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PHILOS 3D03 Philos Of Science

Academic Year: Winter 2016

Term: Winter

Day/Evening: E

Instructor: Dr. Richard Arthur

Email: rarthur@mcmaster.ca

Office: University Hall 305

Phone: 905-525-9140 x 23470


Office Hours: Mondays 3-4 or by appointment

Course Objectives:

Classes: Mo 7-10 p.m. CNH 102

About the course:

This course will introduce you to some key issues in the philosophy of science. In the first part of the course we will be engaging some of the classic issues: the role of experience, observation and experiment; scientific method: induction, logical empiricism, hypothetico-deductivism and falsification- ism; Kuhnian paradigms, incommensurability, research programmes; the status of scientific laws; and realism vs. antirealism. In the last quarter of the course we will be engaging specific issues in the metaphysics of physics, namely in the philosophy of space, time and spacetime. Here we will pool our resources with the Origins of Spacetime course taught by Jon Stone. We will examine such topics as relativity of simultaneity, curved space, and the possibility of time travel. (No previous knowledge of physics will be assumed.)



  • to provide a critical appreciation of the issues involved in determining what “scientific method” consists in, how science progresses, as well as related issues in scientific methodology;
  • to encourage critical reflection on the metaphysics of science, questions concerning the reality of space and time, quarks, black holes, etc., and how we evaluate evidence for their reality;
  • to help you acquire skills in problem-centred learning by encouraging the tackling of general issues through treating particular historical episodes and case studies;
  • to enable the development of skills in gathering, presenting, and critically evaluating current literature on these issues.


Textbooks, Materials & Fees:

Required Texts

What is this thing called Science? (Fourth Edition), Alan F. Chalmers. Hackett Publishing (Sept 15, 2013). $26.96  ISBN-13: 978-1-62466-038-2.

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (50th Anniversary Edition; intro by Ian Hacking), Thomas S. Kuhn, University Of Chicago Press, 2012. ISBN-13: 978-0226458120.

Philosophy of Physics: Space and Time, Tim Maudlin. Princeton University Press; 2015. $23.70 ISBN-13: 978-0691165714.

Course Website

I will be using Avenue to Learn (http://avenue.mcmaster.ca/) and a dedicated website (http://www.humanities.mcmaster.ca/~rarthur/phil3D03/) to post regular announcements and information about the course, lists of supplementary readings, additional resources, and information and advice about assessment. You are expected to check in every couple of days.

Method of Assessment:

Course Requirements

  • Reflective comments on the readings: For each week’s required readings you are required to compose 2 comments (one sentence or brief paragraph each: I do not want your reading notes) on points of interest which you think will stimulate class discussion. When called upon in class to share your observations, you must have something interesting to offer, or you will lose active participation credit. A copy of these comments must be submitted in hard copy at the beginning of each class to obtain credit.......................................(10%) 
  • Active participation: your participation in the course will be rated not only on number of classes attended, but also on your responses (+) or failures to respond (–) to requests to share your reflections, and on the quality of your participation in class discussion. Failure to attend more than three classes without documented excuse will result in a 0 for attendance..............................................................................................................(10%)
  • Development of any of your critical comments into a short essay (about 1200-1500 words or 4-6 pp.), due Thursday, Feb 25 on Avenue, hard copy to be submitted in class.......................................................(30%)
  • A midterm exam in class on March 7, 8:30-10 p.m..............................................................................(20%)
  • Final Exam in the exam period:.............................................................................................................(30%)

Policy on Missed Work, Extensions, and Late Penalties:


Please Note the Following Policies and Statements:

Academic Dishonesty

You are expected to exhibit honesty and use ethical behaviour in all aspects of the learning process. Academic credentials you earn are rooted in principles of honesty and academic integrity.

Academic dishonesty is to knowingly act or fail to act in a way that results or could result in unearned academic credit or advantage. This behaviour can result in serious consequences, e.g. the grade of zero on an assignment, loss of credit with a notation on the transcript (notation reads: "Grade of F assigned for academic dishonesty"), and/or suspension or expulsion from the university.

It is your responsibility to understand what constitutes academic dishonesty. For information on the various types of academic dishonesty please refer to the Academic Integrity Policy, located at www.mcmaster.ca/academicintegrity

The following illustrates only three forms of academic dishonesty:

  1. Plagiarism, e.g. the submission of work that is not one’s own or for which other credit has been obtained.
  2. Improper collaboration in group work.
  3. Copying or using unauthorized aids in tests and examinations.

Email correspondence policy

It is the policy of the Faculty of Humanities that all email communication sent from students to instructors (including TAs), and from students to staff, must originate from each student’s own McMaster University email account. This policy protects confidentiality and confirms the identity of the student.  Instructors will delete emails that do not originate from a McMaster email account.

Modification of course outlines

The University reserves the right to change dates and/or deadlines etc. for any or all courses in the case of an emergency situation or labour disruption or civil unrest/disobedience, etc. If a modification becomes necessary, reasonable notice and communication with the students will be given with an explanation and the opportunity to comment on changes. Any significant changes should be made in consultation with the Department Chair.

McMaster Student Absence Form (MSAF)

In the event of an absence for medical or other reasons, students should review and follow the Academic Regulation in the Undergraduate Calendar Requests for Relief for Missed Academic Term Work. Please note these regulations have changed beginning Fall 2015. You can find information at mcmaster.ca/msaf/. If you have any questions about the MSAF, please contact your Associate Dean's office.

Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities

Students who require academic accommodation must contact Student Accessibility Services (SAS) to make arrangements with a Program Coordinator. Academic accommodations must be arranged for each term of study. Student Accessibility Services can be contacted by phone 905-525-9140 ext. 28652 or e-mail sas@mcmaster.ca. For further information, consult McMaster University's Policy for Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities.

Academic Accommodation for Religious, Indigenous and Spiritual Observances

Students requiring academic accommodation based on religion and spiritual observances should follow the procedures set out in the Course Calendar or by their respective Faculty. In most cases, the student should contact his or her professor or academic advisor as soon as possible to arrange accommodations for classes, assignments, tests and examinations that might be affected by a religious holiday or spiritual observance.

Topics and Readings:

Provisional Syllabus (updates will be posted on web)



Lecture Title



Jan 11


  • N/A


Jan 18

Science as Based on the Facts

  • Chalmers, chs. 1-4.
  • Feyerabend, “Science without Experience”.


Jan 25


  • Chalmers, chs. 5-7.
  • Popper, K., “Science: Conjectures and Refutations”.


Feb 1

Normal Science and Paradigms

  • Kuhn, Structure, pp. 1-65.


Feb 8

Scientific Revolutions

  • Kuhn, Structure, pp. 65-135.
  • Chalmers, ch. 8.

—————   Feb 15-22   Midterm Recess—————                        


Feb 22

Theory Change and Progress

  • Kuhn, Structure, pp. 136-210.
  • Chalmers, ch. 9.
  • Lakatos, “Methodology of Sci’fic Research Programmes”, pp. 1-7, 47-59.


Feb 29

Scientific Method

  • Chalmers, ch. 10, 11.
  • Feyerabend, Against Method, pp. 54-77.


Mar 7

The New Experimentalism

  • Chalmers, ch. 13.
  • Hacking, “Experimentation and Scientific Realism”.


Mar 14

Laws; Realism vs. Antirealism

  • Laudan, “A Confutation of Convergent Realism”.
  • Chalmers, ch. 14, 15


Mar 21

Classical Space and Time

  • Maudlin, chs 1-3


Mar 28

Special Relativity

  • Maudlin, chs 4, 5.


Apr 4

Black Holes, Big Bang and Time Travel

  • Maudlin, chs 6, 7.


Other Course Information:

Sources for Readings

  1. Paul Feyerabend, “Science without Experience”: Journal of Philosophy 66 (November):791-795 (1969)
  2. Karl Popper, “Science: Conjectures and Refutations”: available from website or online at http://philosophyfaculty.ucsd.edu/faculty/rarneson/Courses/popperphil1.pdf
  3. Imre Lakatos, “The Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes”: available from website or online at http://strangebeautiful.com/other-texts/lakatos-meth-sci-research-phil-papers-1.pdf
  4. Paul Feyerabend, Against Method, chs. 6 and 7; available at  http://monoskop.org/images/7/7e/Feyerabend_Paul_Against_Method.pdf
  5. Ian Hacking, “Experimentation and Scientific Realism”: Philosophical Topics 13 (1):71-87 (1982); also available online at https://mechanism.ucsd.edu/teaching/philsci/hacking.experiments.pdf
  6. Larry Laudan, “A Confutation of Convergent Realism”, Philosophy of Science, 48,