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Meeting Time: Tuesday 12:00 – 1:50 in Bldg. 12/Rm. 3245 and Thursday 12:00 – 1:50 in Bldg. 7/Rm. 4202

Contact Info.: Dr. Evelyn Brister, Philosophy Dept.
Office: Bldg. 17 (MicroE), Rm. 2541
Office Hours: MW 4 – 5, TR 2 – 3, and by appointment

Description: The philosophy of science addresses metaphysical questions about what kinds of things exist in the material world and why they behave as they do. It also addresses epistemological questions about whether we can know certain things about the natural world and how we identify and interpret the evidence that supports scientific theories. It raises methodological questions about testing theories and sociological questions about scientific institutions. Finally, it participates in clarifying many of the concepts which appear in scientific theories. This course will focus on foundational questions about the nature of scientific theories and theoretical entities, the concept of progress in science, and the role of values in scientific reasoning.

Texts: Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 3d ed., University of Chicago Press, 1996.

The majority of readings will be available on electronic library reserve (password protected), unless otherwise noted.


Preparation and Participation (15%): This requirement includes attendance, the quality of your preparation for class, and the quality (not just frequency) of contributions to class discussion. For high quality contributions to discussion, I expect that questions and comments are relevant, comments are informed by course reading, and interactions with other participants are respectful. I expect you to come to class having completely read the day’s assignment and prepared with a question or comment. Philosophy proceeds through informed and careful discussion, so timely and thoughtful preparation is absolutely essential. Reading quizzes are a possibility.

Exams: There will be a midterm exam (20%) and a final exam (20%). Both of these will include a take-home portion and an in-class portion. The final exam is scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 26, at 12:30pm.

Problems in the Special Sciences Project (40% total): Much of the work that philosophers of science do is to examine particular theoretical problems in physics, biology, medicine, psychology, archaeology, and the other physical, biological, and social sciences. We don’t have time during the course to read articles from all of these special sciences; so, instead, each student (alone or in groups of up to 4 people) will research a problem and then educate the class about it. We will have, on average, two of these presentations every class period, and they should be a fun opportunity to get an overview of both philosophy and science.

Project Proposal (5%): Due December 11. From each student, I expect a written topic proposal, a proposed presentation date, and whether you are working on a team.

Class Presentation (15%): On the assigned day, a clear and entertaining class presentation will last 10-20 minutes for individuals or 15-30 minutes for teams, including time for discussion. Each presentation should be accompanied by a handout. Other supplements (such as a slideshow) are optional.

Blog Post (10%): Within one week of your presentation, you or your team should construct a blog post explaining and analyzing your problem. This may be framed using the class handout, but should go beyond it and should include useful links.

Paper (15%): On or before the last day of class, I expect a 2-3 page paper from each person in the class, explaining and discussing the philosophical problem you presented.


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