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PHIL202: Philosophy of Science

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
This unit should take approximately 7 hours to complete.

☐    Subunit 1.1: 2 hours

☐    Subunit 1.2: 2 hours

☐    Subunit 1.3: 3 hours
 

☐    Reading: 1 hour

☐    Assessment: 2 hours

Unit1 Learning Outcomes
Upon completion of this unit, the student will be able to: - List some standard opinions from scientists about scientific practice and scientific knowledge. - Summarize and assess some opinions from scientists about the usefulness and relevance of philosophy to scientific practice. - Distinguish philosophical questions about science from psychological, sociological, and historical questions about science. - Identify questions about science that fall within the province of philosophy of science.

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.

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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.