Phil 385

Science and Rationality

Time: Monday/Wednesday, 12:30-1:45

Location: VKC 261

Instructor: Kenny Easwaran - easwaran AT usc DOT edu

Office: STO 227

Office Hours: My office hours are Monday/Wednesday 2:00-3:30. I can also be available at other times if you e-mail me for an appointment.


Learning objectives in philosophy.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy - a very useful free resource with discussions of many topics in philosophy. Some topics that may be of interest include Science and Pseudo-Science, the Problem of Induction, Philosophy of Biology, and many others that you can find by doing various searches.


Theory and Reality, by Peter Godfrey-Smith. (Also available for about half price as an e-book from the Amazon Kindle store and from Google e-books.) The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, by Thomas Kuhn, is optional extra reading. It is a classic in the field, and you may want to own it for your own personal reference, or if you choose to write a paper on topics closely connected to it, but it is definitely not required for the class.


In addition to learning what philosophers have thought about science, one of the major goals of this class is to get you to think about science, to be able to express these thoughts clearly, and to give cogent arguments in favor of your views and rebuttals to arguments against your views. To that end, there will be two paper assignments, and some final questions to assess your grasp of the material covered in the class.

The first two papers will be shorter (3-4 pages). In each case, there will be assignments along the way to help structure the writing process. I will discuss these in class as they approach.

The final consists of answering four questions from the final questions, each taking about a page.

The grading will be 40% from the final questions, 20% from each of the shorter papers, and 20% from participation in class discussion.

Feel free to discuss your writing assignments with each other (or anyone outside the class), and read each other's drafts - this is in fact the most useful way to improve your writing! However, I ask that the actual writing be yours. You should give proper credit for all ideas in the paper. If someone suggested a problem or an argument for you, then thank them! If you found some useful discussion in another source, then say what that source is, whether you directly quoted or merely paraphrased ideas. Giving proper credit to friends, collaborators, and other scholars doesn't diminish the value of your own work, and actually helps make it more valuable.

Note: Wikipedia is not a proper reference, even though it is quite useful. Because of the editing process of Wikipedia, it is not always reliable. However, they have a policy that all information on Wikipedia comes with a citation to some original source - before including ideas from Wikipedia in any of your work, you should always track down the original source (which should be linked or footnoted in the article), and see whether it really says what is claimed. If you can't find the original source, then it's likely that Wikipedia is just wrong about this claim.

Paper topics:

First paper: Write a paper arguing either for or against the thesis that the origin of the universe is a scientific question.

Second paper: Kuhn introduces many social factors into the philosophy of science, which lead him towards some radical claims about incommensurability, relativism, and others. Choose one of these radical claims and give an argument either showing that he goes too far, or that he doesn't go far enough, in considering the philosophical implications of sociological issues.

Final paper: Topic TBA.

Academic integrity:

All students are expected to understand and abide by these principles. SCampus, the Student Guidebook, contains the Student Conduct Code in Section 11.00, while the recommended sanctions are located in Appendix A (.pdf file). Students will be referred to the Office of Student Judicial Affairs and Community Standards for further review, should there be any suspicion of academic dishonesty. The Review process can be found in Section 14.00.

Statement for students with disabilities:

Any student requesting academic accommodations based on a disability is required to register with Disability Services and Programs (DSP) each semester. A letter of verification for approved accommodations can be obtained from DSP. Please be sure the letter is delivered to me as early in the semester as possible. DSP is located in STU 301 and is open 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. The phone number for DSP is (213) 740-0776.


Jan. 10, 12

Reading: Chapter 1 of T&R

Jan. 19 (note MLK holiday)

Reading: Chapter 2 of T&R

Jan. 24, 26

Reading: Chapter 3 of T&R

Jan. 31, Feb. 2

Thesis and positive argument for first paper, due Jan. 31

Reading: Chapter 4 of T&R

Feb. 7, 9

Response to negative argument for first paper, due Feb. 7

Reading: Chapter 5 of T&R

Feb. 14, 16

First paper due by February 14

Reading: Chapter 6 of T&R

Feb. 23 (note President's Day holiday)

Reading: Chapter 7 of T&R

Feb. 28, Mar. 2

Reading: Chapter 8 of T&R

Mar. 7, 9

Reading: Chapter 9 of T&R

Thesis and positive argument for second paper, or new outline of first paper, due Friday, March 11

Mar. 14, 16


Mar. 21, 23

Response to negative argument for second paper, or revised outline of first paper, due Monday, March 21

Reading: Chapter 10 of T&R

Mar. 28, 30

Second paper due by Wednesday, March 30

Reading: Chapter 11 of T&R

Apr. 4, 6

Reading: Chapter 12 of T&R

Apr. 11, 13

Reading: Chapter 13 of T&R

Apr. 18, 20

Reading: Chapter 14 of T&R

Apr. 25, 27

Reading: Chapter 15 of T&R

May 8

Final exam questions due (via e-mail) by May 4