Philosophy of Science: Core Contemporary Issues

Course Description: 

The way science works raises deep and pressing philosophical questions. Is there a way to demarcate science from non-science? How is scientific knowledge made reliable? Is it giving us access to reality or is it merely a tool for successful prediction? The so-called “analytic” project (following Barker & Kitcher’s terminology) within philosophy of science focused on these and similar (by now) classic issues: the demarcation of science, confirmation, realism, the nature of theories, the relations among theories, laws of nature and explanation. During the second half of the 20th century, the contingencies of history of science and the intermingling of science and society were increasingly taken seriously. Issues addressed included: what follows philosophically from looking at the history of science, in particular the study of scientific revolutions? If social values influence sciences, is that legitimate? In which sense, if any, is science itself social and political, and therefore normative? Part I of the course will introduce the classic issues and then focus on the more contemporary issues regarding history, value-ladenness and the social structure of science. Part II and III will focus on the kinds of knowledge sciences produce, by discussing specific epistemic goals of scientists (i.e., explanation, modeling and prediction, and classification) and specific epistemic values in the background of scientific endeavors (i.e., unity, simplicity and objectivity). In a final session, we will address how best to do philosophy of science as part of science studies.

Learning Outcomes: 

Students will

  • get an introduction to the philosophy of science that connects philosophy of science with science studies more generally,
  • learn to understand and appreciate the nature of philosophical problems,
  • critically look at their discipline's goals, practices and kinds of knowledge produced thereby.

Grades will be based on the results of the mid-term test (50%), end-ofterm
1000 word essay (40%), and in class participation (10%).

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