PHILOSOPHY OF SCIENCE
V83.0090-001
MTWTh 1:30pm-3:05pm in 503 Main Building
New York University
Summer 2001


Instructor: James Woodbridge
email address: jw79@nyu.edu
Course Webpage: http://homepages.nyu.edu/~jw79/philsci.htm
Office Hours: M 5pm-6pm, Th 10am-11am
Office: Main Building 503-O
Office Phone: 998-8330
Dept. Phone: 998-8320

I. COURSE DESCRIPTION

Scientific inquiry is often considered the method par excellence of acquiring knowledge about the world. What is it about science and its method that gives it this reputation? This course examines several different perspectives on science, looking at what they claim the aims of science are and what they say about its operation. We will begin by considering various facets of the scientific enterprise from the perspective on science dominant during the first half of the 20th century: logical empiricism. This school of thought sought to develop formal accounts of such activities as the confirmation of hypotheses and the explanation of phenomena in a way that grounded science on the epistemically secure basis of the observable. This perspective was challenged in the second half of the 20th century by an approach that shifted the focus from analysis of the formal structure of scientific activities to scrutiny of the history of science. This historicist approach rejected the earlier assumption of a common, pure (i.e., "theory-neutral") observation basis, emphasizing instead the radical discontinuities in the worldviews offered by successive scientific theories. At its most extreme, this approach has characterized these breaks as involving not just changes in worldview, but as transitions to "different worlds". A third perspective on science rejects both logical empiricism and historicism, opting instead for a "realist" view committed to taking science as in the business of (and succeeding to some extent at) developing a literally true story about the world. After a brief introduction to scientific method, we will consider these three perspectives on science in turn, examining their central theses and arguments, with the aim of developing a better understanding of the nature of science in general.

II. REQUIRED CLASS MATERIALS

Books:

Hepel, Carl G. Philosophy of Natural Science. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1966.
Kuhn, Thomas S. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 3rd Edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996.

The books for the course are available at The NYU Book Center located at 18 Washington Place.

There is also a coursepack of photocopied required readings available at New University Copies located at 11 Waverly Place.



III. CLASS REQUIREMENTS AND GRADING SCHEME

Requirements.............................................Percent of Final Grade

Class Participation......................................................10%
First Paper..................................................................25%
Midterm Exam............................................................15%
Second Paper..............................................................30%
Final Exam..................................................................20%

About the Requirements:

Class Participation--One thing this requirement covers is your class attendance (if you don't attend class you can't participate in it). However, to get an "A" for class participation you must do more than just show up; you have to contribute to class discussion. You are expected to show up having read the assignment for the day and ready to talk about it.

The First Paper--There will be a 5-8 page paper due at the end of May. Topics will be distributed 1 week before the paper is due. Papers are due at the beginning of class on the due date. Late papers are subject to a substantial grade reduction (you really don't want to find out how much).

The Midterm Exam--There will be an in-class midterm exam on Monday, June 4th. The exam will consisit of short answer questions and an essay based on the readings and lectures.

The Second Paper--There will be a second 5-8 page paper due on the last day of class. Again, topics will be handed out 1 week before the paper is due, and all papers are due at the beginning of class on the due date. Late submission is still not a good idea.

The Final Exam--There will be a final exam given during the scheduled exam time. The exam will cover the whole course, but will heavily emphasize the material since the midterm. As with the midterm, the final will consist of short answer questions and essay questions based on the readings and lectures.




IV. CLASS FORMAT

The class will be a mixture of lecture and discussion, and I want to encourage discussion. I expect you all to show up having read the assignment for that meeting and ready to use it as a point of departure. It is the nature of the issues we will be considering that people's views will differ. You are encouraged to question your classmates (and me) when anyone says something you disagree with, but everyone should always keep in mind that disagreement is not a personal attack. Philosophical discussion thrives under this kind of interaction and often stems from disagreement. At the same time, philosophical discussion aims at reaching some sort of agreement. We probably won't reach agreement every time, but we should aspire toward it.

 



V. TOPICS AND READINGS

Most of the readings for the course are from the books by Hempel and Kuhn. These readings are listed below by author and chapter number. The other readings (those labeled "photocopy") are from the coursepack and are listed by author and title. Again, the coursepack is available at New University Copies located at 11 Waverly Place.

A note about the readings: Philosophical writing is often subtle and difficult. Do not be fooled by the shortness of an assignment into thinking that it will take little time. Most of these readings should be read at least twice. I recommend a first time straight through and then a second time slowly while taking notes. In addition, because of the compressed nature of the term, you will be required to read something new every night. We will be moving fast, so it is crucial that you keep up with the reading.

The course units and readings for them are as follows.

1. Facets of Scientific Inquiry

Peirce, "The Fixation of Belief" (photocopy)
Hempel, Chapters 1 and 2 (Scientific Method)
Hempel, Chapters 3 and 4 (Confirmation)
Hempel, Chapters 5 an 6 (Scientific Explanation)
Hempel, Chapter 7 (Theoretical Concepts)
Hempel, Chapter 8 (Theoretical Reduction)

2. The Historicist Approach

Kuhn, Preface & Chapter I (Background and Method)
Kuhn, Chapters II-V (Normal Science)
Kuhn, Chapters VI-VIII (Crisis in Normal Science)
Kuhn, Chapters IX & X (Revolutionary Science)
Kuhn, Chapters XI-XIII (Revolution and Progress)
Kuhn, Postscript

3. Scientific Realism

van Fraassen, from The Scientific Image (photocopy)
McMullin, "A Case for Scientific Realism" (photocopy)
Boyd, "The Current Status of Scientific Realism" (photocopy)
Laudan, "A Confutation of Convergent Realism" (photocopy)
Fine, "The Natural Ontological Attitude" (photocopy)