Philosophy of Science

Fall 2015

Robert Mangold, Ring B, Orange, 2010

Robert Mangold, Ring B, Orange, 2010.


Course CodeLocation Times
PHIL-SHU 90-001 (19362)1555 Century Avenue, Room 304Tuesdays and Thursdays, 11:30am–12:45pm


NameEmailOfficeConsultation Times
Brad Weslakebrad.weslake@nyu.edu1555 Century Avenue, Room 1226Tuesdays and Thursdays, 3:00pm–4:00pm, or by appointment.


This is a survey course in general philosophy of science. Our topics include: Is scientific knowledge different from other forms of knowledge? Should the history of science be seen as an ever-increasing advance of knowledge? Given that most scientific theories have turned out to be false, are we justified in believing that our current theories are true? What are scientific explanations, and what makes an explanation better than another? Do the laws of nature govern the world or simply encapsulate some interesting patterns in the world? What is the relationship between more and less fundamental scientific theories? We will examine these questions through readings drawn from both the history and philosophy of science.


The aim of this course is for students to significantly improve their capacity to:



The final grade will be determined approximately as follows:

First Paper: 20%
Second Paper: 30%
Third Paper: 40%
Attendance and participation: 10%

Due dates:

First Paper: Tuesday 6 October[PDF]
Second Paper: Thursday 12 November[PDF]
Third Paper: Thursday 10 December[PDF]


Attendance and Lateness

Students are required to attend all classes on time. An explanation for every absence or late attendance must be submitted in writing to the instructor. Every failure to attend class on time will count against the component of the final grade awarded for attendance and participation, unless an explanation is received and approved at least one day prior to the class in question. Requests for exceptions will be considered on a case by case basis, and typically granted only when related to an illness or other unforeseeable change in life circumstance. Students who have been excessively absent will be considered to have unofficially withdrawn and will be given a final grade of F.


It is a condition on passing this course that students read and adhere to the NYU Shanghai policy on academic integrity as described in the current NYU Shanghai Academic Bulletin.


Meeting 1: What is Philosophy of Science? (Tuesday 1 September)

Section I: What is Science?

Meeting 2: Falsificationism (Friday 4 September)

Meeting 3: Normal Science (Tuesday 8 September)

Meeting 4: Testing and Auxiliary Hypotheses (Thursday 10 September)

Meeting 5: String Theory I (Tuesday 15 September)

Meeting 6: String Theory II (Thursday 17 September)

Meeting 7: String Theory III (Tuesday 22 September)

Meeting 8: The Demise of Demarcation (Thursday 24 September)

Section II: Induction and Confirmation

Meeting 9: The Old Problem of Induction I (Tuesday 6 October)

Meeting 10: The Old Problem of Induction II (Thursday 8 October)

Meeting 11: Theories of Confirmation I (Tuesday 13 October)

Meeting 12: Theories of Confirmation II (Thursday 15 October)

Meeting 13: The New Problem of Induction (Tuesday 20 October)

Section III: Values and Objectivity

Meeting 14: Bias and its Consequences (Thursday 22 October)

Meeting 15: Values and Inductive Risk (Tuesday 27 October)

Meeting 16: Values and Underdetermination (Thursday 29 October)

Special Event on Monday 2 November
“Expanding Epistemic Risk“, a lecture by Rebecca Kukla, Professor of Philosophy at Georgetown University (5:30pm–6:30pm, Room 101).

Section IV: Laws

Meeting 17: Against Fundamentalism (Tuesday 3 November)

Meeting 18: For Fundamentalism (Thursday 5 November)

Meeting 19: Regularities (Tuesday 10 November)

Meeting 20: Necessities (Thursday 12 November)

Meeting 21: Governing (Sunday 15 November)

Section V: Explanation

Meeting 22: Nomological Theories (Tuesday 17 November)

Meeting 23: Singular Causal Explanations (Thursday 19 November)

Meeting 24: Causal Theories (Tuesday 24 November)

Meeting 25: Explanatory Depth (Tuesday 1 December)

Section VI: Reduction and Emergence

Meeting 26: (Thursday 3 December)

Meeting 27: (Tuesday 8 December)

Meeting 28: (Thursday 10 December)

Updated: 2 December 2015