HPS 2501/Phil 2600     Philosophy of Science     Fall 2009

Paper Topics

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(a) You are required to submit the FIRST (1. Is It Science?) and then THREE MORE only of the short papers described below.
(b) They are intended to be short--500 to 1000 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 may change in response to changes in our schedule of readings.
(d) Papers will be graded according to how well they clearly state a thesis in philosophy of science and argue cogently for it. See policies on papers.
(e) Remember also my policies late submission. (Don't.)
(f) Send the paper to me in email (jdnorton@pitt.edu) in an editable file, that is, not a pdf. I find rtf = "rich text format" the most flexible and generated by most word processors. My computer system does not read the latest Microsoft "docx" format easily.

1. Is It Science? Due September 23. (MUST DO)

In 2002, a Working Party convened by the Danish Committee on Scientific Dishonesty met to evaluate the work of environmental skeptic, Bjorn Lomborg, notably his 2001 The Skeptical Environmentalist. Their initial assessments included concerns that the the book "fails to meet the customary requirements of science" and that it is (in scare quotes) "'bad science'." They concluded in their report (subsequently retracted) that Lomborg's publication "is deemed clearly contrary to the standards of good scientific practice."

In coming to these conclusions, the Working Party needed to adopt a view of the nature of good science. What is your assessment of the view they adopted and its application?


2. Induction and Confirmation, Due October 7.

The dominant account of induction and confirmation in the present philosophy of science literature is the Bayesian account.

What is your view of its dominance? (For example, is it merited? If so, why? If not, which view is better?)

3. Problems of Induction. Due October 14.

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 tension?

4. Experiment and Simulations. Due October 21.

The long dominant view has been that the authority of science resides in it grounding in experiment and observation and that without them it would collapse into groundless speculation.

What is your assessment of this view?

5. Explanation. Due October 28.

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?

6. Realism. Due November 4.

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?

7. Causation. Due November 11.

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

Why is this?

8. Reduction, Supervenience and Emergence. Due November 18.

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 more welcomed, but are stated more vaguely, typically as the negation of a reductionist theses.

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

9. Scientific Change. Due December 2.

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. One only of
Philosophy of Physics (Due December 9) or Philosophy of Biology (Due December 16).

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