Last updated 08/19/2020 — accessed:


HPS 1653 / PHIL 1610 — Introduction to Philosophy of Science

Fall 2020 Syllabus and Schedule

LECTURES MW 1:15-2:05
Synchronous mode via Zoom
RECITATIONS as scheduled
Zoom only

(Prof.) Colin Allen <>
Office: Zoom
Office hours: Tuesday 1:30-3:30 and by appointment
Canvas site:

Tanner Leighton <>
Office: Zoom
Office hours: Tu 6pm-7pm and Th 11:30am-12:30pm

Course Description

The aim of this course is to provide a broad survey of some the most fundamental and general questions in philosophy of science, and to cultivate your ability to think through these difficult questions in a clear and critical way. The course is divided in two main parts. In the first part, we follow a text-book presentation of key questions such as: "What is science?", "Is there a unique scientific method?", and "Is science aiming at true theories, or does it only aim at theories that are consistent with observable phenomena?" We tackle these questions by looking at issues such as the problem of induction and the nature of scientific explanation. We critically assess the main philosophical views surrounding these questions and issues, and we consider the relevance of historical and sociological approaches to the philosophy of science. After the midterm we will revisit these issues by reading some of the primary literature, including some older classics and some more recent articles that showcase current approaches to these issues. Throughout the course we will be concerned with applications of these general concerns to particular issues in the physical sciences, the life sciences, and the cognitive sciences.

Learning Objectives

By the end of this course you should have a broad understanding of the key issues and approaches in the last 100 years of philosophy of science up to the present day. You will gain more than a passing familiarity with empiricism, logical positivism, the demarcation problem, the problems of induction, the nature of scientific explanation, scientific laws, scientific realism, causal reasoning, scientific revolutions, historical and sociological challenges to philosophy of science, naturalistic approaches to the philosophy of science, and feminist perspectives on science. This basis will enable you to read the primary literature and to begin to engage in ongoing debates over such issues as how to think about "the scientific method", whether the different sciences can be unified, the extent to which different kinds of "values" do and should enter into scientific reasoning, and how different positions on these issues affect our understanding of questions arising in specific sciences, such as whether string theory in physics is properly "scientific", or whether the mental states of animals can be investigated scientifically.

Course Delivery / Health & Safety

A "one-size-fits-all" approach is never suitable for any learning environment, and this is perhaps even more significant in the current situation. I will therefore appreciate your patience and flexibility as we figure out what works best for you this semester.

This course is being taught under the Flex@Pitt model and the semester begins with the "Elevated Risk" posture. Thus, our initial stance is that main lectures are synchronous meetings at 1:15pm Mondays and Wednesdays. Recitation sections with your TA are also online only at the scheduled time. Zoom links for lectures and recitations will be provided through Canvas. We will use breakout rooms regularly to foster discussion.

The operating posture may change as determined by university authorities. If the university goes to "high risk", then all lecture and recitations will continue to be online only. In "guarded risk" we may have hybrid online/classroom meetings for the main lectures or recitations and the presumption is that there will be more opportunities for person-to-person interaction. For the most up-to-date information and guidance, please visit and check your Pitt email for updates before each class.

In the midst of this pandemic, it is extremely important that you abide by public health regulations and University of Pittsburgh health standards and guidelines. While in the classroom, at a minimum this means that you must wear a face covering and comply with physical distancing requirements; other requirements may be added by the University during the semester. These rules have been developed to protect the health and safety of all community members. Failure to comply with these requirements will result in you not being permitted to attend class in person and could result in a Student Conduct violation.

If you know already that synchronous attendance, whether by Zoom or in the classroom, presents special difficulties for you please let your instructor or TA know immediately so that we may discuss options. Similarly, if you become too unwell to attend class meetings during the semester, you should let us know as soon as possible.

The Department of History & Philosophy of Science has established a teaching buddy system to ensure that classes will be covered in the case of instructor illness.

Required Materials

Grading Basis

Grades will be based on three writing assignments, a midterm, a final, and additional bonus credit for lecture/recitation participation (which may include surveys and other short writing exercises).

  1. Tuesday Sept 08 first Writing Assignment due (10 points); 1-2 pages.
  2. Thursday Oct 01 second Writing Assignment due (15 points); 2-4 pages.
  3. Monday Oct 12 MIDTERM (20 points).
  4. Thursday Nov 05 third Writing Assigment due (25 points); 4-6 pages.
  5. Nov 23 FINAL (30 points).
  6. Bonus for lecture/recitation participation (up to 10 points).

Essays will be due via Canvas by midnight on the specified date, and accepted without penalty until 7 a.m. the next morning. Essays that are late beyond that will not be accepted except by prior arrangment or with a documented emergency excuse. Work that is not turned in will automatically receive half of the assigned points provided that you have completed all the previous major assignments and exam. Some of you may find this guide to writing philosophy papers useful.

For the midterm and final exams you will be given questions a few days in advance, and you may either submit your work via Canvas before NOON on the specified date, or you must log in to Canvas during the specified class time and complete the assignment before the end of the scheduled period.

Letter grades will be based on the following scale:
[100+, A+]   [95-99, A]   [90-94, A-]   [87-89, B+]   [84-86, B]   [80-83, B-]   [77-79, C+]   [74-76, C]   [70-73, C-]   [60-69, D]   [0-59, F]

A Note on Attendance

Attendance will not be formally monitored but some in-lecture/recitation activities will be graded for the purpose of determining participation scores, and will not be available for outside of class except in cases of excused absence. Lecture slides will be used intermittently during the semester and will only be made available after class, if they are used. Portions of the class may be recorded (see statement on recordings below) and made available via Canvas for your personal use only.

If you anticipate technological or other difficulties that will make it difficult for you to participate fully via Zoom or in person, please bring them up immediately so that we can try to find a suitable alternative.

Schedule of Readings, Topics, and Major Assignments

The reading load is substantial compared to science classes, but fewer pages than you might be assigned in a literature or history course. Here's what a former student from this course in Fall 2019 wrote:

“Lots of reading, but it's worth it to work to understand it.”

Lectures and recitations, including certain class-time exercises will assume that you have done the reading for that day in advance. Reading philosophy is hard; it is less easy to skim-read than other kinds of content, so see my Guide to Reading, especially if you have not taken a philosophy class previously. Don't expect to be able to do it entirely on your own. If you reach something you just don't understand, that's perfect! — discuss it with your classmates and/or bring up with your instructor or TA.

In the schedule, B&K# refers to chapter # in the textbook by Barker & Kitcher. Kuhn-- refers to chapters in Thomas Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions.


DateTopic / EventReading Assignments
Wed 08/19 1. Introduction to the course Read this syllabus!
Mon 08/24 2. Science and Philosophy • B&K.1 (11 pages) and
• Wolchover 2015 Quanta Magazine article "A Fight for the Soul of Science" (8 pages)
Wed 08/26 3. Deduction, Induction, Abduction • B&K.1 (reread) and
• Douven 2017 Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on "Abduction" (2.5 page excerpt)
Mon 08/31 4. The Analytic Project • B&K.2: Read at least the first two sections: "Demarcating Science" and "Confirmation" (22.5/36 pages)
Wed 09/02 5. Hypothetico-Deductive Method • Review/Finish B&K.2 (13.5/36 pages)
 [OPTIONAL: Read the first 9 (or more) pages of Hempel 1966 Ch2 of "Scientific inquiry: invention and test"]
Mon 09/07 6. The View from the Sciences • B&K.3 (27 pages)
Tue 09/08 — Short paper due by midnight
Wed 09/09 7. Collaboratory Sci. & Phil. • Allen & Bekoff 1994 "Intentionality, Social Play, and Definition" (11 pages)
Mon 09/14 8. Science, History & Society • B&K.4 (26 pages)
Wed 09/16 9. Science, History, and Society (cont'd) • Kuhn 1970: Read Chapter 1 (Introdution) of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (2nd ed.) (9 pages)
 [OPTIONAL: keep reading Kuhn's book … it's required later!]
Mon 09/21 10. Critical Voices • B&K.5 (First three sections, 16 pages) • Read about Barbara McClintock
Wed 09/23 11. Critical Voices cont'd • Finish B&K.5 (13 pages)
 [OPTIONAL: Read a few pages of Lloyd 1995 "Objectivity and the Double Standard for Feminist Epistemologies"]
Mon 09/28 12. Science, Values, and Politics • B&K.6 (27 pages)
Wed 09/30 13. More Values • Review/finish B&K.6
  [OPTIONAL: Read a few pages of Douglas 2000 "Values and Inductive Risk in Science"]
Thu 10/01 — Short paper due by midnight
Mon 10/05 14. Review Catch up! Review all previous materials
Wed 10/07 15. Pre-Midterm review / Q&A Continue to review previous materials
Mon 10/12 — Midterm
Wed 10/14 — NO Class!  [OPTIONAL: start to get ahead on reading Kuhn for the week after next]
Mon 10/19 16. Hypothetic-Deductive Method • Hempel 1966 Ch2 of "Scientific inquiry: invention and test" (16 pages)
 [OPTIONAL: Goodman 1955 "The new riddle of induction" (25 pages)]
Wed 10/21 17. Falsificationism • Popper 1962 "Science: Conjectures and Refutations" (21 pages)
Mon 10/26 18. "Normal" Science Kuhn Chapters I-VIII (91 pages!!)
Wed 10/28 19. Scientific Revolutions Kuhn Chapters VII-XIII (82 pages!)
Mon 11/02 20. Empiricism after Kuhn • Cartwright 1983 "Do Laws State Facts?" (14 pages)
Wed 11/04 21. Objectivity • Lloyd 1995 "Objectivity and the Double Standard for Feminist Epistemologies" (26 pages)
Mon 11/09 22. Values • Douglas 2000 "Values and Inductive Risk in Science" (20 pages)
Wed 11/11 23. Third Wave Sociology of ScienceCollins 2019 "Elective Modernism" (23 pages)
Thu 11/12 — Short paper due by midnight
Mon 11/16 24. Scientific Ontology • EITHER Fuller 2018 "What are chronic diseases?" (22 pages)
• OR: Stotz et al. 2004 "How biologists conceptualize genes: an empirical study" (26 pages)
Wed 11/18 25. Review Q&A catch up!
WED 12/02 8AM — Final Exam

Statement about Academic Misconduct

Students in this course will be expected to comply with the University of Pittsburgh’s Policy on Academic Integrity. Any student suspected of violating this obligation for any reason during the semester will be required to participate in the procedural process as outlined in the University Guidelines on Academic Integrity. When you submit assignments with your name on them in this course, you are signifying that the work contained therein is all yours, unless otherwise cited or referenced. Any ideas or materials taken from another source for either written or oral use must be fully acknowledged. If you are unsure about the expectations for completing an assignment or taking a test or exam, be sure to seek clarification beforehand.

To learn more about Academic Integrity, visit the Academic Integrity Guide for an overview of the topic. For hands-on practice, complete the tutorial on Understanding and Avoiding Plagiarism.

Diversity and Inclusion

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal anti-discrimination statute that provides comprehensive civil rights protection for persons with disabilities. Among other things, this legislation requires that all students with disabilities be guaranteed a learning environment that provides for reasonable accommodation of their disabilities. If you have a disability for which you are or may be requesting an accommodation, you are encouraged to contact both your instructor and Disability Resources and Services (DRS), 140 William Pitt Union, 412-648-7890,, 412-228-5347 for P3 ASL users, as early as possible in the term. DRS will verify your disability and determine reasonable accommodations for this course.

The University of Pittsburgh does not tolerate any form of discrimination, harassment, or retaliation based on disability, race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, genetic information, marital status, familial status, sex, age, sexual orientation, veteran status or gender identity or other factors as stated in the University’s Title IX policy. The University is committed to taking prompt action to end a hostile environment that interferes with the University’s mission. For more information about policies, procedures, and practices, see Pitt's Civil Rights & Title IX Compliance pages.

I ask that everyone in the class strive to help ensure that other members of this class can learn in a supportive and respectful environment. If there are instances of the aforementioned issues, you may contact the Title IX Coordinator, by calling 412-648-7860, or e-mailing Reports can also be filed online: You may also choose to report this to a faculty/staff member; they may also be required to communicate about such issues to the University’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion. If you wish to maintain complete confidentiality, you may also contact the University Counseling Center 412-648-7930.

Statement on Classroom Recording

To ensure the free and open discussion of ideas, students may not record classroom lectures, discussion and/or activities without the advance written permission of the instructor, and any such recording properly approved in advance can be used solely for the student’s own private use.

At certain times, lectures or portions of the lectures may be recorded by the instructor. Before starting recording, it will be announced to the class. Students who do not wish to be identifiable during such recordings may remain silent and obscure their faces either by turning off their own video feed if connected via Zoom or obscuring their faces if in the classroom.

Copyright Notice

Materials provided for the course may be protected by copyright. United States copyright law, 17 USC section 101, et seq., in addition to University policy and procedures, prohibit unauthorized duplication or retransmission of course materials. See Library of Congress Copyright Office and the University Copyright Policy.