PHIL 209: Philosophy of Science

Crosslisted with SEMN 212: Sophomore Seminar

Instructor: Lars Enden

Course Description

The course sets out three tasks. Our first task is to acquire and develop distinctly philosophical skills: e.g. reading persuasive essays, analyzing concepts, understanding arguments, criticizing our own views and the views of others, and writing persuasively in a clear and concise manner. Our second task is to examine the most important philosophical questions asked about science: e.g. What is science (as opposed to art, religion, or mythology); How does theory function in science; What is a scientific explanation; and, Do the objects referred to in scientific theories (like quarks and bosons) really exist. Our third task is to critically evaluate science as a distinctive type of culture; a culture that demands participants to move from being mere consumers of knowledge to being producers and developers of knowledge: e.g. the distinction between scientific culture and other types of culture; the political aspects of scientific investigation; the discipline required of the practitioners of science; and the values and goals of scientific culture.

Required Text

Schick, Theodore, Jr., Readings in the Philosophy of Science: From Positivism to Postmodernism, Mountain View, CA: Mayfield, 2000.

Reading Schedule

All required reading should be completed before class on the day that the reading is due. Check the schedule at the end of this syllabus every day to be sure that you are keeping up on your reading. It is also a good idea to reread a section after we have talked about it. This helps to increase your understanding dramatically.

Graded Work and Grading Procedures

Reading Questions: 25 x 10 points each = 250 points (50% of final grade)

Every class (except the first), there are reading questions available on Moodle. Your responses must be typed and turned in at the end of the class. During class, you are encouraged to write on your printed reading questions with updated answers. If you lose any points from your original responses, you can earn back up to half of those points with your handwritten updated answers. This gives you the opportunity to correct yourself and to change your mind as we talk about the issues. You must attend class in order to turn in the reading questions. There are 27 reading questions available, but only your 25 best scores will count toward your final grade.

Research Paper: three parts x 40 points each = 120 points (24% of final grade)

The paper will be divided into three parts, which will be due at various times throughout the term. You will be expected to do some outside research for some parts of the paper. In the end, you should have a well-researched paper you should be proud of. Part of your grade for the paper is determined by how your peers evaluate your work, and part of your grade is determined by how you evaluate the work of your peers.

Presentation: 70 points (14% of final grade)

You will give a presentation on one of the articles we will be reading this term. Your presentation should be approximately 15 minutes in length, after which you will lead a discussion on the article. You will prepare a handout (one side of a 8½” x 11” piece of paper) that clearly outlines the main points of the article, and presents some questions for discussion. You will email your handout to me and then meet with me outside of class before your presentation day so I can help direct your thinking and iron out any misunderstandings. I will print enough copies of your handout for the class. Part of your grade for the presentation is determined by how your peers evaluate your performance, and part of your grade is determined by how you evaluate the performance of your peers.

Participation: 30 days x 2 points per day = 60 points (12% of final grade)

I expect you to be present and engaged in seminar activities at all times. Therefore, participation is a graded component of this course. There are two points available for participation every day. One point is for attendance. To receive this point, you must arrive on time and stay until the end of class. If you come in late or leave early, you lose your attendance point for the day. The other point is for engagement. To receive this point, you must pay attention and make substantive contributions to class discussion. If you do anything during class time that is not relevant to the current activities of the class, you lose your engagement point for the day. Also, there is no guarantee you will get your engagement point if you don’t say anything during our discussions.

IMPORTANT: The Philosophy department policy also requires any student who misses more than three days of class will automatically lose a full letter grade from their final grade.

Final Grading Scale

  • ≥ 465 points = A
  • ≥ 450 points = A-
  • ≥ 415 points = B
  • ≥ 435 points = B+
  • ≥ 400 points = B-
  • ≥ 385 points = C+
  • ≥ 365 points = C
  • ≥ 350 points = C-
  • ≥ 335 points = D+
  • ≥ 315 points = D
  • ≥ 300 points = D-
  • ≤ 299 points = F

Classroom Policies

Electronic Devices:

Electronic devices are distracting to everyone in a classroom. So, all electronic devices are prohibited during class. This includes laptops and cell phones. All electronic devices must be silenced and stored away out of sight before class begins. Violations of this rule will result in an automatic loss of engagement point for the day.

Absences and Late Work:

I do not accept late work. If you do not turn in an assignment on time, you will simply get a zero for the assignment. Also, if you are not in class (no matter what the reason might be), then you lose all participation points for the day and you cannot turn in the reading questions for the day. The only possible exception to this rule is if you are representing the school at an official function, like at a sporting event. In such a case, you should talk to me beforehand so we can work out some arrangement.


You may have strong opinions about some of the issues we will discuss in this class, and your peers may not agree with you. However, it is important everyone feels they are welcome to contribute to the conversation. Therefore, it is important we treat each other (and the philosophers we will be reading) with respect. In philosophy, respect means we criticize ideas; we do not criticize people. If any student acts in a disrespectful manner, I will simply ask the student to leave the classroom for rest of the day.

Academic Honesty:

This course operates under the College Honor System. This means: we treat each other with respect, we nurture independent thought, we take responsibility for personal behavior, and we accept environmental responsibility. Academic honesty is a critical part of our value system at K. When you borrow an idea, express the idea in your own words, thus thinking it through and making it your own, and acknowledge the source of the idea in a note, or, in certain situations, use the exact words of the source in quotation marks and acknowledge with a note. Ideas raised in class are part of the public domain and, therefore, sources of those ideas need not be acknowledged. If you are ever in doubt about this, you should ask. For the full policy, see student policies on the Student Development website.


If you believe a specific accommodation may be appropriate for you, please contact the student development office. They can evaluate your specific accessibility needs and provide you with a letter detailing the accommodations that are appropriate for you.

General Advice:

Take your education seriously: You will probably only get one chance at college; don’t waste it. Remember your reasons for being here.

Always do your work and come to class: The ultimate key to success in this class is keeping up with your work and participating in class. Do not miss this class unless you absolutely must, and, while you are in class, pay attention, take good notes, ask questions, and contribute to the discussion.

Keep reading: Most of the reading is difficult. Please do not give up on the reading just because you don’t understand it right away. Just keep reading even if you are not sure you understand it. You probably understand more than you think, and you will get better at reading difficult texts the more you practice it. The reading questions in this class are worth more than anything else precisely because I want to encourage you to work hard at understanding what you are reading. It is not easy, but do not give up. Just keep going.

Have an opinion: I will not tell you what I think about any of the issues we will be discussing in this course. What I think is not important. Part of your responsibility in this course is to think through these issues for yourself. So, go ahead and give yourself the luxury of having an opinion. Try to avoid saying or thinking things like, “Who is to say what is right or wrong?” I am asking what you think, so you get to say.

Be willing to change your mind: The philosophers we will be reading, and your classmates, will be sharing their thoughts with you about these issues. Try to keep an open mind to their ideas. Part of what we are trying to do is to determine which answers are backed up by the best reasons. We cannot accomplish this if we always just stick with our initial opinions. Honest philosophers do not think they have it all figured out; they are willing to listen to reasons and to change their minds when they encounter good reasons to do so.


Consult the schedule below regularly. Readings are listed on the days by which you should have read them.

Week One:
(M) Syllabus
(W) Aristotle & Bacon (online)
(F) Landen & Ruse, Chapters 5 & 6

Week Two:
(M) Feyerabend, chapter 39
(W) Ayer & Popper, chapters 1 & 2
(F) Kuhn, chapter 3

Week Three:
(M) MLK Day, no class
(W) Lakatos, chapter 4
(F) Hume, chapter 7

Week Four:
(M) Hempel, chapter 8
(W) Popper, chapter 9
(F) Duhem, chapter 10

Week Five:
(M) Lipton, chapter 11
(W) Hempel, chapter 12
(F) Mid-term break, no classes

Week Six:
(M) Salmon, chapter 13,
Paper part 1 due
(W) van Fraassen, chapter 14
(F) Carnap & Hesse, chapters 22 & 23
Peer review part 1 due

Week Seven:
(M) Hanson, chapter 24
(W) Kuhn, chapter 25
(F) Laudan, chapter 26

Week Eight:
(M) Maxwell, chapter 33
(W) van Fraassen, chapter 34
Paper part 2 due
(F) Fine, chapter 37

Week Nine:
(M) Sayers, chapter 31,
Peer review part 2 due
(W) Richards, chapter 32
(F) Latour & Woolgar, chapter 27

Week Ten:
(M) Cole, chapter 28
(W) Gould, chapter 47
(F) Caplan, chapter 48

The Final Paper is due by Monday, at noon.