HPS 2501/Phil 2600     Philosophy of Science     Fall 2006

Paper Topics

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(a) You are required to submit the FIRST (1. The Demarcation Problem) and then THREE MORE only of the short papers described below.
(b) They are intended to be short--500 to1000 words--but rich in content.
(c) The papers are due one week after the last paper of the relevant section has been read in class. The deadlines indicated below are only estimates, computed accordingly. They are provisional will probably change in response to changes in our schedule of readings.
(d) Remember also my policies on papers

1. The Demarcation Problem. Due September 21. (MUST DO)

In his December 20, 2005 verdict in the Dover Intelligent Design trial, Judge John E. Jones III offered the "the inescapable conclusion that ID is an interesting theological argument, but that it is not science." What is your view of the issues in philosophy of science raised by this trial?

Background: For a statement of the ID view, see Michael J. Behe, "Molecular Machines: Experimental Support for the Design Inference," Cosmic Pursuit, March 1, 1998.


2. Theory versus models, analogies, simulations, mechanisms, and experiment. Due September 28, estimated.

The new literatures in models, analogies, simulations, mechanisms, and experiment sometimes suggests that it offers a radically new way of thinking about science in comparison to the traditional approach developed under the heading of "the structure of theories" and that focusses on theory.

What is your view of this claim?

3. Induction and Confirmation. Due October 19, estimated.

Inductive inference in science attracts optimists and pessimists. The pessimists are skeptical that evidence can have anything like the inductive reach that science attributes to it; but then they must explain the success of science. The optimists gaze in wonder at the power of evidence in science; yet now they must come up with an account of how that success comes about.

What is your view of this matter?

4. Explanation. Due October 19, estimated.

It is generally accepted that a successful science must explain the relevant phenomena. Conforming to them and even predicting them in minute detail, is not enough.

Why is it not enough?

5. Realism. Due Due October 26, estimated.

We are often reminded that that science is the best antidote to the metaphysical flights of fancy to which we humans are prone. Antirealists merely wish to resist the creation of new metaphysical flights within science itself, whereas scientific realists regard this caution as unnecessary and excessive in a domain already narrowly constrained by evidence. Both motivations seem sound, yet the debate persists.

What is your view of this matter?

6. Causation. Due November 9, estimated.

While causation seems to figure centrally in every science, we seem unable to generate a universally admissible account of its nature.

What is your view of this matter?

7. Reduction. Due November 9, estimated.

In comparing reductionist and antireductionist theses, the reductionist theses tend to be the most precisely articulated and they also draw the most criticism. The antireductionist theses tend to be stated more vaguely, typically as the negation of a reductionist theses.

Are we to conclude the reductionism is precisely hopeless and antireductionism vaguely promising?

8. Disunity. Due November 16, estimated.

Proponents of disunity point to the patchwork character in the actual practice of sciencists. Yet a commonly received lore of those practising scientists is that their practice is unified by an overarching theory.

How can they be so wrong about their own practices?

9. Scientific Change. Due November 22, estimated.

The era of writing the grand account of scientific change--paradigms and revolution, research programmes, progress and problems--has passed. There is now a growing sentiment that it was far too ambitious in seeking sweeping statements about the essential nature of all science.

Was it too ambitious? What in your view have we learned from these projects?

10. Philosophy of Physics, Philosophy of Biology. Due one week after seminar discussion

A paper in philosophy of physics or philosophy of biology, in which a non-trivial thesis is clearly stated and argued for cogently.

October 26, 2006