Dr. McGrew, Fall 2012


Required Texts: There are two required texts for this course:


          McGrew, et al., The Philosophy of Science: An Historical Anthology (hereafter, PS), and

          Toulmin and Goodfield, The Fabric of the Heavens (hereafter, Fabric).


Additional material (which is fair game for tests and quizzes) may be passed out in class or made available on the web. Students are responsible to get internet access through WMU (it’s free) and make use of it to obtain relevant materials as assigned. The web address for this class is: 



Course Description: This is a study of central issues in the philosophy of science. Starting with the “textbook” model of scientific inquiry and a detailed examination of its inadequacies, we will explore the history of science and some of the philosophical problems connected with imagination, thought experiments, confirmation and disconfirmation of theories, holism, relativism, falsifiability and pseudo-science, induction, probability and statistical inference, prediction, explanation, empirical equivalence, realism and many other related themes. At the end of the course we will examine how some of these ideas are brought into sharp focus in more modern physics.


Students are not required to have strong background in either science or philosophy; although some familiarity with both will prove helpful, the course is self-contained. On the other hand, the course moves quickly and the lectures will contain a considerable amount of material not found in any of the texts. We will develop some elementary symbolic logic and a bit of probability theory (with applications to statistical argumentation) as we go along. This material, including some simple mathematics, is fair game for exams and quizzes.


General Education: This course may be used to satisfy General Education Area VII (Natural Science and Technology).


Course Requirements: This course meets Tuesday and Thursday of each week from 11:00 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. except for scheduled holidays. Missed exams and quizzes cannot generally be made up without a medical excuse. Attendance and class participation are taken into account in the determination of the final grade. In particular, I reserve the right to subtract five points from the final semester grade for each unexcused absence beyond the third. Students are expected to come to class having done the reading indicated on the syllabus and may be subjected to quizzes without notice.


Electronic Devices: The use of electronic communications and media devices, including but not limited to iPods, handheld games, cell phones, and laptop computers, is forbidden during class time. Digital recording devices may be used to record class lectures and discussion with the permission of the instructor. Cell phones must be turned off. If your cell phone rings during class, you may be required—without answering it—to speak for five minutes regarding the assigned reading for the day, and the quality of your presentation will be taken into account in the determination of your final grade for the course.


Academic Integrity: You are responsible for making yourself aware of and understanding the policies and procedures in the Undergraduate Catalog that pertain to Academic Integrity. These policies include cheating, fabrication, falsification and forgery, multiple submission, plagiarism, complicity and computer misuse. If there is reason to believe you have been involved in academic dishonesty, you will be referred to the Office of Student Conduct. You will be given the opportunity to review the charge(s). If you believe you are not responsible, you will have the opportunity for a hearing. You should consult with me if you are uncertain about an issue of academic honesty prior to the submission of an assignment or test.

Grading:  Aside from attendance, the course grade will be based on some scheduled assignments on the readings, unscheduled quizzes, two exams in the middle of the semester, and a final. The exams will be weighted equally. The grading scale is:



A       93-100

B                 83-87

C                 73-77

D       60-67

B/A            88-92

C/B            78-82

D/C            68-72

E       below 60


Note: The following course schedule is tentative. Because the material is difficult, some of it may take longer than the indicated time. You are expected to do the readings in accordance with the sequence of topics even if we are off schedule. Any alteration in exam dates will be announced in class ahead of time.


Course Schedule for PHIL 3550, Fall 2012



Readings, Videos, and other required materials


Introduction: What is science?

Sep 04

Introduction to the course. What is this thing called science?



Sep 06

The textbook model of science. The HD Model, predictivism, and the question of justification for scientific hypotheses.

“Overview of the Scientific Method” [Note: don’t believe everything you read!]


Hempel, in PS 5.2, pp. 344-46 (through the end of section 2 at the top of p. 346)


Sep 11

Problems of observation: selection, classification, and interpretation.

Visit the Purves Lab page and explore several of the visual illusions there, particularly the ones involving shading and color on the faces of cubes


Sep 13

The demarcation problem; Popper’s solution to the problem.

Popper, in PS 7.1, pp. 471-75 (through the end of section II)

RQ on Popper

Three problems from Greek science

Sep 18

The general problem of motion. Aristotle’s solution to the problem.

Introduction, sections 1 and 2, PS pp. 5-8

Fabric, pp. 90-105


Sep 20

The motion of the planets. The problem of prediction of the positions of the heavenly bodies and lunar and solar eclipses.

Fabric, pp. 23-37


Retrograde Motion: How it looks from Earth



Sep 25

The distinction between prediction and explanation. Explaining the motion of the planets. Aristotle’s explanation.

Fabric, pp. 105-12; 137-45


Sep 27

Ptolemy’s explanation

Retrograde motion explained on the Ptolemaic model



Oct 02

The size, shape, and motion of the Earth

Ptolemy, “The Earth: Its Size, Shape, and Immobility,” in PS 1.12, pp. 70-73

Eratosthenes and the measurement of the Earth

Images from a lunar eclipse, October 27, 2004


Thursday, October 4: First Exam



The Scientific Revolution from Copernicus to Galileo

Oct 09

Copernicus’s heliostatic model of the solar system. Ideals of natural motion.

Fabric, pp. 153-74


Oct 11

The problem of empirical equivalence and theoretical virtues. Inference to the best explanation.

Copernicus, “The Motion of the Earth,” in PS 2.3, pp. 112-19



Oct 16

The reaction to Copernicus’s theory.

The Golden Chain argument for the Copernican system.


Oct 18

Galileo’s telescopic observations and their interpretation.

Fabric, pp. 175-80

Galileo, Starry Messenger, selections


Oct 23

Integration of the Copernican system with Galileo’s “rational dynamics.”

Einstein and Infeld, The Evolution of Physics, pp. 3-25


Oct 25

Replacement of the Aristotelian ideals of natural motion.

Fabric, pp. 210-21

Galileo, “A Moving Earth is More Probable than the Alternative,” in PS 2.9, pp. 138-42


Oct 30

Rival Hypotheses and crucial experiments. Auxiliary hypotheses and ad hoc rescues revisited.

Feather and hammer dropped on the moon



Thursday, November 1: Second Exam

Thermodynamics: unobservable entities and statistical laws

Nov 06

The problem of unobservables and the atomic controversies. The caloric theory: heat as a fluid.

Einstein and Infeld, The Evolution of Physics, pp. 35-43.



Nov 08

Basic laws of empirical thermodynamics; energy and entropy. Rumford’s observations on the boring of cannon. Kinetic theories of heat.

Readings on Carnot & Black


Nov 13

Maxwell’s Demon and the statistical nature of thermodynamic laws.

Thermodynamics handout #2


Nov 15

Boltzmann’s statistical explanation for the second law.

Thermodynamics handout #3


Nov 20

Varieties of determinism. Underlying determinism of thermodynamics.



November 21-25: Thanksgiving Break

Is light a particle or a wave?

Nov 27

Particles and waves. Theories of color and the first major controversy over the nature of light.



Nov 29

More on the nature of waves: longitudinal vs. transverse waves. Polarization and the phenomenon of double refraction.

Einstein and Infeld, The Evolution of Physics, pp. 93-122


Dec 04

The idea of a crucial experiment. Can we test individual theories?

Herschel, in PS 4.3, pp. 254-57


Dec 06

Young, Fresnel, and the Poisson bright spot. Why surprising evidence is so convincing.

The Poisson bright spot

Study guide for the final exam


Thursday, December 13, 8 am: Final Exam