Course outline

This course is an introduction to the philosophy of science. After a brief discussion of the "scientific revolution" in the 16th and 17th century, we take a closer look at arguments on the nature and status of scientific knowledge that were put forward from the early 20th century onward. We begin by discussing the "standard view" of science that focuses on the logical structure of scientific theories and addresses such issues as confirmation and theory choice. Next we turn to challenges of this view from history and sociology. We read arguably the most famous book in contemporary philosophy of science, Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, in which he emphasizes sharp discontinuities in scientific thought and the importance of social and cultural factors in theory choice. In the final portion of the course we consider modern debates regarding scientific realism and the development of scientific concepts.

Requirements and grading

Students are expected to attend and participate in class, do the assigned readings, complete homework assignments, write two short papers, and a final paper. Assignments and papers are due at the beginning of class on the date mentioned on the assignment and have to be turned in on paper. Grading will be based on correctness and clarity.

The final grade depends on small homework assignments (10%), two short papers (20% each), and a term paper (50%). Every student can take up to two "late days" for handing in the homework assignments during the semester. Otherwise, late homework will not be accepted (except in cases of documented emergencies).

Overview of topics

Here are the main topics for each week. For more detailed and up-to-date information, see the schedule.

  1. Introduction
  2. Historical background
  3. Logical empiricism
  4. Induction and confirmation
  5. Popper: Conjecture and refutation
  6. Kuhn and normal science
  7. Kuhn and revolutions
  8. Kuhn and progress
  9. Lakatos, Laudan, Feyerabend, and frameworks
  10. Sociology of science, feminism, and science studies
  11. Scientific realism
  12. Explanation
  13. tba (possibly: Bayesianism or Reductionism)

The fine print

McGill University values academic integrity. Therefore all students must understand the meaning and consequences of cheating, plagiarism and other academic offences under the Code of Student Conduct and Disciplinary Procedures (see for more information).

Instructor generated course materials (e.g., handouts, notes, summaries, exam questions, etc.) are protected by law and may not be copied or distributed in any form or in any medium without explicit permission of the instructor. Note that infringements of copyright can be subject to follow up by the University under the Code of Student Conduct and Disciplinary Procedures.

In accord with McGill University's Charter of Students' Rights, students in this course have the right to submit in English or in French any written work that is to be graded.

In the event of extraordinary circumstances beyond the University’s control, the content and/or evaluation scheme in this course is subject to change.

Dirk Schlimm
Department of Philosophy
Leacock 916