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PHIL202: Philosophy of Science

Course Syllabus for "PHIL202: Philosophy of Science"

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.

Learning Outcomes

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

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.

Course Information

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.

Table of Contents: You can find the course's units at the links below.