Contemporary Philosophy of Science (PHIL*6730)
Term: Winter 2013
Knowing why is a singular achievement, distinct from other scientific accomplishments.
Science aims at describing and representing nature, predicting and controlling it; but
science also aims at explanation. This course surveys philosophical work on scientific
explanation and related issues, with an emphasis on contemporary work. The first half of
the course sets up the problem of scientific explanation. We begin by examining the
explanatory strategy of Galileo’s new science of mechanics. We then look at challenges
from instrumentalism (Pierre Duhem, Nancy Cartwright), from idealization (Robert
Batterman) and from reductionism (Sahotra Sarkar). The second half of the course
critically evaluates philosophical accounts scientific explanation, with a particular focus
on the question of what it means for X to explain Y. We look at key work of Carl Hempel,
Wesley Salmon, Philip Kitcher, James Woodward, Michael Strevens and others.
Students will be encouraged to explore and develop their own approach to explanation.
The focus and readings in the second part of the course may be modified in light of