Phil. 125


Philosophy of Science

Phil. 125

Fall, 2009

TuTh 1:30 pm

Prof. Dowden






Catalog description: A study of the philosophical problems that arise in the sciences: how claims are justified, the limits and styles of explanation, identifying pseudoscience, values in science, unity and diversity of the sciences, and science's impact on our world view. 3 units.


Grades: Your grade will be determined from the following assignments: Two homework sets (each 19%), a final exam (29%), a research essay seven to eight pages long (28%) and class participation (5%).

  • Homework 1 due Sept. 24
  • Homework 2 due Oct. 22
  • Essay due Nov. 19
  • Final exam: Dec. 17, 12:45-2:45

Class attendance is not required, but some parts of the assignments will be on material introduced only during class meetings. All the assignments will be composed only of essay questions. They are due at the beginning of the due date's class meeting, not during or after class.


Textbooks: Worldviews by Richard DeWitt, Blackwell Publishing, 2004. In addition, there are some webpages and class handouts to read.



Prerequisites: There are no prerequisite courses, although it is recommended that you have completed your G.E. critical thinking requirement (area A3) plus have had either (I) two college-level science courses, or (ii) one college science course and one philosophy course. Very little previous knowledge of any specific science is presupposed in our course, so there is little danger that you will be blinded by technical material. This course can be used to satisfy your B5 requirement in the G.E. program.


Goals of the course: By the end of the course you will be able to analyze and evaluate basic concepts and practices within science and about science. You will have an overall view of the sciences and how they work. Also, you will know what the central problems about science that are of interest to the philosophers, and you will know some of the major solutions to those philosophical problems. In short, you will understand science more deeply and be better prepared to explore on your own these and other philosophical and scientific questions. At the same time you will gain a better understanding of the scope and limits of human knowledge. Finally, because of all the writing projects in our course, the hope is that you will become a better writer, especially of essays that do not commit the fallacy of confirmation bias.


Professor: My office is in Mendocino Hall, room 3022, and my weekly office hours will be announced in class on the first day. Feel free to stop by at any of those times, or to call. If those hours are inconvenient for you, then I can arrange an appointment for an alternative time. You may send me e-mail at or call my office at 278-7384 or the Philosophy Department Office at 278-6424. The fastest way to contact me is by email. My personal web page is at

photo of Dowden

Prof. Dowden


Late work, and make-up assignments: I realize that during your college career you occasionally may be unable to complete an assignment on time. If this happens in our course, contact me as soon as you are able. If you provide me with a good reason for missing an assignment (illness, accident, etc.), then I'll use your grade on the final exam as your missing grade. There will be no make-up tests nor make-up homework. I do accept late assignments with a grade penalty of one-third of a letter grade per 24-hour period beginning at the class time the assignment is due. Examples: If you turn in the assignment a few hours after it is due, then your A becomes an A-.  Instead, if you turn in the same assignment 30 hours late, then your A becomes a B+.  Weekends count.  If you turn in your assignment late by email, which is recommended, then there is no need to follow up with a paper copy. No late work will be accepted after the answer sheet has been handed out (normally this will be at the next class meeting) nor after the answers are discussed in class, even if you weren't in class that day.



Add-Drop: To add the course, if the course is full, then send me an email about signing up on the waiting list. To drop the course during the first two weeks, do it online. No paperwork is required. After the first two weeks, it is harder to drop, and a departmental form is required, the "Petition to Add/Drop After Deadline." As with any university course, make sure you are dropped officially (by the university computer system, or by the instructor, or by the Philosophy Department secretary); don't simply walk away into the ozone or else you will get a "WU" grade for the course, which is counted as an "F" in computing your GPA (grade point average).

Laptops and cell phones:
Turn off your cell phones. Laptops may be used during class for note taking but not for reading email or other non-class activities. No photographing or recording during class is allowed without permission of the instructor.

Testing protocol: For in-class tests, you may use your books and notes but not your computer or phone.

Disabilities: If you have a documented disability and require accommodation or assistance with assignments, tests, attendance, note taking, etc., please see me early in the semester so that appropriate arrangements can be made to ensure your full participation in class. Also, you are encouraged to contact the Services for Students with Disabilities (Lassen Hall) for additional information regarding services that might be available to you.

Honesty: See the University's policy on honesty and cheating. A student tutorial on how not to plagiarize is available online from our library.

Food: Please do not eat and drink (except water) during class. You're welcome to leave class anytime if the need arises.


Emergencies: If we have a long-term emergency, say, an influenza health emergency, then our course will continue by email and the Internet. You'll be contacted at your Saclink email address.





Weeks 1 & 2: Science's impact on our worldview

  • Aristotle, teleology, and the cosmos as an organism.
  • Leeuwenhoek, Pasteur, Koch and microorganisms.
  • Ibn Al-Nafis, Harvey, Vesalius, and the body as machine.
  • European Enlightenment.
  • Darwin and divine design.
  • Turing, Chomsky and the cognitive science revolution.
  • Copernicus' overthrow of Ptolemy.
  • Galileo on math as the language of nature.
  • Torricelli: nature doesn't abhor a vacuum.
  • Newton, atomism, mechanism, and determinism.
  • Calculus and the microstructure of space.
  • Non-Euclidean geometry and curved space.
  • Minkowski’s space-time.
  • Einstein’s time travel to the future.
  • Einstein's E = mc2.
  • Hubble discovers galaxies.
  • Big bang and multiverse.
  • Quantum mechanics, indeterminism, and instantaneous action at a distance.

    Reading: "What Is the Aim of Science?" "What is the Philosophy of Science?" Chapter 1 in DeWitt. The Powers of Ten (click on "Manual" and notice the shape of our environment looked at from one million light years away).


Week 3. Science and its critics

Week 4: What is science, and how do we demarcate it from pseudoscience?

Weeks 5 & 6: Scientific reasoning

  • What are facts?
  • Deduction and Induction
  • Discovery vs. confirmation
  • Hume's problem of induction
  • Inference to the best explanation
  • Hypothetico-Deductive Method
  • Popper's critique
  • Designing a good test
  • Ad hoc revisions of hypotheses
  • Paradoxes of Confirmation

    Reading: Chapters 2 to 7 in DeWitt. "Whewell's Scientific Method."


Week 7 & 8: Explanation in science


Week 9: Realism and anti-realism

  • Arguments for scientific anti-realism
  • The pessimistic meta-induction
  • Underdetermination
  • The observable/unobservable distinction
  • Theory-ladenness of observation
  • Putnam's "no miracles" argument

    Reading: Chapter 8 in DeWitt. "Cognitive Relativism" by Westacott.


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Weeks 10 & 11: Scientific change and scientific revolution

  • Changing from Aristotle's worldview to Newton's
  • Kuhn and the structure of scientific revolutions
  • Paradigms
  • Periods of normal science and revolution
  • Incommensurability
  • The rationality of science
  • Kuhn's legacy: attention to the history and social context of science, the strong program in sociology, cultural relativism

    Reading: Chapters 9-21 in DeWitt. "Kuhn" by David Deutsch.


Weeks 12-14. Selected philosophical problems in science


Week 15. Review




The web address of this file is

updated: 11/20/09