Week 1: Introduction to the Philosophy of Science

Philosophy and Science

Science is the observational, experimental, and theoretical investigation of nature, including matter and energy (physics), life (biology), mind (psychology) and disease (medicine).

Philosophy is the reflective discussion of fundamental questions about the nature of reality (metaphysics), knowledge (epistemology) and values (ethics).

What is the relation between science and philosophy?

  1. Philosophy is the queen of the sciences?
  2. Philosophy is the underlaborer of the sciences?
  3. Philosophy and science are partners in investigating how the world is and how it should be. See metaphors for philosophy: Thagard and Beam, 2004.

Approaches to Philosophy

A priori speculation: Platonism, phenomenology

Analysis: logical or linguistic examination

Naturalism: reflection on central aspects of reality, knowledge, and values, in partnership with science.

Philosophy of science is the investigation of important epistemological, metaphysical, and ethical issues that arise in the practice and development of science.

Approaches to the Philosophy of Science

Logical: deductive logic, set theory, probability theory.

Historical: draw lessons from important cases in the history of science.

Cognitive: apply psychological theories to understand the structure and growth of scientific knowledge.

Computational: develop computer models of scientific thinking.

Social: examine the social context of science.

Feminist: consider the impact of gender on science.

Some of these approaches are complementary: my own work is cognitive/computational/historical/social, and also logical in the sense that I am concerned with how science should be done as well as how it is done.

Some Questions in the Philosophy of Science

  1. What is the nature of scientiific theories?
  2. How do scientific experiments work?
  3. What is the relation between theories and experiments?
  4. How are competing theories evaluated?
  5. What is the nature of scientific explanation?
  6. How are different scientific fields related to each other? For example, is psychology reducible to biology?
  7. What is reduction?
  8. Realism: Does science find out how the world really is, or is science merely a useful instrument for making predictions?
  9. What does science reveal about the fundamental constitutents of reality, e.g. things, events, space, time?
  10. How do cognitive, logical, and social factors interact to produce the development of scientific knowledge?
  11. Et cetera.

Some Philosophy of Science Links

General resources

Logical positivism

The Science Lab

Thomas Kuhn

Tim van Gelder on what philosophy is good for

Discussion Questions for Week 2

  1. What is vitalism?
  2. What are some contemporary versions of vitalism, e.g. in alternative medicine? See vitalism.
  3. What made vitalism plausible in the nineteenth century? What makes it plausible now?
  4. What are the major alternatives to vitalism?
  5. What is emergence, and what are the most likely emergent phenomena?
  6. Can biology be wholly explained in terms of physics and chemistry?



Life, Mind, and Disease

Computational Epistemology Laboratory.

Paul Thagard

This page updated Sept. 13, 2004