Philosophy of Science.
Professor Janet D. Stemwedel
Spring 2014





Thursday, April 24:

* Short essay #4, originally due in class on Tuesday, April 29, is now due in class on Thursday, May 1. The short essay questions are here (you're responsing to prompt #4 in this essay).

Note that your essay will need to explain:

(1) What van Fraassen thinks is the different about observing something and detecting something. His definition of "observable" will be important here, but note that there are some things that count as observable that we get information about by way of "detection" rather than "obervation" (perhaps because we are too far from them in space or time). The particular issue here is what to say about what our observation of tree-ring width and density gives us (an observation or a detection) for past temperatures -- and why van Fraassen thinks the difference matters.

(2) What van Fraassen thinks scientists should do as far as including inferences of temperatures from tree-rings in scientific theories (and in testing those theories). This is connected to the larger question of how van Fraassen thinks scientists should regard the different kinds of claims in their theories (i.e., the claims the theory makes about observables and the claims the theory makes about unobservables).

Note that the Skeptical Science article provides an interesting discussion of how climate scientists use tree-ring data, but you don't need to delve into these details in your essay. All you really need from the article is the fact that climate scientists use tree-ring data to infer temperatures for stretches of time for which we have no direct measurements from thermometers.

As far as where to get a handle on van Fraassen's view, Peter Godfrey-Smith's chapter on the realism/anti-realism debate is likely to be at least as helpful as the van Fraassen reading in the course reader.

Monday, March 31:

Short essay #3, originally due in class on Tuesday, April 1, is now due in class Tuesday, April 8. The short essay questions are here (you're responsing to prompt #3 in this essay).

Note that your essay will need to explain:

(1) What Longino's basic idea of objectivity (and how scientists can better achieve it) is. Note that the beginning of her article describes views of objectivity that she thinks are mistaken -- you don't need to rehearse these criticisms! Rather, try to spell out what she thinks is the right way to understand objectivity.

(2) The kinds of behaviors discussed in the Skeptical Science article on "Climategate" and the peer review process that Longino would think are bad ways to behave if you're trying to build objective knowledge. (It will help here to look at Longino's discussion of peer review, and some of the ways people actually behave in the peer review process that work against making more objective knowledge). Note that the critics of the climate scientists in question may have falsely alleged that those climate scientists we behaving in particular ways -- that's fine. For the purposes of this essay, it's enough to describe ways it would be bad for climate scientists who want to be objective to behave when engaging in peer review.

(3) Steps you think scientists engaged in peer review should take to make published work as objective as possible. It's a good idea to link these steps to the ways-scientists-shouldn't-behave-to-be-objective that you described (in (2) above).


Thursday, March 13:

* Midterm review materials have been posted. The format of the exam is described here, and the review sheet is here. The exam itself will be in class Tuesday, March 18, and our class meeting on Thursday, March 13 will be a review session for the exam. The most useful materials for your reviewing are likely to be the assigned readings from our textbook (Peter Godfrey-Smith, Theory and Reality), your class notes, and the lecture slides from lectures that had slides.

Tuesday, February 25:

* Since you'll be logging into Canvas anyway to discuss the Kuhn readings and lectures for February 27, this is a good time to get started on the Journal Club assignment. The first step is to find yourself a group. Then, after your group has talked a bit about how you want to divide up the list of eight different kinds of sources, you should write up a brief seach strategy and post it to your group's discussion area.

* Don't forget that you can find the lecture slides (for class meetings that have them) posted here; if you want to download the Powerpoint files, you can find them in Canvas

Thursday, February 20:

* Next Thursday, February 27, class will not meet. Instead, you will still be doing the assigned reading and watching two streaming video lectures (lecture 6 and lecture 7 here), and using the DIscussion area in Canvas to discuss these readings and lectures with your classmates. (I'll post some questions to get you started.)

* Short essay #2, originally due in class on Tuesday, March 4, is now due in class Thursday, March 6. The short essay questions are here (you're responsing to prompt #2 in this essay).

Note that your essay will need to explain:

(1) What Kuhn's view is about situations where scientists in a field are in agreement about a claim (such as the claim that human activity is responsible for global warming). Does he think such agreement is a good thing for science? A bad thing for science? An indication that this scientific community is operating in a particular kind of mode of scientific activity?

(2) Whether the claim in the Skeptical Science article that eventually "the testing period must come to an end" is something that Karl Popper would accept or reject as being part of the proper attitude toward scientific testing. (This means you'll need to give a brief description of Popper's account of scientific testing.)

This is a place, by the way, where Kuhn's picture of science and Popper's picture of science conflict with each other -- so part of the point of this essay is to explain the conflict!

Wednesday, February 5:

* Short essay #1 comes due at class time Tuesday, Feb. 11. Be sure to look at the question your essay is supposed to answer (#1 on the list) and the general guidelines for short essays. Also, you'll want to do the Hempel readings that the question asks you about, which you'll find in the online course reader in Canvas. (Click on the "Modules" link in the column of links on the left-hand side; the selections are labeled "Hempel, Philosophy of Natural Science 2.1-2.2, 2.3" and "Hempel, Philosophy of Natural Science 3.1-3.5".)

Note that your essay will need to explain:

(1) whether Hempel would say "Global warming has stopped and cooling is beginning" is a testable claim -- which means you'll need also to explain what Hempel thinks makes a claim testable (or not testable).

(2) if you think he'd say the claim isn't testable in its present form, how we might modify the claim (e.g., making it more precise in particular ways) to make it testable. (If you think the claim is testable already, it wouldn't hurt to explain how its current wording is precise enough, etc.)

The linked article from Skeptical Science may be helpful in telling you something about how scientists actually try to test claims that are at least in the same neighborhood -- so it may give you some details you can use in your discussion of how the claim is testable, or isn't testable, or could be testable if it were rephrased as ...

* Check out the lecture slides page to access the slides from Thursday's lecture. (If you want to download the Powerpoint file, click through to my Slideshare page from the in-page slideshow.)

Saturday, January 11: According to MySJSU, Phil 160 sec 03 (the TuTh 12:00 PM section) is filled.

It is likely that some seats will open up in section 03. However, I won't be able to distribute permission numbers until the second class meeting at the earliest. If you are interested in adding the course (after checking out the course information on this website), your best course of action is to attend the first two class meetings and get on the list for adds.


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