• Instructor: Sorensen, David
  • Description:

    01 (D. Sorensen) In this course, we will survey historical and contemporary debates about the proper aims of scientific inquiry and its (potential) limitations. Scientific realists argue that we are justified in accepting what our best scientific theories tell us about the world. So, we are justified in believing in the theoretical entities (both observable and unobservable), properties, and laws posited by our best (current) theories and realists are optimistic that, in the long run, science will give us an even more accurate picture of reality. Anti-realists reject one or more of these assumptions. We will begin by studying several anti-realist alternatives, including: Neo-Kantianism, positivism, constructive empiricism, relativism, and social constructionism. We will then examine several challenges to scientific realism, such as the argument from pessimistic meta-induction, underdetermination of theory by data, and skepticism about abduction. To close off the semester, we will look at several applications of the realist/anti-realist debate in fundamental physics and in the special sciences (e.g. primordial cosmology, paleontology, and cognitive science).

    Here are some of the questions that we will raise and try to answer:

    • Does science track the truth?
    • How is scientific knowledge possible?
    • Should we believe that the theoretical entities of our best theories exist in some mind-independent reality?
    • Do sociological, historical, and/or skeptical considerations undermine our justification in current scientific theories?
    • To what degree does science construct entities like planets, cells, and quarks?
    • How might philosophical debates about realism be relevant to scientific practice?
  • Credits: 3
  • Sample Syllabus
  • Syllabus Disclaimer: The information on this syllabus is subject to change. For up-to-date course information, please refer to the syllabus on your course site (e.g. Canvas) on the first day of class.