Metaphysics, Epistemology and the Sciences
Paper manager: Tim Lewens
|Fri 10am (weeks 1–4)|
|Languages of Science|
Hasok Chang, Anna Alexandrova
|Tue 12noon (weeks 1–8)|
|Metaphysics of Science: The Challenge of Biology|
|Tue 10am (weeks 1–8)|
|The Nature of Scientific Knowledge|
|Thu 12noon (weeks 1–8)|
This paper provides a canonical treatment of general philosophy of science. It is recommended for any Part II HPS students who wish to acquire firm grounding for further work in philosophy of science (either in graduate degrees, or in more specialised papers in Part II).
Larry Laudan, 'A Confutation of Convergent Realism' Philosophy of Science 48 (1981): 19–49
Tim Lewens (4 seminars, Michaelmas Term) supervisions by Christina McLeish
Why believe our best scientific theories are even close to the truth? After all, the history of science seems to be a history of failure: apparently successful theories have repeatedly been cast off as false in the light of later evidence. Shouldn't we suppose the same fate is in store for today's most cherished scientific views? Laudan's seminal article is often cited (perhaps erroneously) as the source for this 'pessimistic induction', one of the most powerful anti-realist arguments. The article also addresses many other questions that are central to the study of philosophy of science, including issues relating to truth and reference, the use of historical evidence in philosophical argumentation, the proper form of inductive inference, and so forth.
Languages of Science
Hasok Chang, Anna Alexandrova (8 lectures, Michaelmas Term)
In this course we consider the 'languages' of science, namely the ways in which the content of science is expressed. Is there a pure observational language, as the positivists maintained, or is observation inevitably 'theory-laden'? Can we say that the proper language of science is mathematics? How do scientists quantify and formalise nature? What is the nature of models used in science, and what kind of knowledge can we gain from modelling and simulation? Do theories and models rely essentially on analogies and metaphors?
Metaphysics of Science: The Challenge of Biology
Tim Lewens (8 lectures, Lent Term)
What does science tell us about the world? And should we take metaphysical lessons from science? In this course we make a critical examination of some common metaphysical notions concerning science. Attention will be focused on biology, and especially on the challenge that biology poses to metaphysical views of the sciences inspired by a diet of examples taken from the physical sciences. Topics covered will include natural kinds, essentialism, causation and laws of nature.
The Nature of Scientific Knowledge
Tim Lewens (8 lectures, Lent Term)
Building on the 'Theory and Evidence' course on the Part IB Philosophy of Science paper, we will investigate some classic epistemological questions concerning science. What is the process of scientific discovery? What kind of perception constitutes scientific observation? How is observation used to test theories? How should scientists choose between competing theories? What do successful scientific theories achieve? Can we have reliable knowledge about unobservables?
- Curd, Martin and JA Cover (eds), Philosophy of Science: The Central Issues (Norton, 1998)
- Dupré, John, The Disorder of Things: Metaphysical Foundations of the Disunity of Science (Harvard, 1993)
- Godfrey-Smith, Peter, Theory and Reality: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Science (Chicago, 2003)
- Hanson, Norwood Russell, Perception and Discovery (Freeman, Cooper & Company, 1969)
- Morgan, Mary and Margaret Morrison (eds), Models as Mediators: Perspectives on Natural and Social Science (Cambridge, 1999)
- Ortony, Andrew (ed), Metaphor and Thought, 2nd edn (Cambridge, 1979)
- Psillos, Stathis and Martin Curd (eds), The Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Science (Routledge, 2008)
- Rosenberg, Alex and Daniel McShea, Philosophy of Biology: A Contemporary Introduction (Routledge, 2008)