Philosophy of science


Course Description

In this course we examine philosophical problems pertaining to science. These problems fall into roughly three categories. The first concerns general epistemological features of science; such as scientific inference, the connection between observation and theory, and the nature of scientific progress. The second concerns philosophical puzzles about what science describes; such as laws of nature, causation, and probability. The final category of problems concerns the nature of scientific explanation, explanatory gaps, and the difference between special science explanations and explanations in fundamental physics.




You will need to purchase:

Alexander Bird, Philosophy of Science, Routledge, 1998.

Further readings will be distributed through the main course website.




The majority of your grade for this course will be determined by a final exam, which will ask a number of questions based on the course content, which you must respond to with essays. During the course you will write two essays, each of which will be between 2000-2500 words long and will constitute 20% of your final mark.

Two essays                                                                         40%

Final exam                                                                          60%






Week 1:

What is Philosophy of Science?

Required reading: (i) Bird: Introduction.

Optional additional reading: (i) Peter Lipton, “The Truth about Science”, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 2005.

Week 2:

The Problem of Induction

Required reading: (i) Bird: chapter 5.

Optional additional reading: (i) David Hume, Section 4 of An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, 1777; (ii) John Vickers, “The Problem of Induction”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Week 3:

Falsificationism and the New Riddle of Induction

Required reading: (i) Bird: chapter 8, pp.237-247; (ii) Karl Popper, “Conjectural Knowledge: My Solution to the Problem of Induction”, in Objective Knowledge, and An Evolutionary Approach, Clarendon Oxford, 1971.

Optional additional reading: (i) Nelson Goodman, “The New Riddle of Induction”, Fact Fiction and Forecast, Bobbs-Merrill, 1965; (ii) Alan Musgrave, “How Popper [Might Have] Solved the Problem of Induction”, Philosophy 79, 2004.

Week 4:

Theory and Observation

Required reading: (i) Jerry fodor, “Observation Reconsidered”, Philosophy of Science, 51, 1984; (ii) Jim Bogen, “Theory and Observation in Science”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Optional additional reading: (i) Paul Churchland, “Perceptual Plasticity and Theoretical Neutrality”, Philosophy of Science, 55, 1988; (ii) Jerry Fodor, “A Reply to Churchland’s ‘Perceptual Plasticity and Theoretical Neutrality”, Philosophy of Science, 55, 1988.

Week 5:

Paradigms and Progress

Required reading: Bird: Chapter 8.

Optional additional reading: (i) Thomas Kuhn, “The Nature and Necessity of Scientific Revolutions” in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 1962; (ii) Imre Lakatos “Criticism and the Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes”, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, vol 69, 1968.

Week 6:

Theoretical Virtues

Required reading: (i) Ernan McMullin, “Theory Choice as Value Judgment”, extracted from “Values in Science” in Introductory Readings in the Philosophy of Science, 1988.

Optional additional reading: (i) B.C. van Fraassen, Pragmatic Virtues and Explanation” in The Scientific Image, 1980.

Week 7:

Realism and Anti-Realism

Required reading: (i) Bird: Chapter 4.

Optional additional reading: (i) Richard Boyd, “On the Current Status of Scientific Realism” originally in Erkenntnis 1983, reprinted with alterations in The Philosophy of Science, 1983; (ii) Alan Musgrave, “The Ultimate Argument for Scientific Realism” in Robert Nola (ed.), Relativism and Realism in Science, 1988.

Week 8:

Laws of Nature

Required reading: (i) Bird: chapter 1.

Optional additional reading: (i) Michael Tooley, “The Nature of Laws”, Canadian Journal of Philosophy, 7.4, 1977; (ii) Ernest Nagel, “The Logical Character of Scientific Laws”, in The Structure of Science, 1961.

Week 9:


Required reading: (i) David Lewis, “Causation” in Crane and Farkas (eds.) Metaphysics: a Guide and Anthology, part IV, chapter 30, 2004;

Optional additional reading: (i) Michael Tooley, “Causation: Reductionism versus Realism”, in Sosa and Tooley (eds.) Causation, 1993.

Week 10:


Required reading: Bird: Chapter 6.

Optional additional reading: (i) Bryan Skyrms, “Kinds of Probability”, chapter 7 of Choice and Chance, 3rd Edition, 1986; (ii) Al Hájek, “Probability – A Philosophical Overview”, in Bonnie Gold (ed.) Current Issues in the Philosophy of Mathematics From the Perspective of Mathematicians, Mathematical Association of America.

Week 11:

Explanation 1: DN and Causal Theories

Required reading: Bird, Chapter 2.

Optional additional reading: (i) Carl Hempel, “Laws and Their Role in Scientific Explanation”, Philosophy of Natural Science, 1966; (ii) David Lewis, “Causal Explanation”, Philosophical Papers Volume II, 1986.

Week 12:

Explanation 2: Functional Reduction and Explanatory Gaps

Required reading: David Lewis, “Reduction of Mind”, In Samuel Guttenplan (ed.), Companion to the Philosophy of Mind, 1994.

Optional additional reading: (i) David Chalmers, “Facing up to the Problem of Consciousness”, Journal of Consciousness Studies 2 (3), 1995; (ii) Joseph Levine, “Materialism and Qualia: The Explanatory Gap”, Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, 64,1983.

Week 13:

Physics and the Autonomy of the Special Sciences

Required reading: Jerry Fodor, “Special sciences (or: The disunity of science as a working hypothesis)”, Synthese 28 (2), 1974.

Optional additional reading: (i) Brad Weslake, “Explanatory Depth”, Philosophy of Science 77, 2010; (ii) Angela Potochnik, “Levels of Explanation Reconceived”, Philosophy of Science 77, 2010; (iii) Barry Loewer, “Why is there anything except Physics?”, Synthese, 170, 2009.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s