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Science plays an enormously influential role in our society. As a social institution, it commands enormous respect and social influence, as well as vast sums of funding. It produces results that are greatly sought after, for both good and ill. At the same time, science generates great controversy when it collides with various religious, economic, and educational agendas. The adjective “scientific” garners almost immediate respectability to whatever it is applied, and, in some circles, it is a prerequisite for being taken seriously. Yet to many it also bespeaks alienation, abstraction, and a void of meaning, useless in our attempt to understand values. Some even deride science as mere ideology and power-mongering, as sexist, racist, or elitist.
Science is open to interpretation and critique; as a result, it stands in need of explanation, elaboration, justification, limitation, or change. History and philosophy of science attempts to understand how and why science works, to explain its successes and occasionally uncover its failures, to interpret its results, and to discover, what, if any, are its limits. Historians and philosophers of science also try to situate science in the broader scheme of human activities and social institutions, and to understand the way in which our particular cognitive, social, political, and moral situation impacts its development.
In this course, we will try to better understand what counts as science and explore whether we can demarcate science from non-science or pseudo-science. We will ask what the aim of science is, what it is trying to produce. We will explore a variety of challenges to our common ways of understand how and why science works, as well as challenges to whether science works as we believe that it does. We will explore the too-often ignored connections between the scientific process and our ethical and political values, attempting to determine whether and to what extend such human values play a role in science, and to what extent such a role is legitimate and compatible with the objectivity or reliability of scientific knowledge.
Student Learning Objectives
- Students will analyze and interpret a significant body of primary works in philosophy of science.
- Students will develop their ability to read, analyze, and write about complex texts.
- Students will demonstrate knowledge of the major questions and traditions in the philosophy of science.
- Students will be able to critically analyze and discuss the nature of, value of, and challenges to science as an intellectual and cultural institution.
Books are on order at Off Campus Books (561 West Campbell Road near Fuzzy’s)
Schedule of Topics and Readings
Require readings are listed for each class period, and you are expected to complete them before class. Some classes include additional readings that clarify or extend the required readings. These readings can help you better understand the readings for that class period or provide useful starting-points for research on that topic. Note: online readings on JSTOR can only be accessed from on campus, via the library website, or by running the VPN.
- What is Philosophy of Science? History of Science?
- Why Do We Want a Theory of Science?
- Why History and Philosophy of Science?
- Syllabus Review
I. What is science?
In this class, we will consider some very basic ideas about the nature and history of science, as well as the attempt by philosophers and others to explain the difference between science and non-science or pseudo-science.
- A Very Brief History of Science
- The Common Conception of the Scientific Method
- Science as a Process and Practice
- The Process of Science in Action: John Snow’s Research on Cholera
- Demarcating Science – Philosophical
- Karl Popper, “Science: Conjectures and Refutations” [C&C]
- Imre Lakatos, “Science and Pseudoscience” [C&C]
- PGS 4, 7.2
- For the Perplexed: Sven Ove Hansson, “Science and Pseudo-Science” [online]
- Going Further: Paul Thagard, “Why Astrology Is a Pseudoscience” [C&C]; Thomas Kuhn, Logic of Discovery or Psychology of Research? [C&C]; Paul Churchland, “How Parapsychology Could Become a Science” [online]
- Demarcating Science – Practical
II. The Aims of Science
Part of understanding what science is involves understanding what it aims at, what its distinctive goals are. In this unit, we consider a variety of proposals for the what science aims at.
- The Aim of Science is Explanation
- Carl G. Hempel, “Two Basic Types of Scientific Explanation” [C&C]
- PGS 13.1-13-2
- For the Perplexed: Rudolf Carnap, “The Value of Laws: Explanation and Prediction” [C&C]
- Going Further: Carl G. Hempel, “The Thesis of Structural Identity”; Carl G. Hempel, “Inductive-Statistical Explanation”; Peter Railton, “A Deductive-Nomological Model of Probabilistic Explanation”; David-Hillel Ruben, “Arguments, Laws, and Explanation” [All in C&C]
- The Aim of Science is Unified Knowledge
- Library Day
- Hit the books, work on paper proposals
- The Aim of Science is to Discover the Laws of Nature
- A. J. Ayer, “What Is a Law of Nature?” [C&C]
- PGS 13.4
- For the perplexed: “Laws of Nature: Introduction” [C&C], “Commentary” pp. 879-885 [C&C]
- Going Further: John Carroll “Laws of Nature,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Fred Dretske, “Laws of Nature” [C&C], D.H. Mellor, “Necessities and Universals in Natural Laws” [C&C], “Commentary” pp. 885-896 [C&C]
- … Not Laws of Nature, but Causal Powers
- The Aim of Science is Significant Truth
III. Challenging Science
In this unit, we will discuss a variety of historical, philosophical, and sociological challenges to science. Some are legitimate challenges to the authority of science itself, but most attempt to leave that unchanged while challenging our understanding of why science is successful or authoritative. We will examine the following provocative challenges to science or our theories of science.
- Induction cannot be Justified
- Theory is Underdetermined by Evidence
- Pierre Duhem, “Physical Theory and Experiment” [C&C]
- For the Perplexed: Underdetermination of Scientific Theory [online]; “The Duhem-Quine Thesis and Underdetermination: Introduction” [C&C]; “Commentary” pp. 354-365 [C&C]
- Going Further: Quine, “Two Dogmas of Empiricism” [C&C]; Gillies, “The Duhem Thesis and the Quine Thesis” [C&C]; Laudan, “Demystifying Underdetermination” [C&C]; Commentary pp. 365-411 [C&C]
- Observation is Theory-Laden
- Scientific Revolutions are Revisionary
- Kuhn [SSR] Ch VI-IX
- PGS 6.1-6.2
- For the Perplexed:Ian Hacking, Introductory Essay [SSR]
- Going Further: Larry Laudan, “Dissecting the Holist Picture of Scientific Change” [C&C]
- Science Does Not Progress Towards the Best Theory
- Kuhn [SSR] Ch X-XIII & Postscript
- PGS 6.3-6.5
- For the Perplexed:Ian Hacking, Introductory Essay [SSR]
- Going Further: Ernan McMullin, “Rationality and Paradigm Change in Science” [C&C]
- Science Has No Method
- Paul Feyerabend, from Against Method [Part I; Part II] (Make sure you get through Part II – It’s where a lot of the pay-off is at.)
- PGS 7.4-7.5
- For the Perplexed: Ian Hacking, “Introduction to the Fourth Edition”
- Halloween! Come dressed up, in honor of epistemological anarchism!
- Scientific Theories are Incommensurable
- Science Has No Special Authority
- Science is Socially Constructed
- Science is Sexist
- Kathleen Okruhlik, “Gender and the Biological Sciences” [C&C]
- PGS 9
IV. Values in Science
- Values and the Will to Believe
- Scientists Make Value-Judgments (Rudner / Hempel)
- Science is Insulated from Non-Epistemic Value-Judgments
- Thomas S. Kuhn, “Objectivity, Value Judgment, and Theory Choice” [C&C]
- Ernan McMullin, “Values in Science” [online]
- Underdetermination, Objectivity, and Values in Science
- The Inductive Risk Argument Against Value-Free Science
- How Far Do Values Influence Science?
- Class Participation (9 pts) – Class attendance, quality of contributions to the life of the class. 5pts + Participation (4.0 scale) – Absences – (1/2) * Tardies
- Homework and In-class Assignments (5)
- Midterm Exam (8)
- Peer-Mark Assignments (5) – Several times during the semester, students will provide feedback on early stages of their research papers.
- Research Paper (18) – Grade includes not only final paper but work throughout the semester. Details here.
Final grade will be calculated on a 4.0 scale by taking your points divided by ten. So, for example, a student with a 33 would have a 3.3 or a B+. 41+ points is an A+, 38+ points is an A, 35+ points is an A-, 32+ is a B+, 28+ is a B, 25+ is a B-, etc.
- Indicates excellent work, going beyond the expectations of the course to display subtle and nuanced understanding, clear and effective presentation, and intellectual rigor, insight, creativity, and sophistication.
- Indicates good work, thoughtful and careful, clear and consistent, without major errors.
- Indicates adequate or average work that meets all basic course expectations, but may involve unclear writing, lack of sophisticated understanding, or unsupported or insufficiently developed ideas. Some serious errors may be present.
Work which deserves a grade less than C will display some of the following problems: it fails to show adequate understanding of the text; it fails to understand the assignment; it fails to articulate a coherent or adequate argument; it fails to reflect on the content of the course; it displays such pervasive grammatical errors as to be highly obscure in meaning.
Late Work / Make-Up Exams
No late work or make-up exams will be allowed without consent of the professor prior to the due/exam date, except in situations where University policy requires it.
Class Attendance Policy
While reading and writing are crucial parts of the course, the central philosophical activity is live discussion. While class will occasionally involve bits of lecture, this is merely an instrument to a more well-informed discussion and other structured activities. Attendance is thus considered mandatory. Missed classes will count against your participation grade, and egregious absenteeism will be grounds for an F in the course at the professor’s discretion. In-class assignments and activities likewise cannot be made up unless the professor agrees to it before the class is missed. Disruptive late arrivals or early departures are poor classroom citizenship and will also negatively impact your participation.
You are expected to have read the assignments before class, and it would be to your benefit to also read them again after class. You are expected to bring all of the texts assigned for each day’s class, and have them available to refer to. You are expected to listen respectfully to the professor and your fellow students, and participate in class discussions and activities.
Further standard University policies can be found at http://go.utdallas.edu/syllabus-policies
The syllabus is a living document. These descriptions and timelines are subject to change at the discretion of the Professor.