PHIL 269a: TTh 2:30pm-3:45pm in 317 Linsly-Chittendon (LC) Hall
Yale University
Fall 2005

Instructor: James Woodbridge
email address:
Course Webpage:
Office Hours: T 10am-11:30am, W 11am-12:30pm, and by appointment
Office: 406B Connecticut Hall
Office Phone: 432-1683
Dept. Phone: 432-1686


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 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 story about 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.


Hempel, Carl G. Philosophy of Natural Science. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1966.
Kuhn, Thomas S. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 3rd Edition. Chicago: University of Chicago
     Press, 1996.
Papineau, David (ed.). The Philosophy of Science. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.

The books for the course are available at Labyrinth Books located at 290 York Street.
There will also be several photocopied and some on-line reading selections.


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

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

About the Requirements:

Class Participation--One thing this requirement covers is your class attendance. However, while attendance is necessary for participation, it is not sufficient. To do well on this front you must do more than just show up; you have to contribute to class discussion. You are expected to arrive having read the assignment for the day and ready to talk about it. Another aspect of class participation concerns the Electronic Discussion Board available on the course's ClassesV2 site. Everyone must make six postings on the EDB during the course of the term: three in the first half of the term and three in the second half.

The First Paper--There will be a 5-7 page paper due in early/mid October. 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 5-7 page paper due in late November. 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 final exam given during the scheduled exam time for the class. The exam will cover the whole course and will consist of short answer questions and essay questions based on the readings and lectures.


The class will be a mixture of lecture and discussion, and I want to encourage discussion. I expect you all to show up having read the assignment for that meeting and ready to use it as a point of departure. It is the nature of the issues we will be considering that people's views will differ. You are encouraged to question your classmates (and me) when anyone says something you disagree with, but everyone should always keep in mind that 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 toward it.


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. In addition, there are several readings from additional sources (listed by author and title, and labeled "photocopy"). These will be available for duplication at the Reserve Desk in the Library.

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. Most of these readings should be read at least twice. I recommend a first time straight through and 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" (photocopy/on-line)
Hempel, Chapters 1 and 2 (Scientific Method)
Hempel, Chapters 3 and 4 (Confirmation)
Goodman, "The New Riddle of Induction" (photocopy)
Popper, Selections from The Logic of Discovery (photocopy)
Hempel, Chapters 5 and 6 (Scientific Explanation)
Hempel, Chapter 7 (Theoretical Concepts)
Hempel, Chapter 8 (Theoretical Reduction)
Quine, "Two Dogmas of Empiricism" (photocopy)

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

3. Scientific Realism

Boyd, "The Current Status of Scientific Realism" (photocopy)
van Fraassen, from The Scientific Image (photocopy)
van Fraassen, "To Save the Phenomena," PoS, Ch. IV
Laudan, "A Confutation of Convergent Realism," PoS, Ch. VI
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