HPS 2101/Phil 2600 Philosophy of Science Fall 2022

Paper Topics

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(a) You are required to submit the warm up exercise and then your choice of THREE only of the short papers described below.
(b) Optional additional assignment: you can, if you wish, submit one additional short paper. The paper grade will be determined from the four best papers submitted, including the warm up exercise.
(c) The short papers are intended to be short--500 to 1000 words--but rich in content. In counting the words, footnotes are included, but not the list of references.
(d) The papers are due one week after the last paper of the relevant section has been read in class. (Deadlines listed below.)
(e) Papers will be graded according to how well they state clearly a thesis in philosophy of science and argue cogently for it. See policies on papers.
(f) Remember also my policies on late submission. (Don't.)
(g) Send the paper to me in email (jdnorton@pitt.edu) in an editable file, that is, not a pdf. I find Microsoft "doc" files and rtf = "rich text format" the most flexible and generated by most word processors.

1. Warm up Exercise (MUST DO), due September 6, before the seminar (500-1000 word maximum)

For this exercise, you are to reflect on the infusion of machine learning into the sciences. Come to some definite view about some aspect of the issue. You are to refine and sharpen that view until it can be stated in a clear and concise thesis within philosophy of science for which you can mount a cogent argument. That is:

Assert a non-trivial claim in philosophy of science concerning the use of machine learning in science and argue cogently for it.

This IS an exercise in the stating of a clear thesis and arguing cogently for it. In seeking this thesis, your best strategy is to look for something as narrow as possible. The big question of whether there is a revolution underway is likely too big for this short assignment. You might, for example, use a specific claim in some of the readings linked here to guide you to your thesis.

This IS an exercise in stating and defending a clear thesis in philosophy of science. While your thesis might be inspired by something you read in the literature linked here, it should not merely be poking holes in the argument of a paper you found there. The thesis should be a direct claim in philosophy of science.

This IS NOT a request to present a ground breaking new philosophy of machine learning in science. That is too big a task for this short assignment.

This IS NOT the place for rambling discussion. Get straight to business. State the thesis clearly and lay out the argument. Don't bury it in chatter. You have 500-1000 words. Use them well.

2., 3., 4. Choose THREE of:

Below is a list of the topics covered in this seminar. Choose any three. Your task is to reflect on the topic and develop your own viewpoint. Then you are to argue for it in a paper due according to the deadlines set out below. Your paper should follow the model set in the warm-up exercise: assert a single, clear, non-trivial claim in the pertinent philosophy of science and argue cogently for it. To encourage concise writing, the paper is limited to 500-1000 words.

Strategies for papers 2, 3 and 4.

Be reflective in selecting your thesis. Ask yourself what is your true view of the topic. That can require some effort.

It is easy in short writing like this to take one of the papers we read and poke some holes in one of its arguments. This is NOT what the assignment asks you to do. That is easy work, especially when the author is not present to tell you why you are wrong. Any minimally competent philosopher can do it without much effort. However it does not provide a basis for a long-term research program. Such programs are based on the firm and enduring support of a core commitment.

If you find yourself reacting negatively to some claim in the literature, that is an excellent starting point. Reflect on why that claim is so irksome. You surely have some commitment with which is conflicts. Make that commitment the positive claim of the paper.


Your task is NOT to recapitulate what is found in the readings. Since you are limited to 500-1000 words, you cannot waste words on unnecessary recapitulation of the readings.

Your task is NOT to present a collection of wisdoms concerning the topic. In a short paper like this, presenting a cogent argument for one thesis is likely all that is feasible.

Your task is NOT merely to criticize some author's writing in philosophy of science. That sort of critique by itself is not advancing a non-trivial claim in philosophy of science. Rather it is advancing a claim about someone's writing.

Here is the list of topics and deadlines for submissions of the papers.

Verificationism Sept. 13
Falsificationism and the Demarcation of Science  Sept. 20
Empiricism Sep. 27
Realism and Antirealism Oct. 3
Oct. 11
Models and idealizations
Oct. 18
Inductive inference
Oct. 25
Bayesian confirmation theory
Nov. 1
Underdetermination Nov. 1
Values in science
Nov. 8
Feminist philosophy of science Nov. 15
Revolutions and Meaning Change Nov. 15
Experiment and simulation
Nov. 22
Dec. 6
Reduction and emergence
Dec. 13
Explanation Dec. 13

Are you wondering where to start? Remember that the beginning of novel work in philosophy of science is the point of intractability. Once you have found it, merely advancing the discussion one millimeter forward is worthwhile.