Loading...

STS101: Introduction to Science, Technology, and Society

Unit 2: The Philosophy of Science and the Nature of Science   This unit introduces the philosophy of science and then examines a set of “academic” questions about the nature of science. Drawing on various perspectives from the philosophy of science, this unit will address such questions as: What counts as knowledge? How is knowledge derived? What is science? What does it mean to practice science? While we cannot be exhaustive in our survey of the answers, this unit will be able to provide some characteristic responses from the major philosophical perspectives on epistemology. By epistemology, we mean theories about how knowledge is to be defined and in particular what counts as scientific knowledge.

As we will soon see, the answers are not as simple as we might expect, and definitions are the source of significant controversies in the STS field. The controversies about the nature of science (and sometimes of technology) help to frame the major questions addressed by the field of STS more broadly. While epistemological questions are primarily the concern of philosophers of science, as we shall see, such questions are relevant for the other approaches/subfields as well. Most of the theorists and practitioners in STS hold some kind of pragmatism, conventionalism, or constructivism, or a combination thereof. Few, if any, are empiricists or logical empiricists.

Unit 2 Time Advisory
This unit should take approximately 13 hours to complete.

☐    Subunit 2.1: 2 hours

☐    Subunit 2.2: 10 hours

☐    Subunit 2.2.1: 1 hour

☐    Subunit 2.2.2: 1 hour

☐    Subunit 2.2.3: 2 hours

☐    Subunit 2.2.4: 5 hours

☐    Subunit 2.2.5: 1 hour

☐    Subunit 2.3: 1 hour

Unit2 Learning Outcomes
Upon successful completion of this unit, you will be able to: - define key perspectives operative in the philosophy of science; - characterize science according to key epistemological perspectives in the philosophy of science; - compare and contrast epistemological perspectives; - describe the significance of epistemological perspectives for STS; - and define key terms in the philosophy of science.

2.1 Introduction to the Philosophy of Science   - Reading: The Galilean: Paul Newall’s “The Philosophy of Science” Link: The Galilean: Paul Newall’s “The Philosophy of Science” (HTML)

 Instructions: Please click on the link above and read up to
“Dialogue the Fourth.” This article provides a good introduction to
the problems in the philosophy of science that also extend to other
subfields of STS.  

 Reading this article should take approximately 2 hours.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.

2.2 The Nature of Science, According to Epistemological Perspective   2.2.1 Empiricism   - Reading: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Peter Markie’s “Rationalism vs. Empiricism: Part 1.2 Empiricism” Link: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Peter Markie’s “Rationalism vs. Empiricism: Part 1.2 Empiricism” (HTML)

 Instructions: Please click on the link above and read this article
on empiricism, up to “The Intuition/Deduction Thesis.” Empiricism is
the theory that scientific knowledge is derived from sense data,
including observation and experimentation. This reading discusses
empiricism at greater length.  

 Reading this article should take approximately 1 hour.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.

2.2.2 Logical Positivism and Logical Empiricism   - Reading: Loyola University New Orleans: Henry Folse’s “Logical Positivism” Link: Loyola University New Orleans: Henry Folse’s “Logical Positivism” (HTML)

 Instructions: Please click on the link above and read this article.
Logical positivism (sometimes called “logical empiricism”) is the
theory that scientific knowledge consists of statements that
correspond to objective reality and that can be verified through
observation and testing. This reading discusses the movement of
logical positivism more fully, including its main tenets and
subsequent history. Some parts of this reading are dense. Do not
worry if you do not grasp every point. The main concept to grasp is
that science consists of statements or questions that can be
verified through observation and that statements or questions that
cannot be tested do not belong in the realm of science, nor do the
answers to such questions. For example, the question “Is there a
God?” does not belong in the realm of science because it is not
testable, and further, we do not know the conditions that would need
to be met in order to answer the question in the affirmative. This
division of statements into scientific and metaphysical or
theoretical types is known as the demarcation problem (treated
above).  

 Reading this article should take approximately 1 hour.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.

2.2.3 Pragmatism   - Reading: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Christopher Hookway’s “Pragmatism” Link: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Christopher Hookway’s “Pragmatism” (HTML)

 Instructions: Please click on the link above and read this article.
Pragmatism is the theory that scientific knowledge is derived from
experience and practice, including experimentation, and that truth
is determined by practical results, such as prediction and control
of the object world.  

 Reading this article should take approximately 2 hours.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.

2.2.4 Conventionalism   - Reading: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Eric Oberheim and Paul Hoyningen-Huene’s “The Incommensurability of Scientific Theories” Link: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Eric Oberheim and Paul Hoyningen-Huene’s “The Incommensurability of Scientific Theories” (HTML)

 Instructions: Please click on the link above and read this article.
Conventionalism is the theory that scientific knowledge is based
neither on experimental inference (conclusions derived from
experience and/or experimentation) nor on *a priori* (pre-existing)
belief but rather on changing conventions within a field. This
reading treats conventionalism in greater depth. Pay particular
attention to Thomas Kuhn’s notion of the paradigm.  

 Reading this article should take approximately 5 hours.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.

2.2.5 Constructivism   - Reading: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Alvin Goldman’s “Social Epistemology: Part 3. Anti-Classical Approaches” Link: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Alvin Goldman’s “Social Epistemology: Part 3. Anti-Classical Approaches” (HTML)

 Instructions: Please click on the link above and read part 3,
“Anti-Classical Approaches.” Constructivism is the theory that
scientific knowledge consists not of discovered facts and theories
but of constructs that scientists place on the world. This reading
provides a brief but helpful overview of the positions of
constructivism and the differences between various positions within
it. Pay particular attention to the distinctions between “weak” and
“strong” constructivism, as well as between descriptive and
normative constructivism.  

 Reading this article should take approximately 1 hour.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.

2.3 Key Terms   - Reading: The Saylor Foundation’s ”Key Terms Worksheet” The Saylor Foundation does not yet have materials for this portion of the course. If you are interested in contributing your content to fill this gap or aware of a resource that could be used here, please submit it here.

[Submit Materials](/contribute/)