How To Think About Science: An Introduction to Philosophy of Science

Mandatory-Elective in:

Elective in:

Course Description: 

The way science works raises deep and pressing philosophical questions that should concern everyone engaged with sciences. Is there a way to demarcate science from pseudo-science or ideology? How is scientific knowledge made reliable? Is it giving us access to reality or is it merely a tool, e.g. for successful prediction or explanation?

The so-called “analytic” project within philosophy of science focused on these and similar (by now) classic issues, under the following keywords: the demarcation of science, induction, falsification, confirmation, realism versus instrumentalism, the nature of theories, and how laws of nature and explanation should be understood. During the second half of the 20th century, when history of science and the intermingling of science and society were gaining a more prominent role in philosophical debates, attention in philosophy of science diversified towards further questions, for instance: What follows philosophically from looking at the history of science, in particular the study of scientific revolutions? If social values influence sciences, is that legitimate? In which sense, if any, is science itself social and political, and therefore normative?

Part I will deal with the classic issues of philosophy of science, with a focus on the methods of science. It will have lectures and exercises and close with a mid-term test. In addition, there will be group tutorials offered by the TA in preparation of the test. Part II will concern core epistemic goals of sciences, such as explanation, classification and generalization. We will discuss major works and some special and controversial cases regarding these epistemic goals. As in Part I, this will involve exercises in small groups to increase the depth of the learning experience. Part III will deal with contemporary issues regarding history of science, value-ladenness, the social structure of science, objectivity, science skepticism, biases and the production of ignorance.

By taking an abstract, philosophical stance, students will learn how to think about science in a philosophical manner – that is, regarding science in general and regarding their own respective disciplines. They shall understand how sciences function epistemically and socially.

What to expect from faculty and the teaching assistant: The course leader (Maria Kronfeldner) directs the course, delivers the lectures and introductions to the discussion sessions, shares responsibility with the TA during the exercises and group work sessions, decides about the readings and the test, etc. Further faculty (see list above) join for one full session and contribute a short hands-on input (15-30 min) from their own area of expertise and disciplinary perspective related to exercises of the students. The teaching assistant will take over some responsibilities during the introduction, exercises and group work sessions, will manage and direct the online forum, will tutor students with respect to their readings, test preparation, research for and writing of their final essay.
Learning Outcomes: 

Students will

-       get a general introduction to the philosophy of science that prepares them for more specific, discipline or field related CEU courses on the methodology and ontology of the social sciences,

-       learn to understand and appreciate the nature of philosophical problems,

-       learn to critically look at their discipline’s goals, practices and kinds of knowledge produced thereby, and

-       learn to reflect on the role of sciences in society and how social values can influence sciences.


Grades will be based on the results of the mid-term test (40%), the end-of-term 1000 word essay (40%), and in class participation (including written contributions produced as part of group work or the online forum) (20%).

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