Philosophy 3332
Philosophy of Science

Spring, 2011
Curtis Brown


This course will examine a number of philosophical issues about science. Among the issues we will discuss are these: (1) Demarcation. What distinguishes science from non-science, and real from bogus science? Is Creation Science science? Is parapsychology? Astrology? (2) Explanation. What is it to explain something? Does explanation require universal laws? Does it depend on context? (3) Validation. How are scientific theories validated or confirmed? Is validation a simple matter of gathering inductive support? Of making predictions that are born out by the evidence? Of trying but failing to falsify a theory? Or does it also depend on "pragmatic" matters such as the simplicity, elegance, or scope of the theory? (3) Values and Objectivity. Is science necessarily value-laden? To what extent does the intrusion of the values of the scientist diminish or make impossible objectivity in science? (4) Realism. Do highly theoretical entities really exist, or are they just fictions or useful tools for making predictions? Does science discover the truth about the real world, or create a world of its own? (5) Limits. Is science the only reliable method for finding out about the world? Are there any truths which are simply inaccessible to scientific method? (If so, is there any other method to which they are accessible?) (6) Philosophy and Particular Sciences. Depending on the interests and specialties of class members, we may also explore the philosophical implications of particular scientific results, e.g. the implications of sociobiology for ethics or of quantum physics for metaphysics.

Office Hours

TR 8:30 - 10:30; MW 4:00 - 5:00. (I am usually in my office during office hours, but sometimes other commitments interfere; if you want to be certain I will be there, make an appointment with me. Other times can also be arranged by appointment.)


Martin Curd and J. A. Cover, ed., Philosophy of Science: The Central Issues (New York: Norton, 1998)


1. There will be a mid-term examination, tentatively scheduled for Monday, March 7. This exam will contain questions on the terminology and basic ideas of the readings, and longer essay questions asking you to evaluate and compare the readings. The mid-term will count 25% of the final grade.  (If you want to see what the mid-term was like last time around, you can look at an old mid-term review and old sample mid-term questions.  Keep in mind that these old materials provide only a rough idea of what the exam will be like, though.)

2. One substantial paper, of 3000 - 4500 words (approximately 10-15 pages), is due Monday, April 18. The paper should include discussion of some of the readings for the course. More information about the paper is available in this handout: I will ask you to give an oral presentation to the class on the topic of the paper during the latter part of the semester. The paper will count a total of 30% of the final grade. I will accept late papers, but the grade will be dropped one notch (e.g. from a B to a B- or from a B- to a C+) for every week day the paper is late. A paper proposal is due Monday, February 28.

3. There will be a final exam on Tuesday, May 10, at 3:30 PM. The final will count 25% of the final grade.  You're welcome to look at an old final exam review and old final exam questions.  There's no guarantee the course will not be significantly different this time, but the old materials will give you some idea of the kind of thing to expect.

4. 300-400 word papers will count 10% of the final grade. (Longer than this is OK; shorter than this is not.) Every week before the class period begins on Monday (unless there is no class that day, or a major exam or paper is scheduled for that week), I will expect you to contribute (at least) one substantive posting to that week's online forum concerning the reading for the week. By "substantive," I mean both that the posting should be a minimum of 300 words in length, and that it should show evidence of serious engagement with the readings. This posting should specifically discuss some aspect of the reading for that week, by doing one or more of the following: offering an interpretation of the reading, posing a critical challenge to the reading, or comparing the position taken in the reading to other materials we have discussed in class. In addition, every week, any time before midnight on Friday, I will expect you to contribute a response to at least one other student's posting in the relevant forum. You may miss up to two of the required postings without penalty; after that, this portion of your grade will be reduced by one letter grade for each required posting you miss. (So if you miss three, the highest grade you can get on this portion of the final grade is a B; if you miss four, a C; etc.) No credit will be given for a contribution if (a) it is not in on time, or (b) it is less than 300 words, or long enough but insufficiently substantive; or (c) it does not specifically address some aspect of the class reading for the week, with page references. It is important that you use page numbers when addressing specific points from the reading.

5. Attendance and participation will count 10% of the final grade. This portion of the grade will be based on attendance and participation in class and class presentations. Each student in the class will be expected to lead class discussion twice during the semester, including a presentation on the topic of the final paper. Important note: Although in general participation counts 10% of the grade, excessive absence is grounds for a failing grade in the course, not just on this portion of the final grade.

The Academic Honor Code

You should make certain that you are familiar with the details of the Honor Code, which all Trinity students are now covered by. Students are required to pledge all written work that is submitted for a grade by writing, on the submitted work: “On my honor, I have neither given nor received any unauthorized assistance on this work,” followed by their signature. The pledge may be abbreviated “pledged” with a signature. If I suspect that the Honor Code has been violated, I am required to submit an allegation to the Honor Council, a student committee. After that, it is out of my hands: it is up to the Honor Council to determine whether a violation has occurred, and if so, what the penalty should be. The Honor Code prohibits faculty members from making their own determination, or even communicating about the allegation with the student involved. In my experience, the Honor Council has been at least as tough as I would have been on students found to have violated the code. For more details see the Honor Code web site.

You should be aware that I take academic integrity very seriously. Do not use any material verbatim that you did not write yourself unless you enclose it in quotation marks and give a citation to the source. (This goes for individual clauses as well as larger chunks of prose.) Do not use close paraphrases of material you did not write yourself, period. Be aware that plagiarism is easier to detect than you might think. Other actions that violate academic integrity, including turning in the same paper for more than one class, are listed in the Student Handbook. A PDF version of the handbook is online at (see p. 119 in the 2009-2010 version of the Handbook, which is the version this link leads to as I'm writing this but may not be by the time you read it). There's a web page listing violations of the Honor Code here (as part of the Faculty and Contract Staff Handbook). Other actions that violate academic integrity, including turning in the same paper for more than one class, are listed at

Please remember that any use of material you did not write yourself, either word-for-word or in close paraphrase, is plagiarism. This is true even if the passage is only a sentence or two long, and no matter where the material came from, including web sites, discussion groups, or the papers of other students. I have had some students suggest that their plagiarism is “not a big deal.” You should be aware that I do regard it as a big deal. Other students have told me they were not aware that what they were doing was a violation of academic integrity. If you have any uncertainty about the policy, or about whether the specific use of other sources you are considering is acceptable, come and talk with me. I’ll be happy to clarify what is acceptable and what is not. Finally, I have heard from some students that they resorted to plagiarism because they were overwhelmed by an assignment and saw no way of completing it successfully without resorting to cheating. Ironically, in many cases, if these students had worked as hard at writing a paper as they did at plagiarizing, they could certainly have written an acceptable paper. If you are having trouble getting started on a paper, please come and talk with me.

Schedule of Topics

There is a detailed reading schedule online.

Last update: January 11, 2011.
Curtis Brown | Philosophy of Science | Philosophy Department | Trinity University