidence in the results of inductive inferences, nonetheless we can have reasons to believe that scientific evidence supports some scientific hypotheses better than others.  Attempts to understand the nature of this support relation between evidence and hypothesis are known as “accounts of confirmation.”  Of these accounts of confirmation, Bayesianism is perhaps the most popular.  According to Bayesianism, a theorem of the probability calculus – known as Bayes’ Theorem – determines how much support evidence provides to a hypothesis.

      Read Curtis Brown’s “An Introduction to Bayes’ Theorem” for an explanation of the mathematical theorem at the heart of Bayesianism.  (To test your understanding, click on the links at the top of Brown’s webpage – “Confirmation 1: Marbles” and “Confirmation 2: ESP” – for some Java-based interactive examples.)  After you are comfortable with the meaning of Bayes’ theorem, proceed to the essay “Bayesian Confirmation” to read about the Bayesian account of confirmation.

      As you read these essays, attempt to answer the following questions: What does Bayes’ Theorem say – not just in mathematical terms, but in plain language?  What is the Bayesian account of confirmation?  How does the Bayesian account of confirmation differ from falsificationism?  How does the Bayesian account of confirmation explain how we might have reason to believe that scientific evidence supports some scientific hypotheses better than others?

      Studying these essays and answering these questions will take approximately 1 hour.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 3.2.4 Error Statistics  
    • Reading: University of Pittsburgh Digital Research Library: Deborah Mayo’s “Models of Error and the Limits of Experimental Testing”; and Cosma Shalizi’s “We Have Ways of Making You Talk, or, Long Live Peircism-Popperism-Neyman-Pearson Thought!”

      Link: University of Pittsburgh Digital Research Library: Deborah Mayo’s “Models of Error and the Limits of Experimental Testing” (HTML); and Cosma Shalizi’s “We Have Ways of Making You Talk, or, Long Live Peircism-Popperism-Neyman-Pearson Thought!” (HTML)

      Instructions: Please click on the first link above and read the chapter in its entirety.  You will have to scroll pages using the “prev” and “next” icons at the bottom of the page.

      Please click on the second link above and read the review in its entirety.

      Rejecting falsificationism for being too limited in scope to account for scientific inference, and Bayesianism for being too permissive to capture the nuances of relationships between evidence and hypotheses in scientific practice, Deborah Mayo advocates an error-statistical account of confirmation.  This account requires not only that evidence make a hypothesis more likely to be true than competing hypotheses, but also that the experimental procedures used to obtain that evidence be reliable in assigning that degree of likelihood to the hypothesis.  In the book being reviewed, Mayo explains some of the details of her account.  The review by Shalizi, a professional physicist, summarizes and contextualizes Mayo’s error-statistical account, giving examples to illustrate some technical ideas and situating Mayo’s account within the history of philosophy of science.

      As you read this material, attempt to answer the following questions: Why does Mayo maintain that Bayesianism is too permissive to capture the nuances of relationships between evidence and hypotheses in scientific practice?  What is the error-statistical account of confirmation?  How does this account differ from both falsificationism and Bayesianism?  How does the error-statistical account of confirmation explain how we might have reason to believe that scientific evidence supports some scientific hypotheses better than others?

      Reading this material and answering these questions will take approximately 2 hours.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 3.2.5 Bootstrapping  
    • Reading: John Norton’s A Survey of Inductive Generalization: “Section 7 – Glymour’s Bootstrap”

      Link: John Norton’s A Survey of Inductive Generalization: “Section 7 – Glymour’s Bootstrap” (HTML)

      Instructions: Click on the link above and find the download link at the top of the page after “A Survey of Inductive Generalization.”  Click on the download link in order to open the PDF.  Read pages 83-104.

      Clark Glymour generalizes Mill’s methods into a “bootstrap” account of confirmation that allows theories to be used in interpreting the evidence that is supposed to confirm them.  Norton’s chapter summarizes and illustrates this account, explaining the technical details of Glymour’s formal definitions with informal prose and appealing to some famous arguments by Newton (among others) to show how to apply Glymour’s account.

      As you read this material, attempt to answer the following questions: What is the bootstrap account of confirmation?  How does it differ from Bayesianism?  How does it differ from simple inductive enumeration?  What are some significant scientific hypotheses that seem to have been inferred by enumerative induction?  Why is the “circularity” involved in bootstrap confirmation not harmful?  How does the bootstrap account of confirmation explain how we might have reason to believe that scientific evidence supports some scientific hypotheses better than others?

      Reading this chapter will take approximately 1 hour.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 3.2.6 The Raven’s Paradox  
    • Reading: University of Notre Dame OpenCourseWare: “Paradoxes of Confirmation”

      Link: University of Notre Dame OpenCourseWare: “Paradoxes of Confirmation” (HTML)

      Instructions: Please click on the link above and read the introductory section, as well as the sections for “Paradox of the ravens” and “Bayes Theorem.”

      These lecture notes, like the above Encyclopedia of Science entry, offer a (slightly more technical) review of the raven’s paradox and a (slightly more technical) Bayesian solution to that paradox.  Read it to deepen your understanding of the formal aspects of the paradox and the Bayesian solution.

      Reading this note will take approximately 30 minutes.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

    • Reading: The Encyclopedia of Science: David Darling’s “Raven Paradox”

      Link: The Encyclopedia of Science: David Darling’s “Raven Paradox” (HTML)

      Instructions: Please click on the link above and read the entry in its entirety.

      This entry, after briefly reviewing the raven’s paradox, offers a Bayesian solution to the raven’s paradox, according to which the reasoning that leads to the paradox is mistaken by virtue of relying upon an incorrect principle of induction.

      Reading this entry will take approximately 15 minutes.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

    • Reading: Math Academy Online: “Hempel’s Ravens Paradox”

      Link: Math Academy Online: “Hempel’s Ravens Paradox” (HTML)

      Instructions: Please click on the link above and read the entry in its entirety.

      This entry presents the “raven’s paradox.”  First proposed by Carl Hempel, this paradox purports to show that any evidence that does not falsify a hypothesis confirms that hypothesis.  The paradox presents a challenge to accounts of confirmation: either show why the reasoning that leads to the “paradox” is mistaken, or else explain away the paradox by showing that the conclusion of the reasoning is not as counterintuitive as it seems to be.  Proposals to meet this challenge are known as “solutions” to the raven’s paradox.

      Reading this entry will take approximately 15 minutes.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 3.2.7 Review of Confirmation  
  • 3.3 Explanation  
  • 3.3.1 Deductive-Nomological Account  
    • Reading: California Polytechnic State University: Carl G. Hempel’s “Studies in the Logic of Explanation”

      Link: California Polytechnic State University: Carl G. Hempel’s “Studies in the Logic of Explanation” (HTML)
       
      Instructions: Please click on the link above and read the essay in its entirety.
       
      While accounts of confirmation address the way in which evidence about natural phenomena bear upon hypotheses about those phenomena, accounts of explanation address the way in which hypotheses about natural phenomena bear upon those phenomena.  That is, while accounts of confirmation attempt to explicate the notion of support (the way in which evidence supports hypotheses), accounts of explanation attempt to explicate the notion of explanation (the way in which hypotheses explain phenomena).  Carl Hempel was the first contemporary philosopher of science to offer a comprehensive and detailed account of scientific explanation.  This account applies to explanations of particular events as well as explanations of general laws; and it applies to explanations from disciplines as diverse as physics, biology, psychology, economics, sociology, and linguistics.
       
      According to Hempel, while scientific descriptions answer the question “what?”, scientific explanations answer the question “why?”  And the way they answer this question, according to Hempel, is by subsuming the target of the explanation under a general law, such that a statement of the law, together with other true statements of other auxiliary hypotheses, deductively entails a description of the explanation’s target.  Because deductions and laws (Greek: nomos) are central to Hempel’s account, it is known as the deductive-nomological account of explanation.  Hempel’s essay offers examples that motivate and illustrate how this account works, addresses objections to the effect that the account does not apply to explanations of purposive behavior, considers and rejects alternative accounts of explanation that appeal to familiarity or a sense of understanding, and offers an analysis of the characteristics of lawlike statements.
       
      As you read this chapter, attempt to answer the following question: What, according to Hempel, is the proper way to reconstruct scientists’ answers to “why” questions?  What are some examples of explanations that fit Hempel’s account of explanation?  What is the scope of Hempel’s account – that is, to what explanations in which disciplines does his account apply?
       
      Reading this chapter and answering these questions will take approximately 1.5 hours.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

    • Reading: Iowa State University: Lyle Zynda’s “Lecture 2 – The Inferential View of Scientific Explanation”

      Link: Iowa State University: Lyle Zynda’s “Lecture 2 – The Inferential View of Scientific Explanation” (HTML)

      Instructions: Please click on the link above and read the notes in their entirety.

      This set of lecture notes explains and illustrates the key ideas of Hempel’s deductive-nomological account of explanation.  The notes also present two problems that purport to show that Hempel’s account fails to capture important elements of scientific explanation, by virtue of classifying as explanatory some deductive arguments that, intuitively, are not explanatory.

      Reading these notes will take approximately 30 minutes.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

    • Reading: Ohio State University: Neil Tennant’s “The Logical Structure of Scientific Explanation and Prediction: Planetary Orbits in a Sun’s Gravitational Field”

      Link: Ohio State University: Neil Tennant’s “The Logical Structure of Scientific Explanation and Prediction: Planetary Orbits in a Sun’s Gravitational Field” (HTML)

      Instructions: Please click on the link above.  Then, under the header for “Articles,” scroll down to find “The Logical Structure of Scientific Explanation and Prediction: Planetary Orbits in a Sun’s Gravitational Field.”  Click on that link to open a PDF.  Read the article in its entirety, for an extended reconstruction of a scientific explanation that fits the hypothetical-deductive account of explanation.

      Reading this article will take approximately 1 hour.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 3.3.2 Causal Account  
    • Reading: Iowa State University: Lyle Zynda’s “Lecture 3 – The Causal Theory of Explanation, Part I”; “Lecture 4 – The Causal Theory of Explanation, Part II”; “Lecture 5 – The Causal Theory of Explanation, Part III”; and “Lecture 6 – Problems with the Causal Theory of Explanation”

      Link: Iowa State University: Lyle Zynda’s “Lecture 3 – The Causal Theory of Explanation, Part  I” (HTML); “Lecture 4 – The Causal Theory of Explanation, Part II” (HTML); “Lecture 5 – The Causal Theory of Explanation, Part III” (HTML); and  “Lecture 6 – Problems with the Causal Theory of Explanation” (HTML)

      Instructions: Please click, in sequence, on each of the above links and read the notes in their entirety.

      One prominent reaction to the problems that beset Hempel’s deductive-nomological account of explanation involves rejecting a fundamental presupposition of that account—namely, the idea that explanations of phenomena provide information sufficient for prediction of those phenomena.  The philosopher of science Wesley Salmon pursued this strategy by proposing, instead, that explanations need only provide information that makes phenomena more likely to occur than not.  Because information about causal relations between events turns out to be extremely important according to this proposal, Salmon’s view is a kind of causal account of explanation.  (David Lewis, another philosopher, offered a similar account, but Salmon’s came first and has been discussed more by philosophers of science.)

      Part I of this series of lectures motivates Salmon’s approach to explanation and summarizes Salmon’s reasons for supposing that explanations must involve causal information.  Part II provides some of the technical details of Salmon’s causal account, explaining the notions of statistical relevance, causal process, and causal interaction mentioned in Part I.  When reading Part II, recall the ideas about probability from the subunit on Bayesianism: you should read notation like “Pr(E|C)” and “Pr(C)” as, respectively, “the probability of E given C” and “the probability of C.”  Part III turns a critical eye toward Salmon’s account, contrasting Salmon’s account with Hempel’s while also presenting some problems with the details of Salmon’s account.  Finally, “Problems with the Causal Theory of Explanation” presents and illustrates some problems concerning the range of applicability of causal accounts of explanation.

      As you read these notes, attempt to answer the following questions: What is the causal account of explanation?  What problems for Hempel’s account of explanation does the causal account aim to avoid?  How does it avoid these problems?  What are some examples of explanations that fit the causal account of explanation?

      Reading this series of notes and answering these questions will take approximately 2 hours.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

    • Reading: The Information Philosopher: “Causality”

      Link: The Information Philosopher: “Causality” (HTML)

      Instructions: In case the readings about the causal account of explanation leave you a bit mystified about what the philosophers are trying to discern, this resource provides some quick background information about the notion of causation. Read the material in order to familiarize yourself with the way in which scientists think about causation, and be sure to compare scientists' informal notion of causation with the philosophically more sophisticated notion on display in the causal account of explanation.

      Reviewing this material and relating it to the readings on the casual account of explanation should approximately 30 minutes.

      Terms of Use: This resource is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License. It is attributed to the Information Philosopher.

  • 3.3.3 Unification Account  
    • Reading: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: James Woodward’s “A Unificationist Account of Explanation”

      Link: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: James Woodward’s “A Unificationist Account of Explanation” (HTML)

      Instructions: Please click on the link above and read Section 5, “A Unificationist Account of Explanation,” in its entirety.

      Given the problems that beset causal accounts of explanation, and the lingering difficulties with deductive-nomological accounts of explanation, some philosophers of science developed yet a third kind of account of explanation.  These accounts focus on the idea that explanations unify a wide array of phenomena that, apart from the unifying explanation, would have been thought to be unrelated.  Woodward’s encyclopedia entry on these unificationist accounts of explanation elaborates upon this basic idea, illustrates the account and the account’s solutions to the problems with the deductive-nomological account, and briefly discusses the relation between causal and unificationist accounts of explanation.  The entry then turns to a brief survey of the key criticisms of the unificationist account.

      As you read this entry, attempt to answer the following questions: What is the unification account of explanation?  What problems for Hempel’s account of explanation does the unification account aim to avoid?  How does it avoid these problems?  What are some examples of explanations that fit the unification account of explanation?

      Reading this section and answering these questions will take approximately 1 hour.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 3.3.4 Pragmatic Account  
    • Reading: Iowa State University: Lyle Zynda’s “Lecture 7 – Van Fraassen’s Pragmatic View of Explanation”

      Link: Iowa State University: Lyle Zynda’s “Lecture 7 – Van Fraassen’s Pragmatic View of Explanation” (HTML)

      Instructions: Please click on the link above and read the notes in their entirety.

      These short lecture notes summarize the central ideas of the pragmatic account of explanation and contrast this account with causal accounts of explanation.  The notes mention, but do not elaborate upon, the “Tower example.”  This refers to the short story by Bas van Fraassen (an advocate of the pragmatic account) that appears in Chapter 5, “The Pragmatics of Explanation,” of his The Scientific Image.  The story, briefly, motivates a situation in which the answer to “Why is the tower so high?” is “Because the shadow needed to be so long.”  The story is meant to be relevant to the problem of asymmetry that besets the deductive-nomological account of explanation, according to which the height of a tower can explain the length of the shadow it casts, but the length of the shadow cannot explain the height of the tower.

      Reading these notes will take approximately 30 minutes.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 3.3.5 Mechanistic Account  
  • 3.3.6 Review of Explanation  
    • Assessment: The Saylor Foundation: “Assessment 5”

      Link: The Saylor Foundation: “Assessment 5” (PDF)

      Instructions: This assessment will ask you to interpret, in light of two different accounts of explanation, Alexander and Zare’s explanation of why Guinness bubbles fall, and to critically evaluate the extent to which each of these two accounts illuminate why their explanation is explanatory.  Use the “Assessment 5 – Guide to Responding” (PDF) to help you.  Please check your essays against the “Assessment 5 – Self-Assessment Rubric” (PDF).

      Completing this assessment will take approximately 2 hours.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

    • Reading: University of Edinburgh School of Chemistry: Andy Alexander and Dick Zare’s “Do Bubbles in Guinness Go Down?”

      Link: University of Edinburgh School of Chemistry: Andy Alexander and Dick Zare’s “Do Bubbles in Guinness Go Down?” (HTML)

      Instructions: Please click on the link above.  Follow the links on the page in order to understand Alexander and Zare’s explanation of why bubbles in Guinness travel downwards.  In particular, follow the links for “Why do the bubbles go down?” and “Link to full paper explaining physics of waves in Guinness (pdf),” and click on some of the circles surrounding the image of the pint glass (left side of page) to watch some videos of the phenomenon being explained.

      Devote approximately 30 minutes to exploring this site.  The following assessment references the information provided here.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Unit 4: Theory Change and Scientific Progress  

    “In general we look for a new law by the following process.  First we guess it.  Then we compute the consequences of the guess to see what would be implied if this law that we guessed is right.  Then we compare the result of the computation to nature, with experiment or experience, compare it directly with observation, to see if it works.  If it disagrees with experiment it is wrong.  In that simple statement is the key to science.” [1]
     
    Feynman’s remark reflects the classical view of theory change, according to which science progresses through a steady stream of conjecture and refutation.  This is a view popularized by Karl Popper, and it continues to influence popular conceptions of the scientific method.  However, the view conflicts with another popular view, first developed by Thomas Kuhn, according to which science changes in discontinuous leaps and bounds, with humdrum periods of normal science punctuated by radical paradigm changes.  Popper’s and Kuhn’s views represent two of the more popular views of scientific progress.  But more nuanced accounts, which aim to better attend to the actualities of scientific inquiry, suggest that these popular views are oversimplified.


    [1] Richard Feynman, The Character of Physical Law (Cambridge, MA: The M.I.T Press, 1965), 156.

    Unit 4 Time Advisory   show close
    Unit 4 Learning Outcomes   show close
  • 4.1 The Classical View: Conjectures and Refutations  
    • Reading: Marxists Internet Archive: Karl Popper’s “A Realist View of Logic, Physics, and History”

      Link: Marxists Internet Archive: Karl Popper’s “A Realist View of Logic, Physics, and History” (HTML)

      Instructions: Please click on the link above and read the chapter in its entirety.

      This chapter, by Karl Popper (an advocate of falsificationism: see Unit 3.2.1), propounds upon what many philosophers of science refer to as the classical view of theory change.  Popper presents this view in the opening section of his chapter; in subsequent sections, he explains the ways in which this view has implications for realistic attitudes toward our scientific theories, understanding the history of science, interpretations of quantum physics, and understanding of logic and language.

      As you read this chapter, attempt to answer the following questions: What is the classical view of theory change (i.e., Popper’s view)?  How does Popper’s falsificationism inform and motivate this view of theory change?  How does this view encourage us to interpret the history of science?

      Reading this chapter and answering these questions will take approximately 2 hours.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 4.2 Paradigms and Revolutions  
    • Reading: Marxists Internet Archive: Thomas Kuhn’s “The Nature and Necessity of Scientific Revolutions”; The Richmond Journal of Philosophy: Alexander Bird’s “What Is in a Paradigm?”; and Curtis Brown’s “Some Notes on Thomas Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions”

      Link: Marxists Internet Archive: Thomas Kuhn’s “The Nature and Necessity of Scientific Revolutions” (HTML); The Richmond Journal of Philosophy: Alexander Bird’s “What Is in a Paradigm?” (HTML); and Curtis Brown’s “Some Notes on Thomas Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions (HTML)

      Instructions: Please click on the links above and read the materials in their entirety.  For the article by Bird, clicking on the link will take you to the “Back Issues” page for The Richmond Journal of Philosophy.  Under Issue 2 – Autumn 2002, find “What Is in a Paradigm?” by Alexander Bird (second article of the issue).  Click on “[PDF version]” to open his article.

      In “The Nature and Necessity of Scientific Revolutions,” a chapter from The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn presents his influential ideas about scientific revolutions and the development of science.  For Kuhn, the occurrence of such revolutions undermines the classical view of scientific development, by showing that science does not develop smoothly and cumulatively from one problem to the next, but instead proceeds in fits and starts, jumping from one paradigm to another.  Kuhn’s work remains widely influential, not so much among philosophers of science (many of whom appreciate Kuhn’s historical work but disagree with the philosophical implications he draws from that work), but primarily among sociologists of science and cultural critics of science.

      Bird’s article motivates and summarizes Kuhn’s central ideas about the development of science, explaining Kuhn’s distinctions between normal science and revolutionary science, his notion of paradigms, his thesis about the incommensurability of theories from different paradigms, and his conception of science as puzzle-solving rather than (as Popper claims) problem-solving.  Curtis Brown’s short notes concisely summarize Kuhn’s views about the development of science and the notion of incommensurability.  Use the notes as a supplement to understanding Kuhn’s chapter and Bird’s article.  Read these materials in order to better understand Kuhn’s central ideas.

      As you read Kuhn’s chapter, Bird’s article, and Brown’s notes, attempt to answer the following questions: What is Kuhn’s view of theory change?  How does Kuhn’s view of theory change differ from the classical view?  How does this view encourage us to interpret the history of science?  What implications, if any, does this view have for the rationality of scientific progress?

      Reading these materials and answering these questions will take approximately 3 hours.

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  • 4.3 Research Programs  
  • 4.4 Research Traditions  
  • 4.5 Review of Theory Change and Scientific Progress  
  • Unit 5: Interpretations of Scientific Knowledge  

    “Physics is like sex: sure, it may give some practical results, but that’s not why we do it.” [1]
     
    Science seems to be our best guide to determining the way the world is.  But does the real world actually contain atoms or genes, for example, or is a literal interpretation of our scientific theories unwarranted?  Instrumentalism about science is the view that science aims only to develop effective instruments for prediction and control of nature.  Scientific realism, in contrast, is the view that science aims to discover the truth about the world and that we have good reason to believe that our current theories are at least approximately true.  If realism is correct, a literal interpretation of our best available theories is warranted.  However, the underdetermination of theory by evidence, and science’s historical track record of failure, suggest that realism is overly optimistic.  Alternative interpretations of scientific knowledge diverge on the extent to which we ought to believe that the world is the way our scientific theories represent it as being.


    [1] Attributed to Richard Feynman in Anton Z. Capra, From Quanta to Quarks: More Anecdotal History of Physics (Hackensack, NJ: World Scientific, 2007), 37.

    Unit 5 Time Advisory   show close
    Unit 5 Learning Outcomes   show close
  • 5.1 Scientific Realism  
  • 5.1.1 What Scientific Realism Is  
  • 5.1.2 The “Miracle” Argument  
    • Reading: The Rutherford Journal: Alan Musgrave’s “The ‘Miracle Argument’ for Scientific Realism”; and Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Anjan Chakravartty’s “The Miracle Argument”

      Link: The Rutherford Journal: Alan Musgrave’s “The ‘Miracle Argument’ for Scientific Realism” (HTML); and Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Anjan Chakravartty’s “The Miracle Argument” (HTML)

      Instructions: Please click on the first link above and read the article in its entirety.  Focus especially on the introduction as well as the sections titled “Inference to the Best Explanation” and “The Miracle Argument.”

      Please click on the second link above and read Section 2.1 of Chakravartty’s entry in its entirety.

      These readings present one of the standard arguments in favor of scientific realism: the so-called “miracle argument.”  In his essay, Musgrave explains the kind of inference upon which this argument relies (inference to the best explanation), presents the argument itself, and offers his assessment of whether the argument succeeds.  His exposition of the argument invokes the notion of empirical adequacy: a theory is empirically adequate to the extent that it makes correct predictions about all observable phenomena (including unobserved phenomena, but without regard to the truth or falsity of the claims it makes concerning unobservable entities such as quarks or DNA).  Chakravartty’s exposition does not invoke this notion; however, his exposition is much more concise and does not elaborate upon the motivation for the argument.

      As you read, attempt to answer the following questions: What do realists mean when they talk about the “success of science”?  Why do realists suppose that the “success of science” deserves an explanation?  What is an “inference to the best explanation”?  What do realists propose as the best explanation of the success of science?  How does this differ from alternative proposals, and why do realists maintain that their proposal is superior to the alternatives?

      Reading this material and answering these questions will take approximately 1 hour.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 5.1.3 Corroboration  
    • Reading: Scientific American: George Bodner’s “How was Avogadro’s Number Determined?”; and Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Anjan Chakravartty’s “Corroboration”

      Link: Scientific American: George Bodner’s “How was Avogadro’s Number Determined?” (HTML); and Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Anjan Chakravartty’s “Corroboration” (HTML)

      Instructions: Please click on the first link above and read Bodner’s article in its entirety.

      Please click on the second link above and read Section 2.2 of Chakravartty’s entry in its entirety.

      There are roughly twelve different methods for measuring Avogadro’s number – the number of protons in a gram of pure protons.  These methods yield remarkably similar results, and this agreement – or corroboration among methods – motivates a different argument for scientific realism.  Bodner briefly discusses some of the methods for determining Avogadro’s number, and Chakravartty briefly presents an argument that takes the kind of corroboration exhibited in the measurement of Avogadro’s number to be support for scientific realism.

      As you read, attempt to answer the following questions: What are some examples of corroboration regarding unobservable entities?  Why would this corroboration be “an extraordinary coincidence” if the unobservable entities did not exist?  How does the argument from corroboration differ from the “miracles” argument for scientific realism?

      Reading these essays and answering these questions will take approximately 1 hour.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 5.2 Objections to Scientific Realism  
  • 5.2.1 The Underdetermination Problem  
    • Reading: The Galilean Library: Paul Newall’s “Underdetermination”; and Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Anjan Chakravartty’s “The Underdetermination of Theory by Data”

      Link: The Galilean Library: Paul Newall’s “Underdetermination” (HTML); and Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Anjan Chakravartty’s “The Underdetermination of Theory by Data” (HTML)

      Instructions: Please click on the first link above and read Newall’s essay in its entirety.  Focus on understanding what underdetermination is.

      Please click on the second link above and read Section 3.1 of Chakravartty’s entry in its entirety.  Focus on understanding the significance of underdetermination for scientific realism.

      Some of the preceding readings in this course have mentioned the notion of underdetermination.  Newall explains this notion in more detail.  Chakravartty’s entry provides an exposition of the way in which underdetermination presents a challenge to the realist interpretation of scientific knowledge.

      As you read this material, attempt to answer the following questions: What is underdetermination?  What kinds of underdetermination are there?  What are some examples of underdetermination from actual science?  How does underdetermination constitute an objection to scientific realism, or to arguments for scientific realism?

      Reading this material and answering these questions will take approximately 1 hour.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 5.2.2 The Pessimistic Induction  
  • 5.3 Realist Responses  
  • 5.3.1 Stubborn Realism  
    • Reading: The Richmond Journal of Philosophy: Pierre Cruse’s “On Scientific Realism”

      Link: The Richmond Journal of Philosophy: Pierre Cruse’s “On Scientific Realism” (HTML)

      Instructions: Please click on the link above.  Scroll down to find the heading for “Issue 3 – Spring 2003,” and then click on the link that follows “On Scientific Realism” to open a PDF file.  Read the article in its entirety.

      Rather than concede their commitment to scientific realism in light of objections to their view, some philosophers of science maintain that the objections fail to pose a significant challenge to their view.  After reviewing the “miracle” argument and the pessimistic induction, Cruse argues that the pessimistic induction does not refute scientific realism.

      Read this article in order to deepen your understanding of the “miracle” argument and the pessimistic induction, as well as to deepen your understanding of the way in which scientific realism advocates interpreting the history of science and scientific knowledge.

      Reading this article will take approximately 30 minutes.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 5.3.2 Entity Realism  
    • Reading: Iowa State University: Lyle Zynda’s “Lecture 19 – Entity Realism (Hacking & Cartwright)”

      Link: Iowa State University: Lyle Zynda’s “Lecture 19 – Entity Realism (Hacking & Cartwright)” (HTML)

      Instructions: Please click on the link above and read the notes in their entirety.

      In these lecture notes, Zynda summarizes arguments that favor a limited form of realism known as entity realism.  This kind of realism fits nicely with the argument from corroboration.

      As you read the notes, attempt to answer the following questions: What is entity realism?  In what ways does entity realism differ from full-blown scientific realism?  What are some arguments in favor of entity realism?  How might entity realism avoid some of the objections to realism (underdetermination, pessimistic induction)?

      Reading these notes and answering these questions will take approximately 1 hour.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 5.3.3 Structural Realism  
    • Reading: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: James Ladyman’s “Structural Realism”

      Link: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: James Ladyman’s “Structural Realism” (HTML)

      Instructions: Please click on the link above and read the entry in its entirety.

      Scientific realists who do not reject the argument from underdetermination and the pessimistic induction tend to limit their realism in some way.  Entity realism (see prior subunit) offers one way to implement this strategy.  Structural realism, the topic of Ladyman’s entry, offers another.

      As you read this entry, attempt to answer the following questions: What is structural realism?  How does it differ from full-blown scientific realism, and from entity realism?  What are some arguments in favor of structural realism?  How might structural realism avoid some of the objections to realism (underdetermination, pessimistic induction)?

      Reading this entry and answering these questions will take approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 5.4 Antirealism  
  • 5.4.1 Instrumentalism  
  • 5.4.2 Constructive Empiricism  
    • Reading: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Bradley Monton and Chad Mohler’s “Constructive Empiricism”; and Tim Thornton’s “Remarks on Constructive Empiricism”

      Link: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Bradley Monton and Chad Mohler’s “Constructive Empiricism” (HTML); and Tim Thornton’s “Remarks on Constructive Empiricism” (HTML)

      Instructions: Please click on the first link above and read the entry in its entirety.  Focus especially on Sections 1 and 2, “Understanding Constructive Empiricism” and “Arguments for Constructive Empiricism.”

      Please click on the second link above and read Thornton’s notes in their entirety.

      Instrumentalists reject the idea that scientific theories aim to give us literally true stories about what the world is like.  For this reason, it is an anti-realist interpretation of scientific knowledge.  But not all anti-realist interpretations reject this idea.  One such anti-realism is constructive empiricism.  Monton and Mohler’s encyclopedia entry explains the details of this position, contrasts it with scientific realism, and summarizes arguments that favor constructive empiricism over scientific realism.  Thornton’s brief notes concisely summarize one of these arguments and offer a very compressed criticism of the constructive empiricist interpretation of scientific knowledge.

      As you read these materials, attempt to answer the following questions: How does constructive empiricism differ from scientific realism?  How does constructive empiricism differ from instrumentalism?  What reasons or evidence support or motivate constructive empiricism?  How might scientific realists respond to these arguments or object to constructive empiricism?

      Reading this material and answering these questions will take approximately 1 hour.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 5.4.3 Social Constructivism  
  • 5.5 Review of Interpretations of Scientific Knowledge  
  • Unit 6: Social Dimensions of Scientific Practice  

    “Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.” [1]

    Science is not some abstract idea.  It is a social institution, with research organized and conducted by people.  Apart from their special training and specialized education, scientists are no different from other people.  They have similar biases and prejudices, similar hopes and dreams, similar ambitions and desires.  To what extent does the human element of scientific inquiry impact the products of that inquiry?  Does science warrant the authority that many ascribe to it?  Is science biased toward males and male concerns?  Does government sponsorship of scientific research compromise science’s objectivity?  How ought scientists respond to the demands and agendas of politicians?  Should political concerns contribute to the direction of scientific inquiry?  This concluding unit for the course surveys some of the principal philosophical replies to these questions about the social dimensions of scientific practice, supplementing the largely epistemological focus of the other course units with attention to ethical and political issues.


    [1] Richard P. Feynman, The Pleasure of Finding Things Out (Cambridge, MA: Perseus Publishing, 1999), 187.

    Unit 6 Time Advisory   show close
    Unit 6 Learning Outcomes   show close
  • 6.1 Organization of Science  
  • 6.1.1 Intellectual and Social Organization of Science  
    • Reading: whatprogress Blog: “The Intellectual and Social Organization of the Sciences (Book Review)”

      Link: whatprogress Blog: “The Intellectual and Social Organization of the Sciences (Book Review)” (HTML)

      Instructions: Please click on the link above and read the review in its entirety.

      This essay reviews Richard Whitley’s classic text The Intellectual and Social Organization of Science.  Rather than understand scientists as motivated entirely by a lofty goal such as pursuing the truth or understanding nature, Whitley’s work focuses on more prosaic motivations, such as publishing a paper and having a good professional reputation.  This orientation leads Whitley to focus on the social institutions and organizational structures that support scientific inquiry, the professional nature of scientific research, and the ways in which scientific disciplines differ from one another as a result of these features.  While the review does not provide many of the details in Whitley’s text, it offers a good overview of the basic ideas.

      As you read the material, attempt to answer the following questions: What distinguishes the modern sciences?  What social developments permit the existence of science in its modern form?  How does academic science differ from state or industrial science?  What is the degree of functional dependence of a scientific discipline, and the degree of strategic dependence?  What factors affect these degrees of dependence?  What is the difference between technical task uncertainty and strategic task uncertainty?  What factors affect these differences?  How do these concepts—functional dependence, strategic dependence, technical and strategic task uncertainty – yield a typology of the modern sciences?

      Reading this review and answering these questions will take approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 6.1.2 Intellectual and Social Organization in Specific Sciences  
  • 6.1.2.1 Physics (Conceptually Integrated Bureaucracy)  
  • 6.1.2.2 Bio-Medicine (Professional Adhocracy)  
  • 6.1.2.3 Economics (Partitioned Bureaucracy)  
  • 6.1.2.4 Sociology (Fragmented Adhocracy)  
    • Reading: Rutgers University: Phaedra Daipha’s “The Intellectual and Social Organization of ASA 1990-1997”

      Link: Rutgers University: Phaedra Daipha’s “The Intellectual and Social Organization of ASA 1990-1997” (HTML)

      Instructions: Please click on the link above, and then click on the link for the paper titled “The Intellectual and Social Organization of ASA 1990-1997.”  This will open a PDF article.  Read the article in its entirety.

      Daipha’s article explores the development of sociology, and especially the American Sociological Association, in the 1990s.  Keep in mind Whitley’s ideas about the intellectual and social organization of the sciences (see subunit 6.1.1), and read in order to understand the ways in which non-scientific factors (social goals, government policies, and so on) affected sociological inquiry (its goals, values, organization structure, professional standards, and so on).

      Reading this article will take approximately 1 hour.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 6.2 Science and Gender  
  • 6.2.1 The Role of Gender in Science  
  • 6.2.2 Feminist Equity Critiques  
  • 6.2.3 Social Implications of the Genderization of Science  
  • 6.3 Scientific Authority  
  • 6.3.1 The Rise of Scientific Authority  
  • 6.3.2 Scientific Authority and Politics  
    • Lecture: YouTube: Rotman Institute: Philip Kitcher’s “Authority, Responsibility, and Democracy”

      Link: YouTube: Rotman Institute: Philip Kitcher’s “Authority, Responsibility, and Democracy” (YouTube)

      Instructions: Please click on the link above and watch the video in its entirety.

      In this lecture, philosopher of science Philip Kitcher presents, explains, and illustrates some instances of what are, in his view, a series of problems regarding the authority of science in a democratic society.  Watch this video to better understand the claims he defends in the preceding essay, “The Climate Change Debates.”

      Watching this lecture will take approximately 1 hour.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

    • Reading: Issues in Science and Technology: John Marburger’s “Science’s Uncertain Authority in Policy”; and Science: Philip Kitcher’s “The Climate Change Debates”

      Link: Issues in Science and Technology: John Marburger’s “Science’s Uncertain Authority in Policy” (HTML); and Science: Philip Kitcher’s “The Climate Change Debates” (HTML)

      Instructions: Please click on each link above and read each essay in its entirety.

      These essays explore the ways in which the epistemic authority of modern science exhibits itself in political contexts.  Marburger’s essay focuses on the way in which the statutory authority of government often overrides the epistemic authority of science.  Kitcher’s essay, although a review of some books about climate science, also offers some reflections on the appropriate relation between scientific and political authority in a democratic society.

      As you read these essays, attempt to answer the following questions: What are some examples of policy advice that scientists have given to politicians?  How was that advice received in each case?  Why, according to Marburger, is scientific authority inferior to statutory authority in a democratic context?  How, according to Kitcher, ought policy-makers treat scientific advice in a democratic society?

      Reading these essays and answering these questions will take approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 6.4 Values in Science  
  • 6.4.1 Underdetermination and Objectivity  
    • Reading: University of Pittsburgh Digital Research Library: Science, Values, and Objectivity: Helen Longino’s “How Values Can Be Good for Science”

      Link: University of Pittsburgh Digital Research Library: Science, Values, and Objectivity: Helen Longino’s “How Values Can Be Good for Science” (HTML)

      Instructions: Please click on the link above and read Longino’s chapter in its entirety.  Use the navigation buttons (“next”) at the bottom of the page to advance the pages.

      Longino’s chapter examines whether and, if so, how social and pragmatic values – values that concern social relations and social utilities – can be good for scientific inquiry.  She discusses the attraction of the ideal of science as “value-free,” the underdetermination problem (refer to subunit 5.2.1), competing conceptions of scientific knowledge, and the implications of value-laden science for rationality, universality, and objectivity.

      As you read this chapter, attempt to answer the following questions: What is the ideal of value-free science?  Why, according to Longino, is the lesson of the underdetermination problem that there is a legitimate role for social values in science?  How does incorporating social values into science resolve the underdetermination problem?  What are some consequences of acknowledging the social dimensions of cognitive practices in science?  Why, according to Longino, does the presence of social values in scientific practice not undermine the cognitive rationality of that practice?  How does the presence of social values in science affect the ideals of universality and objectivity in scientific inquiry?

      Reading this chapter and answering these questions will take approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 6.4.2 Science and Public Policy  
    • Reading: University of Pittsburgh Digital Research Library: Science, Values, and Objectivity: Heather Douglas’ “Border Skirmishes between Science and Policy: Autonomy, Responsibility, and Values”

      Link: University of Pittsburgh Digital Research Library: Science, Values, and Objectivity: Heather Douglas’ “Border Skirmishes between Science and Policy: Autonomy, Responsibility, and Values” (HTML)

      Instructions: Please click on the link above and read Douglas’ chapter in its entirety.  Use the navigation buttons (“next”) at the bottom of the page to advance the pages.

      Douglas’ chapter focuses on the role of science in policy making, sketching a brief history of the relation between scientists and policy-makers and arguing that there is not (and should not be) a clear boundary between science and politics.

      As you read her chapter, attempt to answer the following questions: What are some examples of successful scientific advice for policy making after World War II?  How do attitudes toward this advice differ in different time periods (1945-1965, 1965-1980, 1980-2000), and how do views about the role of values in science and policy inform these different attitudes?  Why, according to Douglas, have attempts to draw a sharp boundary between science and policy failed?  What problems arise for the view that, even if value judgments have a legitimate role in science, scientists should not be the ones who make those judgments?  Why, according to Douglas, should science intended for use in policy making not be value-free?

      Reading this chapter and answering these questions will take approximately 1 hours and 30 minutes.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 6.5 Science and Politics  
    • Reading: University of Pittsburgh Digital Research Library: Science, Values, and Objectivity: Peter Weingart’s “Between Science and Values”; and Issues in Science and Technology: Daniel Yankelovich’s “Winning Greater Influence for Science”

      Link: University of Pittsburgh Digital Research Library: Science, Values, and Objectivity: Peter Weingart’s “Between Science and Values” (HTML); and Issues in Science and Technology: Daniel Yankelovich’s “Winning Greater Influence for Science” (HTML)

      Instructions: Please click on the first link above and read Weingart’s chapter in its entirety.  Use the navigation buttons (“next”) at the bottom of the page to advance the pages.

      Please click on the second link above and read Yankelovich’s article in its entirety.

      Weingart’s chapter explores the issue of why, despite the ever-increasing reliance of politics on science, and the increasing expectation that science offers reliable knowledge, there is a gradual decrease in the epistemic authority of science.  Yankelovich’s essay discusses some social implications of, and suggestions for overcoming, this decrease in authority.

      As you read this material, attempt to answer the following questions: What are the four types of interchange between scientific knowledge and social application?  What are some of the institutional changes responsible for the attitude that scientific knowledge has become unduly “diluted” by values?  How do these changes explain the gradual decrease in science’s epistemic authority?  What are some symptoms of this decrease in authority?

      Reading these materials and answering these questions will take approximately 2 hours.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 6.6 Review of Social Dimensions of Scientific Practice  
  • Final Exam  

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