Philosophy 261 (Fall 2017)

Philosophy of Science

Prof. Patrick Frierson

Class Meets: Olin 192, Tuesday and Thursday 11:30-12:50



Office Hours (Olin 193): Tuesday 4-5, Wednesday 10-noon, and by appointment.   I am often in the office late, particularly on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, so I’m happy to meet with students in the evenings.


Required Texts:

Gillian Barker and Philip Kitcher, Philosophy of Science: A New Introduction, Oxford University Press, 2014, ISBN: 978-0-19-536619-8.

Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, University of Chicago Press, ISBN: 978-0-22-645812-0.


Goals:  With respect to content, the purpose of this course is to introduce you to some of most important recent work in the philosophy of science.  For this purpose, we will read many of the “classics” of recent philosophy of science, particularly Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, but also work by Karl Popper, Imri Lakatos, Helen Longino, and Nancy Cartwright.  To get a broad sense of the range of debates in contemporary philosophy of science, we will read Gillian Barker and Philip Kitcher’s Philosophy of Science: A new introduction.


With respect to skills, there are three related purposes of the course.  First, you will learn to engage in philosophical argument as part of a community of inquirers.  This community includes both your classmates and the texts we will read together.  Learning how to develop your own insights and defend them with argument in respectful dialogue with others is the primary goal of this course.  Second, you will develop a critically reflective stance towards science.  The texts we are reading ask questions about the nature of science that, for some of you, may be unfamiliar questions.  They develop a range of models for scientific inquiry and theories about the nature of science.  Through reading, writing about, and discussing these texts, your own approach to science will become more reflective and sophisticated.  Third, you will learn to express yourself clearly, both orally (in class discussion) and in writing.  Throughout the semester, there are a series of writing exercises and papers, culminating in a final paper.


Requirements (and Grading):

This course has six primary requirements:

1. Thorough preparation for and participation in class discussions (10% of final grade).  Much of our class time will be spent on discussions, both amongst the entire class and in smaller groups.  These discussions provide ways to engage with the material in sustained ways, but they also – even more importantly – provide a context to practice the virtues of excellent participation in collaborative intellectual inquiry.  These virtues include the following:

Preparation. You should come to class having read and thought about the material, so that you have an informed perspective on it.

Attentive listening.  You should pay close attention to what I, and your peers, are saying.  Whitman has excellent faculty, but we are the excellent college that we are because of the quality of our students.  Your classmates have insightful things to contribute to our discussion; classmates’ comments are often more insightful than my own and are usually more directly relevant to your own readings of the texts.  In this class in particular, many of your classmates will have insights into contemporary scientific practice that I simply do not have.  We are here to learn from each other.

Boldness and patience.  Boldness and patience are both virtues in conversation.  You should participate, even when you are not entirely sure that what you have to say is profound and well-formulated, but you should also be patient, letting your own ideas mature and providing opportunities for others to contribute to the conversation.  Some of you will need to focus on boldness, forcing yourselves to speak even before you are fully comfortable.  (If you are one of these students, one good practice is to prepare some comments and questions before class and to raise these at the first opportunity.  Another good practice is to speak or raise your hand whenever there is more than 3 seconds of “dead time,” even if you don’t think what you have to say is particularly profound.)  Some will need to focus on patience, holding back to practice attentive listening and to give others the opportunity to contribute.  (If you are one of these, one good practice is to count to five before speaking or raising your hand.  Another is to take the time to find textual support for your views before you articulate them.)

Respectful engagement with others’ views.  I expect you to engage with one another’s comments in class.  Discussions should not be public dialogues with me. This engagement will often involve answering or refining another student’s question, taking another student’s point further, providing additional textual support for a point that a classmate makes, and so on.  Engagement also can and often should involve criticism of the views of others, but such criticism should always remain respectful.  Everyone in this room (including myself) is in the process of learning to philosophize well.  When we criticize one another, it should be in the spirit of helping each other to develop as philosophers, not in an attempt to show that one person is better than another.

Growth mindset.  Just as you engage respectfully with others, respect those who engage with your own views.  My assumption in this course is that every comment that everyone makes (including myself) is provisional.  In class, we are trying to benefit from our conversation, not to score points.  And that means that when others offer objections or criticisms of your comments in class, these are not evidence of your inadequacy as a philosopher; they are opportunities for you (and your interlocutor) to grow.  You should defend your view as effectively as you can, but you should also change your view when you come to see that it is not defensible.  (This point is also relevant to comments you receive from me on your work. Your primary goal in all the work you do for this class should be growth and development, and I will give comments with that goal in mind.)

“Class participation.  Your participation can have a significant impact on your final grade.  When evaluating participation, however, I am not interested merely in the quantity of comments.  A student who dominates class discussion but fails to show the virtues listed above may have their overall grade lowered due to poor participation.  A student who speaks occasionally but in well-informed, respectful, growing ways may have their grade raised.  (A student who never speaks in class, however, cannot effectively demonstrate the above virtues.)  If you are concerned about your participation, either because you fear participating too much or too little, please ask me about it at any time.

Small Group Work.  Occasionally, we will divide the class into small groups for more focused work.  This provides those who might be timid in a large group setting an opportunity to participate more actively, and it provides a different – and often healthy – dynamic for discussion.   All of the virtues listed above apply to work in small groups.  In addition, it is particularly important in these groups that students remain “on task.”


2. Short Writing Assignments (abbreviated SWA on the timeline below, 10% of final grade).  Over the course of the semester, there will be 12 short writing assignments.  These are designed to teach you specific writing skills.  You are required to complete all of these writing assignments, and each is due to me by email before class begins.  In addition, you should bring hard copies of these writing assignments to class.  Because we will sometimes use these writing assignments in class, there are no extensions.  Any writing assignments that you do not complete in good faith will be scored as a zero.  Otherwise, I will count only your ten best assignments.  Reminder of growth mindset…Given the way these are scored, it is worth taking some risks in order to try new ideas, make mistakes, and improve.  Take the opportunity to let yourself improve.  Also, if there are specific aspects of your writing that you want to improve, please let me know and I will pay particular attention to commenting on those aspects of your writing.

[Grading: For each assignment, you will be given an “outstanding” (worth 4 points), “exceeds expectations” (3 points), “acceptable” (2 point), “poor” (1), or zero.  At the end of the semester, this portion of your grade will be determined as follows, based on any zeros and then your ten best scores: 33-40 is an A, 30-33 is A-, 26-29 is B+, 20-25 is B, 18-19 B-, 16-17 C+, 14-15 C, 13-14, C-, 10-12 D, <10 F.]


3. Short Papers (10% each, 20% total). Over the course of the semester, you will write two short papers on topics of your choosing.  These are opportunities to engage with the material in ways that you find particularly interesting or important, to exercise the writing skills you are developing in this course, and to try out ideas for possible final paper topics.  As with everything in this class, these are opportunities for growth, not tests to prove what you can do.  For both papers, you will submit two drafts.  For the first short paper, you will submit a draft of your paper on October 3, and I will get comments back to you as quickly as possible.  The final draft will be due on October 10, along with a version in which you have tracked changes.  In that version, you should also include replies to any comments of mine that are in bold.  For the second paper, you will edit your own rough draft and submit that marked up draft along with your final version (see details below).


4. Take-home quiz (10%). Near the middle of the semester, there will be a take-home quiz based on all of the material covered up until the time of the quiz.  I will make a review sheet and sample quiz available early in the semester, and I will – by request – hold a review session on the evening before the quiz is handed out.


5. Final exam (15%). This course will have a cumulative, in-class, final exam.  The exam will consist of some quotation identification and analysis questions, short answer questions, and a single longer essay question.  A review sheet and sample example will be available before the end of the semester.  I will hold a review session on the evening of December 6th, by request.


6. Final paper (30%).  The most important assignment for this course is the final paper.  To write this paper well, you will need to formulate an important and interesting philosophical question that arises from our readings, develop a clear, complex, and controversial thesis that answers that question, and defend this thesis, with excellent textual and argumentative support, including the consideration of objections and alternative points of view.  Deadlines for the rough draft and final draft of this paper are provided on the timeline below. 


NOTE ON TURNING IN WRITTEN WORK. All written assignments – the short writing assignments, the short papers, and the final paper – should be submitted to me by email.  You should mail your completed work, in .doc or .docx format, to  You should also name your files as follows: “FirstName LastName AssignmentNumber [DraftNumber, when appropriate]”.  Thus my first submitted assignment would be “Patrick Frierson SWA1.doc”.  My first short writing assignment would be “Patrick Frierson ShortPaper1 rough draft.doc” and then “Patrick Frierson ShortPaper1 final draft.doc”.  It actually make a BIG difference to me to have these submitted in the correct filename, so be sure to do so.


Accommodations: If you are a student with a disability who will need accommodations in this course, please meet with Antonia Keithahn, Assistant Director of Academic Resources: Disability Support (Memorial 326, for assistance in developing a plan to address your academic needs. All information about disabilities is considered private; if I receive notification from Ms. Keithahn that you are eligible to receive an accommodation due to a verified disability, I will provide it in as discreet a manner as possible.



Timeline of Readings and Assignments



Key Topics


August 29

Handouts in Class

What is science?

What is the philosophy of science?

The “demarcation problem”

Key Topics

Aug. 31

Barker and Kitcher, pp. 1-20 (to the end of rat man)

Karl Popper, “Science: Conjectures and Refutations.”

Introduction to the philosophy of science

Demarcation problem

Popper’s conjecture-theory

SWA 1. Formulate a thesis that includes the words “Science can be distinguished from pseudo-science”.  The thesis should be clear, complex, and controversial. 

Note that in order to be controversial, you should be able to formulate a seemingly good argument against it.  If complex, the thesis should provide a structure for the rest of the paper.  Given your thesis, the reader should have a good idea of how the rest of your paper will go, that is, what the rest of your paper will need to do.  (Something like “Although it might seem like X because of A and B reasons, in fact Y is the case because of C, D, and E reasons” is a complex thesis that tells the reader what’s coming.)

Sept 5

Barker and Kitcher, pp. 12-29.

Karl Popper, “Science: Conjectures and Refutations.”

Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery, pp. 9-10.

Popper’s conjecture-theory

Critiques of Popper

Hypothetico-deductive method

(Question to ponder: How is Popper’s approach different from the Wittgenstein’s verifiability criterion?  How is it different from deductive proof?  How is it different from induction? Which approach best characterizes science?  Which is most likely to lead to true beliefs?)

SWA 2. Revise your thesis to make it clearer, more complex, and controversial.

(Hint: One way to make it more controversial would be to incorporate insights you gain from the “question to ponder.”)

Sept. 7

Bacon, New Organon, Preface; Book I, Aphorisms I, XIX, XCV; Book II, Aphorisms XI-XII.

Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery, pp. 3-10



Sept. 12

Hume, Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Chapter Four.  (For me, this involved printing pages 20-29 of the webpage.)

Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery, pp. 3-10

(You might also be interested in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on Induction.)


SWA 3. Imagine that you are writing a paper discussing the problem of induction. Formulate a clear, complex, and controversial thesis.  Then choose 3-4 quotations from the readings and, for each quotation, say briefly how you might use it in your paper.

Sept. 14

Barker and Kitcher, pp. 29-34.

Also read/view:

Bayes Theorem

Questions to Ponder: Does Bayes Theorem help differentiate science from pseudoscience?  How is it different/better than hypothetico-deductive reasoning?

Choose two of the problems on this website and solve them using Bayes Theorem:

Sept. 19

Barker and Kitcher, pp. 35-47

SWA 4. Write a three paragraph paper.  In the first paragraph, explain in general terms what Bayes’ theorem is.  In the second paragraph, illustrate Bayes’ theorem with an example.  Choose this example carefully so that you can set up the next paragraph.  In the final paragraph, critique Bayes’ theorem, with specific reference to your example.

Note that your example should be such that, in paragraph 2, it does a good job of showing how Bayes’ theorem works, and in the paragraph 3, does a good job of showing how Bayes’ theorem fails.

Sept. 21

Kuhn, pp. 1-42

Kuhn’s project

The nature of normal science

SWA 5. Write an essay defending a thesis with this form: “Although Kuhn’s description of the nature of science improves on Popper’s in that ____, ____.”

This thesis should be at the top of your paper. You should then have three paragraphs, the first explaining a key feature of Popper’s theory, the second showing how Kuhn improves on or corrects that feature, and the last showing a problem related to Kuhn’s improvement on Popper.

Grammar stickler: For this paper, I will be a stickler about grammar.  If I catch more than three grammatical mistakes in the first paragraph, you can get no higher than a “poor.”  If I catch more than three in the paper, you can get no higher than an “adequate.”

Sept. 26

Kuhn pp. 1-51

Normal science


SWA 6.  Come up with one question you could ask about the readings in the course up until today.  Formulate a clear, complex, and controversial thesis that answers that question. 

Sept. 28

Kuhn pp. 52-91

Anomalies, Crises, and Responses


Oct. 3

Kuhn, pp. 92-158

Scientific Revolutions

SHORT PAPER #1. Write a short essay (no more than 1000 words) on a topic of your choice.  You should have a clear, complex, and controversial thesis that answers and interesting and important question.  This should be defended with good textual support.  This essay is due at 9 am on October 3.

Oct. 5




A revised version of your short essay is due at 9 am on Monday, October 9. 

In addition to a “clean copy” of your revised draft, you should include a version that tracks your changes, so I can see how you improved the paper between the penultimate and the final drafts.  In addition, any comments of mine in bold should be included in this track-changes version, with your replies.

Oct. 10

Kuhn, pp. 92-173


Oct. 12

Barker and Kitcher, pp. 78-89.

Popper, “The Rationality of Scientific Revolutions” in Scientific Revolutions (Handout provided in class.)

The demarcation problem after Kuhn

SWA 7.  Choose one key claim that Kuhn makes in the reading for today.  With textual support, explain what this claim is and briefly summarize Kuhn’s evidence or argument for it.  Then explain why you think the claim is false, overly simplistic, or in some other way defective.



Oct. 17

Kuhn, pp. vii-xxxviii, 173-208;

Barker and Kitcher, pp.78-89.

Relativism, Objectivity, and Progress

SWA 8.  For this assignment, let’s work on building and responding to a strong counterargument.  First, formulate a clear, complex, controversial, and interesting thesis related to Kuhn.

Then, think about how you would defend your thesis, but don’t write this down.  Instead, think of the best counterargument to your thesis and clearly articulate (and write down in a single cogent paragraph) that counterargument. 

Finally, offer (and write down in a second cogent paragraph) your clearest and most concise response to that counterargument.  This may involve getting into some of the detail of how you would defend your thesis in general, but focus on specifically addressing the counter-argument.

Grammar stickler #2.  If I have corrected any specific grammatical mistakes of yours in the past, you should pay particular attention to those in this paper.  If you repeat a grammatical mistake I have pointed out in a previous paper, the best score you can get on this assignment is an “adequate.”  If you repeat it twice, the best you can get is “poor.”

Oct. 19

Imre Lakatos, “Science and Psuedoscience

Imre Lakatos, “Falsification and the Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes.”


Take-home quiz handed out.

Oct. 24

Barker and Kitcher, pp. 89-105

Take-home quiz due.

Oct. 26

Thomas Kuhn, “Objectivity, Value Judgment, and Theory Choice”

SWA 9. Formulate a really good question, based on the readings for this week.

Oct. 31

Helen Longino, “Scientific objectivity and the logics of science,” Inquiry 26(1983):85-106 (handout).

Helen Longino, “Beyond ‘Bad Science’


SWA 10. Brainstorm in prose.  Check out the “Philosophy Writing Tutor” at Williams College.  Do your own version of the “Getting Started: Initial Notes” portion of that writing tutor, for a thesis of your choice relating to Kuhn.  (Note that the sample paper here is in the history of philosophy, not the philosophy of science; your final paper will thus look quite different from this one, but your paper writing process should look similar.)

Nov. 2

Ian Hacking, The Social Construction of What?, pp. 1-35, 63-99 (BD175.H29)

David Bloor, Knowledge and Social Imagery, pp. ix-x, 3-23, 55-62, 157-62, 183-6 (BD175.B57)


Short Paper #2, draft due by 10 am on Friday, Nov. 3.  You should write a short paper (no more than 1200 words) on the topic of your choice.  The paper should include some discussion of Kuhn, and it should make use of the writing skills you have worked on in your SWAs.  I also recommend making further use of Williams’s Philosophy Writing Tutor.

Nov. 7

Barker and Kitcher, pp. 106-34

Values in Science

Short paper #2 final draft due by noon on Wednesday, Nov. 8.  Along with your final draft, you should include a copy of your rough draft with your own comments and corrections, so that I can see how you are editing your own work, and you should write a short statement (in the email you send me with the papers) of the most important improvement you made between the drafts.

Nov 9

Barker and Kitcher, pp. 106-117

Helen Longino, “Can There Be a Feminist Science



Kathleen Okruhlik, “Gender and the Biological Sciences”



Evelyn Fox Keller, “Gender in Science: Origin, History, Politics,” Osiris 10 (1995): 26-38, available here.


a little rest…

Nov 14

Barker and Kitcher, pp. 136-63


SWA 11. For this assignment, let’s apply theory to a (new) particular case.  Draw on your own experience with science (broadly construed) to evaluate at least one important claim made by Hacking, Bloor, Longino, or Okruhlik.  Clearly explain one key claim made by one or more of them, give textual support for your interpretation of that claim, and provide an example from your own experience that confirms, rebuts, complicates, or extends that claim.

Nov. 16

Open Day

Open Day

SWA 12.  Final paper preparation.  This assignment is due no later than Monday, Nov. 20, at midnight.  For this assignment, you should articulate a question you want to answer in your final paper, sketch a provisional thesis, lay out at least three texts (with at least one quotation from each) that you plan to use in your final paper, and sketch at least one counter-argument you plan to consider.


Give Thanks

for all that science (and philosophy) have made possible in your life!


Nov. 28

Barker and Kitcher, pp. 60-61.

Nancy Cartwright,  “Do the Laws of Physics State the Facts?”, which is Essay #3 in How The Laws of Physics Lie (QC6.C35 1983)

Optional: Nancy Cartwright, “Causal Laws and Effective Strategies

Nancy Cartwright, “Where Do Laws of Nature Come From?

Philosophy of Physics: Laws

Reading Quiz (Bombing this quiz can negatively affect your participation grade.  Doing well on it can add up to 2 points to your final exam.)

Nov. 30

Barker and Kitcher, pp. 50-76

Reading Quiz  (Ditto.)


Final Paper rough draft, due December 1 at 9 am.

Dec. 5

Philip Kitcher, “1953 and All That: A tale of two sciences

Kirschner, Gerhart, and Mitchison, “Molecular ‘Vitalism’

Philosophy of Biology: Reductionism

Reading Quiz (Ditto.)


Dec. 7

Review and workshop papers


Final Papers due December 8th, no later than midnight.

Dec. 11

Final Exam

Final Exam

Final Exam