LFILO 2602: Philosophy of Science (Advanced Studies)

Website for 2Q, 2022–2023; last updated on July 28, 2022; also taught 1Q, 2021-2022, 1Q 2019-2020, …

Professor: Charles H. Pence
Course Time: Tuesday, 10h45–12h45, SOCR 43
Final Exam: (to be determined)
Course Details: 5.0 credits, 30.0h

Main Themes

Each year, three central themes are addressed concerning the dialogue between natural sciences and philosophical questions.


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 or prepare a master’s mémoire on specific topics. We will start with a brief historical overview of the philosophy of science, then consider a number of 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 science and ethics.

Other Information

The course requires a significant knowledge of English; we will be reading sources from the philosophy of science that are often unavailable in translation. Depending upon student language skills and the presence of international students, I may lead course lectures in French; students are also free to ask questions and discuss the course material with me in French, and all course assignments may be written in French.

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 Paper (60%): The primary output from this course will be a single seminar paper. You are free to write this paper in English or in French, though if you write in French I will not be able to provide commentary on the style or quality of your academic writing (e.g., if you would like to use this paper for admission to graduate programs).

    We will construct this paper in stages, beginning with a short outline due around the middle of the quadrimester, followed by a draft on which I will offer comments and a final draft at the end of the semester, which you will present in your oral presentation. The hope is to produce high-quality papers, suitable for submission to a graduate journal, a conference, or as writing samples for your entrance into a doctoral program, should you be inclined to do so.

    Some paper topics will be discussed over the course of the semester, but it will ultimately be your responsibility to select a topic in line with your interests. Students who select a paper topic that they genuinely enjoy almost always earn higher grades. Spend time thinking (and talking to me!) about how to connect our material to your various philosophical interests.

  • Oral Presentation (40%): At the end of the course, you will be asked to present the topic of your final paper project, as well as to provide commentary on the presentations of your fellow students.

In the August session, the evaluation consists of a written exam (100%).

Paper Information

As noted above, the final paper will be written in stages. Here’s more information about how that process works. Note that all of the below (including the paper as well as the presentation) may be in either French or English.

  • Outline/Sketch: Due on April 16.

    Your first task is to prepare an outline or sketch of your paper idea. Your topic can be anything that you are interested in, as long as it’s in some way related to part of the material that we cover in the course. (If you’re not sure, send me an e-mail to check.)

    There is no defined format for this outline, because I know that everyone has different ways in which they prepare papers. The minimal requirement is to have enough text that it would amount to around one page total (whether that’s a “outline” or merely a sketch of what you would like to do is up to you), and to have at least three sources that will be important to your argument.

    Feel free as part of the outline to ask me for help – whether that’s finding more references, or help filling in parts of the argument, or anything else that you’d like.

    I will return comments on these outlines by April 21.

  • Draft for Comments: Due no later than May 12, can be submitted earlier.

    If you would like comments on your paper from me, you must submit a full draft to me no later than May 12. This will give me enough time to write detailed comments, return them to you, and then give you enough time to be able to incorporate those comments.

    I will return comments on these drafts by May 26.

  • Final Version: Due on June 15, by 23:59, can be submitted earlier.

    I do not precisely specify the length required for this paper, but I would be surprised if you can write a high-quality, master’s level research paper in less than 7 or 8 pages (double-spaced), and I would be equally surprised if you need more than 15 pages (double-spaced) to make your point.

Schedule and Readings

  • February 6: Introduction to Philosophy of Science
    Readings: Carnap, “On the Character of Philosophic Problems” (1934), Popper, “Science: Conjectures and Refutations” (1963)

  • February 13: Opposing the Received View
    Readings: Hanson, “Observation” (1958); Feyerabend, Against Method, part 16 (1975; optional, but recommended no. 5, bottom p. 190 to bottom p. 197)

  • February 20: Kuhn 1
    Readings: Kuhn, Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), chapters 1–5 (version française, introduction–ch. 4)

  • February 27: Kuhn 2
    Readings: Kuhn, Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), chapters 6–9 (version française, ch. 5–8)

  • March 6: Kuhn 3
    Readings: Kuhn, Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), chapters 10–13 and Postscript (version française, ch. 9–12 et postface)

  • March 13: Scientific Explanation
    Readings: Hempel and Oppenheim, “Studies in the Logic of Explanation” (excerpt, 1948); van Fraassen, “The Pragmatics of Explanation” (1977)

  • March 20: Scientific Realism
    Readings: Maxwell, “The Ontological Status of Theoretical Entities” (1962); van Fraassen, “Arguments Concerning Scientific Realism” (1980); Laudan, “A Confutation of Convergent Realism” (1981)

  • March 27: Values in Science
    Readings: Douglas, “Origins of the Value-Free Ideal for Science” (2009); Douglas, “Values in Science” (2016; optional for more contemporary background); Teller’s letter to Szilard about their moral responsibility for the atomic bomb (1945; optional but recommended and chilling)

  • April 3, April 10: spring break

  • April 17: Feminist Philosophy of Science
    Readings: Read one or both of: Richardson, “When Gender Criticism Becomes Standard Practice: The Case of Sex Determination Genetics” (2008; for a particuar application); Okruhlik, “Gender and the Biological Sciences” (1994; for a broader overview)

  • April 24: Denalism and Agnotology
    Readings: Proctor, “Agnotology: A Missing Term to Describe the Cultural Production of Ignorance (and Its Study),” (2008); Oreskes and Conway, “The Denial of Global Warming” (2010); Oreskes, “The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change: How Do We Know We’re Not Wrong?” (2007; optional for more background on climate science)

  • May 1: (university closed)

  • May 8: Student Presentations I
  • May 15: Student Presentations II
    If the number of students in the course permits it, we may condense student presentations to a single day and have another day of material on May 8.