The course is concerned with contemporary philosophical reflection on science. Outstanding issues in contemporary philosophy of science are covered and looked at from a variety of angles. Attention is also paid to critiques of scientific rationality and the status of science within the Western culture.
More specifically, the book Theory and Reality (Godfrey-Smith, 2003), which will be used as the main source, comprises the following chapters:
- Introduction: general overview of the course material, introducing the question what (if anything) makes science an outstanding source of knowledge (+ sketch of some possible answers), introducing the question what kind of theory about science we are looking for, historical overview of the scientific revolution
- Logic plus Empiricism: introduction to the work of the Vienna Circle (Wiener Kreis; also known as logical positivism), a famous group of philosophers, mathematicians, logicians, physicists, economists, etc. who sought to establish a new, scientific approach to philosophical questions
- Induction and Confirmation: introduction to the logical positivists’ theory of induction and confirmation (how can/does empirical evidence support scientific theories?) and its problems
- Popper: Conjecture and Refutation: overview of Karl Poppers influential and well-known critique of the logical positivists (in particular their views on confirmation), his own alternative (falsificationism) and its problems
- Kuhn and Normal Science: Kuhn’s approach to science was radically different from that of the Wiener Kreis and of Popper, both methodologically (Kuhn paid much more attention to the history of science, much less to the use of logic in philosophy of science) and qua content (Kuhn is still famous for his concepts of ‘paradigm’ and ‘normal science’)
- Kuhn and Revolutions: Kuhn’s view on scientific revolutions (where one dominant paradigm is replaced by another) and their epistemological consequences
- Lakatos, Laudan, Feyerabend, and Frameworks: these three authors were inspired by Kuhn’s work while diverging in several ways
- The Challenge from Sociology of Science: Robert Merton’s sociology of science, the ‘strong program’ as a radical alternative to philosophy of science, and the work of Shapin, Schaffer and Latour
- Feminism and Science Studies: feminist critiques of science as a value-free epistemological endeavour (science is political) and its male-centered character; STS, the science wars and the Sokal hoax.
- Naturalistic Philosophy in Theory and Practice: introducing Godfrey-Smith’s plea for a naturalistic approach to philosophy, i.e. the view that philosophy should be continuous with science; the theory-ladenness of observation as a challenge to simple empiricist view
- Naturalism and the Social Structure of Science: exploring the hypothesis that part of what makes science an outstanding source of knowledge (cf. chapter 1) is its social organization
- Scientific Realism: introduction to philosophical discussions concerning scientific realism (the view that unobservable theoretical entities really exist) and its problems (its prima facie incompatibility with empiricism, the pessimistic meta-induction, …)
- Explanation: overview of different accounts of scientific explanation
- Bayesianism and Modern Theories of Evidence: revisiting the problem of confirmation (see chapter 3) using insights from Bayesianism
- Empiricism, Naturalism, and Scientific Realism?: In this concluding chapter, Godfrey-Smith presents his views on science and its status as a reliable source of knowledge. More specifically, he combines three seemingly incompatible views on science: empiricism, scientific realism and naturalism.