PHIL 430/630, Sec. 1002: MW 2:30pm-3:45pm in CBC C212
University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Spring 2016

Professor: James Woodbridge
email address:
Course Webpage:
Office Hours:  M 4pm-5pm, T 12:30pm-2pm, and by appointment
Office: CDC 426
Office Phone: 895-4051
Dept. Phone: 895-3433


Scientific inquiry is often considered the method par excellence of acquiring knowledge about the world. What is it about science and its methods that gives it this reputation? This course examines several different perspectives on science, looking at what they claim the aims of science are and what they say about its operation. We will begin by considering various facets of the scientific enterprise from the perspective on science dominant during the first half of the 20th century: logical empiricism. This school of thought sought to develop formal accounts of the "logic" of such activities as the confirmation of hypotheses and the explanation of phenomena, in a way that grounded science on the epistemically secure basis of the observable. This perspective was challenged in the second half of the 20th century by an approach that shifted the focus from analysis of the formal structure of scientific activities to scrutiny of the history of science. This historicist approach rejected the earlier assumption of a common, pure (i.e., "theory-neutral") observation basis, emphasizing instead the radical discontinuities in the worldviews offered by successive scientific theories. At its most extreme, this approach has characterized these breaks as involving, not just changes in worldview, but as transitions to "different worlds". A third perspective on science rejects both logical empiricism and historicism, opting instead for a "realist" view committed to taking science as in the business of (and succeeding to some extent at) developing a literally true account of the world. After a brief introduction to scientific method, we will consider these three perspectives on science in turn, examining their central theses and arguments, with the aim of developing a better understanding of the nature of science in general.

Learning Objectives:
To demonstrate knowledge about central problems in the philosophy of science, as well as some
     epistemology and metaphysics
Upon completion of the course, students should be able to:
     Identify central issues or debates in philosophy of science,
     Articulate and, when appropriate, compare or contrast, different views that might be taken with
          respect to these issues,
     Summarize major motivations or arguments for these alternative positions,
     Present significant objections that have or could be raised to these positions,
     Assess the relative merits of these arguments and objections.

Hempel, Carl G. Philosophy of Natural Science. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1966.
Kuhn, Thomas S. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 4th (50th Anniversary) Edition. Chicago:
      University of Chicago Press, 2012.
Papineau, David (ed.). The Philosophy of Science. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.
The books for the course are at The UNLV Bookstore.
There will also be several online required readings.


Requirements.............................................Percent of Final Grade

Class Participation......................................................10%
First Paper...................................................................30%
Second Paper...............................................................30%
Final Exam..................................................................30%

About the Requirements:

Class Participation--This requirement covers a couple of things things. First, there is your contribution during class. Class attendance is thus necessary. However, to do well you must do more than just attend. You are expected to show up having read the assignment for the day and ready to talk about it. Second, everyone must make at least six contributions to the Electronic Discussion Board (accessible through WebCampus) during the term: three in the first half of the term (before October 19th) and three in the second half.

The First Paper--There will be a 6-8/8-10 page paper due in early March. Topics will be distributed 12 days before the paper is due. Papers are due at the beginning of class on the due date. Late papers are subject to a substantial grade reduction as described on the Papers Requirements and Policies handout.

The Second Paper--There will be a second 6-8/8-10 page paper due in late April. Again, topics will be handed out 12 days before the paper is due, and all papers are due at the beginning of class on the due date.

The Final Exam--There will be a timed (2 hour), in-class final exam given on Wednesday, May 11, 2016 at 3:10pm in our regular classroom. The final will consist of a choice of essay questions.

Note: All course requirements must be satisfactorily completed in order to pass the course. More than 3 unexcused absences reduces your final grade by 1/3 of a letter grade, more than 5 is a full letter grade deduction, more than 8 is automatic failure of the course.


This is an upper-level philosophy course, so while I will present a lot of the material, our class meetings should also include a lot of student discussion, not just lectures. I hope that you will all have views about the theories we are going to examine, and I want you to express and explore those views whenever possible. It is typical of philosophical topics that people's views on them will differ. You are encouraged to question your classmates (and me) whenever anyone says something you disagree with, but on either side of this sort of exchange, everyone should always keep in mind that expressing disagreement is not a personal attack. Philosophical discussion thrives under this kind of interaction and often stems from disagreement. At the same time, philosophical discussion aims at reaching some sort of agreement. We probably won't reach agreement every time, but we should aspire towards it.


In recent years it has become necessary to make a further comment about classroom etiquette. Engaging in activities like text messaging, surfing the web, checking Facebook, tweeting, IMing, etc. during class is entirely inappropriate. In fact, it is extremely rude and highly disrespectful of our joint enterprise of teaching and learning. Whether you are sitting in the back and presume you are not interfering with anyone else is irrelevant. It is not a question of what you are caught doing; it is a matter of what you do, noticed or not. I expect everyone to behave appropriately during class, engaging with our cooperative project and refraining from inappropriate activities at all times.


Most of the readings for the course are from the books by Hempel and Kuhn, and the anthology edited by Papineau. Readings from the first two books are listed below by author and chapter number. Readings from the third book are listed by article author and title, followed by "PoS" and chapter number. There are also several online readings that will be linked on the course webpage.
A note about the readings: Philosophical writing is often subtle and difficult. Do not be fooled by the shortness of an assignment into thinking that it will take little time. These readings should be read at least twice. I recommend a first time straight through, then a second time slowly while taking notes.
The course units and readings for them are as follows.

1. Facets of Scientific Inquiry: Logical Empiricism

Peirce, "The Fixation of Belief" (online)
Hempel, Chapters 1 and 2 (Scientific Method)
Hempel, Chapters 3 and 4 (Confirmation)
Goodman, "The New Riddle of Induction" (online)
Popper, Selections from The Logic of Discovery (online)
Putam, "The Corroboration of Theories" (online)
Hempel, Chapters 5 and 6 (Scientific Explanation)
Hempel, Chapter 7 (Theoretical Concepts)
Hempel, Chapter 8 (Theoretical Reduction)

2. The Historicist Approach

Kuhn, Preface & Chapter I (Background and Method)
Kuhn, Chapters II-V (Normal Science)
Kuhn, Chapters VI-VIII (Crisis in Normal Science)
Kuhn, Chapters IX & X (Revolutionary Science)
Kuhn, Chapters XI-XIII (Revolution and Progress)
Kuhn, Postscript
Hacking, Introductory Essay

3. Scientific Realism

van Fraassen, from The Scientific Image (online)
van Fraassen, "To Save the Phenomena," PoS, Ch. IV
Laudan, "A Confutation of Convergent Realism," PoS, Ch. VI
Boyd, "On the Current Status of the Issue of Scientific Realism" (online)
Ellis, "What Science Aims to Do," PoS, Ch. VIII
Fine, "The Natural Ontological Attitude," PoS, Ch. I
Musgrave, "NOA's Ark--Fine for Realism," PoS, Ch. II

*The instructor of this course reserves the right to change any aspect of the syllabus, with the understanding that any such changes will be announced in class.