Philosophy of Science

What is science and what distinguishes it from 'pseudoscience'? What is the 'scientific method', if there is any, and on what basis can it claim to ensure the objectivity of scientific results? How does science explain our observations and experiences? Does scientific knowledge progressively grow in a linear fashion or is its evolution dominated by radical revolutions? Are the scientists' grounds for rejecting an old idea and for replacing it with a novel theory completely rational and logically reconstructible or are they substantially influenced by irrational factors? Do scientific theories give literally true accounts of the world as it is, or should we regard even the most elaborate and well-confirmed theory merely as a useful tool to systematize our experience?

These questions concerning the nature of science will be studied in this class. Our overall approach will be topic-oriented rather than historical. Occasionally, however, we will delve into pertinent episodes in the history of science or of the philosophy of science, or into a non-technical discussion of scientific theories.

New Minor in Science Studies

The Science Studies Program (SSP) at UCSD now offers a new undergraduate minor in science studies, in addition to the existing graduate certificate. SSP is run by faculty from four participating departments at UCSD: philosophy, history, sociology, and communication. This class partially satisfies the requirements for the new minor. For more information, please go to this website.

Course Materials

Course materials such as lecture notes, handouts, etc will be made available as they will be used in class. It should be noted that I am currently revamping this course as we now use the textbook by Rosenberg (I used a different textbook before). Upon popular demand, I will no longer use slides comprehensively, but allow for some free discussion in class. For the course materials following the old textbook and for comprehensive slides for previous instantiations of this course, see the course webpage I used in Fall 2011.

Paper prompt:

Information concerning plagiarism and guides on how to write a smashing philosophy paper can be found in the sidebar of the top page of the teaching section. The leaflet concerning plagiarism is absolutely mandatory reading.

Special assignment for extra credit:

The following materials are mandatory for this course:

  • Book: Alexander Rosenberg, Philosophy of Science: A Contemporary Introduction, Routledge, third edition 2012. This book is $39.95 (new) or $30.00 (used) at the Price Center bookstore.
  • A number of readings for this course are available from e-reserves: Link to this course's e-reserves page (the password for this course is 'cw145')

Note: please ignore the page reference for the article by Hempel for 11 October given in the syllabus and read his entire (short) essay as you find it on the e-reserves page.

The following articles are mandatory reading from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (SEP), edited by Ed Zalta:

Additional Readings and Materials

Note: These additional materials will not be tested in exams. They serve to give you some background or to offer some additional food for thought.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (SEP) is an excellent source for academically serious, yet relatively accessible survey articles on many, many topics in philosophy, including philosophy of science. For this course, the following articles are relevant:

A relatively new, but outstanding, source of very accessible material to many issues covered in this class are the Philosophy Bites podcasts of top philosophers interviewed by David Edmonds and Nigel Warburton. They are absolutely free. So next time you ride to school, make sure to upload some of them beforehand to your iPod! Relevant for this class are for example:

  • Edward Craig - What is Philosophy? (Edward Craig, editor of the Routledge Encylopedia of Philosophy and author of Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction gives an interesting angle on the nature of philosophy, how it relates to other kinds of thinking, and what makes good philosophy good.)
  • Helen Beebee on Laws of Nature (What is a law of nature? Just a generalisation from experience? Or something different? Helen Beebee investigates these questions in this episode of the Philosophy Bites podcast.)
  • David Papineau on Scientific Realism (Do subatomic particles really exist? Or are they convenient fictions that explain observable phenomena? David Papineau discusses arguments for and against scientific realism in this episode of Philosophy Bites.)
  • More to come...

Grading Comments

Quiz 1: The average was 2.89--not very high... Some comments concerning specific questions follow.

Question 1
  • This was not well-solved at all. Note that Hume thinks that there are in principle two ways in which induction could be justified: logically and by experience.
Question 3
  • Many people left this one blank--always try to say something!
  • Note also that I basically gave it away during lecture that I was going to ask this...
Question 4
  • Make sure, as always, that you respond to all parts of the question!
Question 5
  • Make sure to write that the invoked law(s) must be non-redundant in the argument.
Question 6
  • Flag pole example.
  • Look it up if you didn't get them right. You should generally do that for every question you get wrong.

Quiz 2: The average was 3.63, significantly better than for the first quiz.

Question 2
  • Newton's law supports counterfactuals, Bode's law doesn't really. Newton's law is universal, but Bode's law is an accidental generalization which happened to be true for some planets, but it is not a law.
  • Note that we only talked about Bode's law in class.
Question 3
  • This is Armstrong's view.
Question 4
  • The answer can be found on page 7 of the slides on 'Laws'.
Question 5
  • Check page 19 of the slides on 'Laws'.
Question 6
  • This was surprisingly well solved.

Quiz 3: The average was 4.21, another significant improvement. It has to be noted, though, that the distribution is very bimodal!

Question 1
  • You really have to know these; look them up if you didn't get them right.
Question 6
  • Make sure not to just state the inference schema for abduction.

Midterm paper: The average was 18.26 points. A few remarks:

  • Several of you lost points because they submitted too late, or didn't include a word count, or went over it, or had incomplete references.
  • In many cases, it would have been better if you had concentrated on fewer criteria or arguments or points, and instead discussed those fewer points more in depth.
  • You should try not just to rehash class material, as some of you did, but instead articulate your own thoughts!

Quiz 4: The average was 3.1, reversing the upward trend. Has it too hard, or did you run out of time?

Question 1
  • Find the slide with the answer!
Question 2
  • Many conflated the problem of underdetermination with the pessimistic meta-induction.
Question 3
  • On the semantic account, a scientific theory is a set of models.
Question 5
  • That's Hempel's raven paradox, of course!

Quiz 5: The average was 3.29, a bit higher again.

Question 2
  • If you go to p. 36 of the slides on induction, you will see that there are *two* reasons why Duhem thinks that there are no crucial experiments in physics--many of you only listed one!
Question 3
  • Cf. second to last slide.
Question 4
  • I graded this one very generously...
  • If you take a to be the proposition that the randomly selected ball has been produced by the new machine, and b to be the proposition that it is deficient, you should be able to put the correct conditional probabilities into the formula.