LFILO 2240: Advanced Studies in the Philosophy of Natural Sciences A

Website for 1Q, 2019–2020; last updated on September 8, 2019

Professor: Charles H. Pence
Course Time: Tuesday, 16h15–18h15, SOCR 20
Final Exam: January 13, 2020, 9h00–12h00, C.211 FIAL (ERAS?)
Course Details: 5.0 credits, 30.0h

Main Themes

Philosophical analysis of contemporary scientific practices in accordance with a two-fold approach. Methodologically, to ask questions about the applicability and the limits of validity of scientific explanations, relative to other approaches to reality. In terms of content, to learn to see the contributions of natural science as a more general means of comprehending particular phenomena.


This course will take the form of an advanced survey of philosophy of science, designed to allow the student to pursue further high-level study on specific topics. We will start with a brief historical overview of the philosophy of science, then consider a number of classic problems in philosophy of science, such as the debate over scientific explanation, the dispute between scientific realists and anti-realists, and questions about the relationship between philosophy and scientific practice.

Required Readings

All of the readings will be posted electronically on the course readings website. The password for this website will be distributed via e-mail before the start of the course and in the first class session.

We will read the entirety of Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions. I will post a digital copy for you to use if you want, but I do think it’s worth owning your own. It is, of course, available in French translation as well, and you are welcome to read it in French.

Assignments and Grading

  • Final Examination (50%): The primary evaluation for this seminar will be an essay-format written examination on a number of written questions. I will distribute a list of around twelve questions early in the semester (provided in French and English), from which around six will be chosen at random for you to write on the day of the examination. You may write your exam in French or English, as you prefer.

  • Leading In-Class Discussion (30%): Some days in the class, we will have discussion primarily led by one of you – I will present a shorter lecture, and then you will be responsible for opening our discussion and posing questions to the other members of the class for us to discuss.

  • Participation and Attendance (20%): Students are expected to attend every session of the seminar and participate in in-class discussion of our readings and materials. Given the size of the course, I am hoping to foster a hybrid of a lecture and seminar format – lecturing at the beginning of each class period for not more than around half of our time, and opening up to discussion. Our discussions will be where you really learn most of our material. Philosophy is learned by doing, and always best as a conversation. Everyone is thus expected to study the material and come prepared to discuss it.

In the second session, the evaluation consists of a personal research essay (50%) and a written exam (50%).

Schedule and Readings

  • September 17: Introduction to Philosophy of Science
    Readings: Carnap, “On the Character of Philosophic Problems” (1934)

  • September 24: Kuhn 1
    Readings: Kuhn, Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), chapters 1–5 (version française, introduction–ch. 4)

  • October 1: Kuhn 2
    Readings: Kuhn, Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), chapters 6–9 (version française, ch. 5–8)

  • October 8: Kuhn 3
    Readings: Kuhn, Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), chapters 10–13 and Postscript (version française, ch. 9–12 et postface)

  • October 15: (no class, Prof. Pence away for conference)

  • October 22: Explanation 1 — Classics
    Readings: Hempel and Oppenheim, “Studies in the Logic of Explanation” (excerpt, 1948); van Fraassen, “The Pragmatics of Explanation” (1977)

  • October 29: Explanation 2 — Mechanisms
    Readings: Machamer, Darden, and Craver, “Thinking about Mechanisms” (2000); Nicholson, “The Concept of Mechanism in Biology” (2012)

  • November 5: Explanation 3 — Non-Causal Explanations
    Readings: Baker, “Are there Genuine Mathematical Explanations of Physical Phenomena?” (2005); Skow, “Are There Non-Causal Explanations (of Particular Events)?” (2014)

  • November 12: (no class, Prof. Pence away for conference)

  • November 19: Science and Practice 1
    Guest Lecturer: Oliver Lean
    Readings: Chang, “Epistemic Activities and Systems of Practice: Units of Analysis in Philosophy of Science After the Practice Turn” (2014); Galison, “History, Philosophy, and the Central Metaphor” (1988, optional)

  • November 26: Realism 1 — Classics
    Readings: Maxwell, “The Ontological Status of Theoretical Entities” (1962); Laudan, “A Confutation of Convergent Realism” (1981)

  • December 3: (no class, Prof. Pence away for conference)

    Paul Humphreys: Emergence, a Philosophical Account
    Readings: Humphreys, “Computational and Conceptual Emergence” (2008)

  • December 17: Realism 2 — Structural Realism
    Readings: Worrall, “Structural Realism: The Best of Both Worlds?” (1989); French, “The Interdependence of Structure, Objects and Dependence” (2010; optional)