Washington & Lee University

Phil 255
Philosophy of Science

Prof. Gregory
Winter 2006

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Contact Information:

Professor Gregory
Newcomb 26

Department of Philosophy
Sec: Karen Lyle
N-29 (Newcomb Computer Lab)

Office Hours:

Mon 1:15-3:15 & Tue\Thu 2:30-4, and by appointment.

If you need to reach me outside of office hours please email me or call my office number and leave a voice message—be sure to leave a phone number or email address at which you can be reached.


Philosophy of Science: The Central Issues. Curd, Martin and Cover, J. A., eds. New York: W. W. Norton & Company (1998).

Copy Packet—available from Karen Lyle in the Newcomb Computer Lab

Electronic Materials


Click here or in the banner above to access class schedule.

Course Description:

This course will be a survey of major topics in the epistemology and metaphysics of science. Questions to be addressed include: What are the nature and structure of evidence and theory? How, and how far, does evidence justify theory? What is the problem of induction, and can it be resolved? To what extent are theory change and acceptance rational, objective processes? To what extent are they affected by such non-rational factors such as political, cultural, racial, religious, and gender biases? What, if anything, distinguishes science from other institutionalized bodies of beliefs and practices (e.g., religions, political structures, supernatural beliefs)?  What is the status of creationism/intelligent design vis-ŕ-vis evolutionary theory? To what extent can science genuinely describe and explain reality? Is a single unified world view possible? Or does science simply give us a way of thinking about the world, a way of moving around in it—a sort of human construction, not really reflecting an underlying reality? What is the nature and extent of the interaction between science and social/cultural value structures? What should they be? These interrelated questions will be addressed through lecture, discussion, and readings drawn primarily from the twentieth century.

Course Objectives:


Reading. You are expected to read the assigned material before it is presented in class. This does not mean skimming. This means reading critically—making an earnest effort to understand what the author is saying, noting where you have questions, disagreements, confusions, etc. Feel free to write in the margins of your books, or, if you plan on selling them back, keep reading notes. This will help you in understanding the reading, participating in discussion, and writing papers (see below). If you had difficulty with the reading it would be especially helpful to formulate a question or two (with an attempt at an answer) and hand them in at the start of class. You should always bring the relevant books to class.

Discussion Participation. This class will be a mix of both lecture and discussion (once in a while I shall lecture for extended periods, but hopefully not too often). Discussion will range from general class discussion to small-group activities. Even during the portions of class when I am lecturing, I encourage you to raise a hand, ask a question, and potentially start a class discussion. Consistent, thoughtful participation will gain you full credit for this portion of your grade. (Details below.) There are things I can do to ready you for discussion, but in the end it is up to you to read the material, think about it, and go for it—the more discussion we have, the more fun the class will be.


Grunts, Growls, & Screeches:

Formal Papers:

Late papers suffer a 1/3 grade penalty for each day they are late, unless other arrangements have been made.

Click here for the “Notes on Writing and Grading”, and here for “Policies on Quotation, Citation, and Plagiarism”. You must read these before sending your Syllabus Confirmation.

Critical Thinking. If you are doing well in the above three areas, then you are probably doing well with critical thinking, too. What I mean by ‘critical thinking’ is not just the expression of opinions, likes, and dislikes. Anyone can say what they believe, or react to what another believes. In some cases (hopefully many cases) you will have strong feelings about what we are reading or discussing. These strong reactions are good, but they are only the beginning. We want to do more than just express our reactions. Thinking critically requires: (1) clearly and accurately expressing the relevant claims, (2) examining and questioning (both the reasons for and consequences of) others’ and (especially) one’s own beliefs, (3) developing and being responsive to alternative views, (4) trying to support or reject such views on the basis of evidence and argument, and (5) being willing to accept the outcome of such inquiry.

Attendance. The only way you will do well in the four areas above is by consistently attending class. More than one or two absences will negatively affect your grade, both by impeding success in the areas above, and by negatively impacting my assignment of your participation grade. When you have good reason for being absent from class you should communicate with me as soon as possible concerning your circumstances.


Component % of Final Average
Class Participation 20
Grunts, Growls, and Screeches 20
Paper 1 30
Paper 2 30

Final Grade will be based your Final Average and factors including improvement over the semester.

There are no extra credit assignments.

Communication, Etiquette, and Respect:

The ‘What’s the Point?’ Challenge:

It may happen at some time during lecture, discussion, or your reading that you feel lost, or bored, and wonder ‘What’s the point of this reading [discussion, lecture]?’ or ‘What’s it got to do with anything?’ or ‘I don’t get it...’. Whenever this happens please feel free to raise your hand (or send me an e-mail, or come and see me) and ask me ‘What’s the point?’ Indeed I challenge you to do so. You might want to try to work out your worry (or lack thereof) in how you ask your question, but all you really need do is ask me ‘What’s the point?!’ or say ‘I don’t get it!’ (Times like these may produce a good grunt, growl, or screech.)

I do not pose this as a challenge because I have all the answers and will “beat” you by giving you one of them. I don’t have all the answers. Rather, I have found that many of the best discussions—in class and one on one—arise out of just such questions. At the same time, however, students have developed a fear of asking such questions, or a habit of suppressing them when they arise, because they are too focused on results, tangible products (including, but not restricted to, grades). In my class the process of thinking is of greater importance than the product. Do not hesitate to question the point, the importance, the value, of either the process or the product, this is simply more process—more critical thinking. This is what philosophy is about. It is a discipline in which everything is fair game for critical examination, even, and especially, philosophy itself.

Syllabus Confirmation:

You must complete the syllabus confirmation by midnight, Tuesday, January 10 to be eligible for class participation credit. If you have any questions or concerns about the policies, do not hesitate to contact me.

Click here for the “Notes on Writing and Grading”, and here for “Policies on Quotation, Citation, and Plagiarism”. You must read these before sending your Syllabus Confirmation.

Please copy the italicized statement below, click on the link following it to open an e-mail to me, and paste the statement into your e-mail. Don't forget to click “Send” in your e-mail client! (It may take a while for your e-mail client to open a new message.)

Here is the statement you are confirming (select and copy it):

I hereby confirm that I have read the Course Syllabus including the “Home” page, the “Class Schedule”, the “Notes on Writing and Grading”, and the “Policies on Quotation, Citation, and Plagiarism”, and I understand all policies contained therein.

Syllabus Confirmation