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Introduction to the Philosophy of Science

Course Description

Philosophy of science deals with philosophical and foundational problems that arise within science. Roughly speaking, it can be divided into two major strands: general philosophy of science and the philosophies of the individual sciences. General philosophy of science strives to understand science as a cognitive activity that is uniquely capable of yielding justified beliefs about the world. Some of the questions raised by general philosophy of science include:

  • What is the aim (or aims) and method (or methods) of science? More generally, what is science, in the first place, and how does it differ from non- or pseudo-science?
  • What is a scientific theory and how do scientific theories relate to (and thus represent) the world (if at all)? How do theoretical concepts get their meaning? And how are they related to observation?
  • What is the structure and content of scientific concepts such as causation, explanation, confirmation, theory, experiment, model, reduction, and probability?
  • What rules, if any, govern theory-change in science? What is the function of experiment? What role do values (both epistemic and pragmatic) play in scientific decisions and how are they related to social, cultural, and gender factors?

Meanwhile, the philosophy of the individual sciences focuses on more specialized issues within both the so-called hard (e.g. physics, chemistry, biology), and social sciences (e.g. psychology and economics), Some of the questions here concern the basic conceptual structure of particular sciences (e.g., the problem of measurement in quantum mechanics, the ontology of space and time, the concepts of biological function and adaptation, the nature of psychological and sociological explanation, the status of economic models); others relate to the commitments that flow from the individual sciences (What is the right interpretation of quantum mechanics? Are there laws in the special sciences? What is the status of causal mechanisms?).

In this course, we will discuss many of these questions in the light of examples from contemporary science. During the course of discussing these problems, we will study many of the major positions concerning the nature of science and of scientific knowledge.

Course Materials

Further Materials

A key aim of every introductory course is to teach students how to read/write philosophically; this course is no exception. To that end, I strongly recommend students look through some of the following, which offer some excellent advice on these matters!

Additionally, the following German texts – all written by Christian Folde – are also very useful: