Syllabus Philosophy 125 Fall 2016

Philosophy of Science

Catalog description

Study of the philosophical problems that arise in the sciences: how claims are justified, the limits and styles of explanation, identifying pseudo science, values in science, unity and diversity of the sciences, and science's impact on our world view. 3 units.

General education 

This course satisfies GE area B-5. The definition and general learning objectives of area B-5 may be reviewed here. The specific learning objectives of Area B-5 covered in this class are: 

  • A. Cite critical observations, underlying assumptions and limitations to explain and apply important ideas and models in one or more of the following: physical science, life science, mathematics, or computer science. 
  • B. Recognize evidence-based conclusions and form reasoned opinions about science-related matters of personal, public and ethical concern.

Learning objectives

The philosophy of science is the examination of the most basic concepts and principles at work in scientific inquiry. What principles do all of the sciences have in common? How are the theories of different sciences (like physics, biology, and psychology) related? How are the scientific theories of today related to the scientific theories of yesterday and tomorrow? Traditionally, answers to these sorts of questions have been formulated on the basis of two fundamental assumptions about the nature of scientific inquiry: (1) scientific thinking is inherently rational; (2) scientific knowledge is inherently objective.
It's easy to appreciate the practical significance of these questions. Because our society values rationality and objectivity so highly, the difference between science and non science is the difference between what will be taken seriously and what will not. Although most philosophers agree that scientific rationality consists in testing theories against certain rules of evidence and explanation, exactly what those rules are remains an open question. Similarly, while most philosophers agree that the objectivity of a scientific theory consists in its giving an accurate picture or model of reality, there is little agreement as to what this actually means.
The current state of science fuels much of the debate in the philosophy of science. Science can not now be plausibly characterized as either a unified body of knowledge or even a unified method of inquiry. Rather it seems to be a collection of different disciplines and methods, all possessing somewhat different standards of rationality and objectivity. Because the philosophical approach aims at understanding how everything is related, this fragmentation is at the same time both frustrating and fascinating.

While there are too many significant issues in the philosophy of science to be covered adequately in one semester, we will do our best to understand the general nature of scientific inquiry, and the manner in which the scientific worldview has developed throughout history.

By the end of the course you will  be able to understand:

(1)  basic concepts in the philosophy of science such as: theory, evidence, explanation, confirmation, disconfirmation, induction, falsification and empirical vs. conceptual truths.

(2) the nature of scientific rationality and the epistemic status of accepted scientific theories.

(3) the nature of scientific objectivity and the difference between realism and anti-realism with respect to scientific theories.

(4) the basic problems and paradoxes of inductive reasoning.

(5) the historical progression and difference between distinct scientific worldviews, including the Aristotelian, Newtonian and contemporary worldviews associated with quantum and relativistic physics and evolutionary and neurobiology.

(6) some of the implications of science and changing worldviews for religion, morality and ethics.

Course type

This is a fully online course. The class never meets physically, and in this class you will never be required to be online at a specific time. You are very welcome to come to the instructor's physical office hours for help (see sidebar), however he will be highly available to answer your questions by e-mail and through Google Chat (see sidebar ).

This course has definite due dates associated with tests and journal entries (see schedule).  However, students may work ahead of these dates. 

Attendance and Administrative drop policy during first two weeks

The first assignment for this course is a syllabus test. You must pass this test by the end of the second week or you will be administratively dropped from this course for non-attendance.


The required assignments in this course are quizzes, tests, and an online journal.  The quizzes and tests will be taken within the Blackboard environment.  The journal will be written on an online document using Google utilities.  In order to gain access to the quizzes covering the course material you must first score 95% or more on a test covering this syllabus. There are no midterms and no final exam for this course.

  • Tests (200 points)
    • This course is organized into ten learning modules, with a multiple choice test after each module. Tests typically contain 40 questions and the tests are worth 20 pts each. The tests are timed. You will normally be given 30 minutes to take each test.  The tests cover the textbook  and online lectures.  Each test may be taken only once. Test questions are drawn from a pool of questions and the order in which they occur will be random.  Individual students' tests will be comparable in difficulty, but there will be significant variation with respect to the specific questions asked.  If you retake a test it will not be the same test both with respect  to the order of the questions and the specific questions asked.  In order to encourage retention, tests given later in the semester will contain some questions about material from previous modules.
  • Quizzes (0 points)
    • Each learning module is accompanied by between 2 and 4 multiple choice quizzes, which are designed to prepare you for the test. The quizzes exist to help you study for the tests.  There is no limit to the number of times you can take a quiz.  You should not attempt to take any module test until you have passed all the quizzes with a grade of at least 75%.  Most students find that they do about 5% -10% worse on the tests than they do on their average for the quizzes.  Although you may take the tests without taking the quizzes, students who do typically fail them.
  • Extra credit journal (30points)
    • Every module will be associated with questions which you will answer in your online journal.  These questions are usually invitations to do your own thinking on a matter about which reasonable informed people may differ.  Typically these questions will cover the supplementary material in the schedule page.  It is very important that your answers demonstrate a thorough acquaintance with the relevant material.  Answers in which it is clear that you have not done so will receive no credit.  Beyond that, your answers will be primarily assessed for the care you take in producing them.  (A rubric for journal quality is supplied below.) Each journal entry is worth 3 points, for a total of 30 possible points.  To receive full credit journal questions must be finished by the due date.  Due dates for journals are the same as for the corresponding module tests unless otherwise stated.
    • Specific instructions for the online journal are elaborated below.
    • Note: Although this journal is defined as extra credit. Students are strongly encouraged to do it.

Other extra credit 

A small amount of extra credit is available for course evaluations.  If 100% of students do the course evaluations, then everyone in the course will receive 3 extra points.  If fewer than 100% do it, then everyone will receive a fraction of 3 extra points determined by the percentage of students who do the evaluations. For example, if 50% of students do the evaluations, then everyone will receive 1.5 points.  There are no other extra credit assignments available.


There are 233 points possible in this course (200 for tests, 30 for the journal, and 3 for course evaluations).  Since the journal and course evaluations are extra credit, your final grade will be calculated on the basis of 200 points. 

Point distribution

  Quantity Value  Total 
Tests  10   20 200
Journal  entries  10   3 30
Course eval  1  3  3
Total possible
Total basis     200

Sample grade calculation:   173/200 =  86.5%

Grade calculation with journal

 A  > 91.5% 
 A-   90-91%
 B+  88-89%
 B  82-87%
 B-  80-81%
 C+  78-79%
 C  72-77%
 C-  70-71%
 D+  68-69%
 D-  60-61%
 F  < 59.5%

  1. Fractional point totals are rounded up from .5. You and only you are responsible for monitoring your performance in this course. Be sure to pay close attention to the drop deadline. 
  2. Note: You and only you are responsible for monitoring your performance in this course! Be sure to pay close attention to the relevant drop deadlines, which are summarized on the bottom of  this document.

Module availability

Modules are set to adaptive release. You will see Module 1 materials immediately after passing the syllabus test. Each subsequent module appears after taking the test for the previous one. You must  take the test associated with a previous module before being permitted to work on a new one. Note that this also means that it is possible to work ahead of the schedule in this class.  For students who stay ahead of the deadlines, this class will be experienced as self-paced.

Taking quizzes

There are multiple quizzes associated with each module.  The quizzes may be taken an unlimited number of times. The quizzes do not count toward your grade. They are designed to help you prepare for the module tests. It is highly inadvisable to take tests prior to taking quizzes. Quiz scores are highly predictive of test scores. Generally speaking, students perform about 10% less well on tests than they do on quizzes.

Taking tests

Be sure that you have a stable internet connection before taking any test.  Although all quizzes and tests are open book and notes, the time limit on tests will  tend to prohibit their use for tests.  Use the book and your notes to help you with quizzes.  But be sure you no longer require them before taking a test. 

Be very careful taking module tests. In particular, you will often note that the tests contain questions very similar to quiz questions. However, they will often be slightly different, so read all questions carefully and do not jump to the conclusion that they have exactly the same answer as a previous quiz question.

At the beginning of your test always take a screenshot in case of technical difficulties. 

Absolutely never  take your module tests on a mobile device.  Students who experience technical difficulties during a test will be required to submit their screen shot to show that they were not using a mobile device while taking the test.

All tests are due  at 11:59 on the date specified in the schedule.  'Due' means submitted.  Your test will not be automatically submitted at the due date.  If you submit it even 1 second after the due date it will be late. 

Late tests

You may  take a test after the due date, but it will be graded as late.  Late tests will lose 2 points (10%)  for every 12  hour period that they are late.  This begins immediately following the 11:59 deadline for the absolute due date as indicated on the schedule. Hence, submitting at 11:59:01 PM will result in a 2 point reduction. Submitting a test at 11:59:01 AM on the following day will result in a 4 point reduction, etc.

As the instructor must grade late tests manually, there will normally be a considerable delay between the time you finish a test taken late and the score being posted to the Blackboard gradebook.

Tests that are late because of technical difficulties experienced taking it close to the due date are not thereby excused from the late penalty.

Makeup tests

All students will be permitted to retake exactly  one  test at the end of the term during finals week. Your grade on the makeup test is the one that counts, even if it is lower than the original grade.

Online journals

Instructions for creating and sharing your online journal will be provided in the What's Up section of the course website at the beginning of the semester.  Your journal will be monitored by the instructor.  Your journal will not receive a numerical grade until the end of the semester, but you will be occasionally prompted regarding the basic quality of your entries. Your entries will be assessed for the degree of care, thoughtfulness and effort you put into understanding the text.  Some important facts about the journal.

1.  It is imperative that you engage the readings and finish your journal entries prior to the due date.   The Google utility contains a revision history that shows whether entries have been done on time.  You may revise your entries after the due date, but all revisions  and corrections after the due date must be written in a blue font. 

2. There is no note date beyond which you are no longer permitted to turn in late journal entries. However, the later they are the better they have to be to get  half credit.  Generally speaking, after three weeks late only very comprehensive and well thought out answers will receive 1 point.

3. Journal entries must be done neatly and in college level English with complete sentences and correct grammar, punctuation and spelling.  You will be supplied with a sample journal entry for comparison.

4.  Journal entries must always be done in your own words.   Absolutely do not quote the text, the instructor or any other source unless specifically directed to do so or unless the precise wording of an author is essential to answering a question.  Note that this restriction is not about plagiarism.

5.  If a journal contains plagiarism of any kind the student will fail the course.  Journals will not be reviewed in their entirety for plagiarism until the end of the course. This means that a student who plagiarizes anytime during the semester may go on to complete all of the course requirements and still receive a final grade of F.  The names of students who plagiarize will also be given to Student Affairs for disciplinary action.  Plagiarism includes all of the standard forms identified here as well as copying from other student journals (including those from previous semesters).  

6.  Absolutely do not share your Google Doc journal with any other students and do not share your answers with any other students.   This will be treated as aiding and abetting plagiarism and will be treated in the same manner as plagiarism, as defined above.

7. It is ok to respond to comments on your journal page made by the professor but absolutely do not resolve or delete these comments.

8.  During finals week you will submit your journal, in its entirety, to, a plagiarism detection service. This is a simple process for which you will require the following information.

  • Student instructions for creating an account and submitting assignments to
  • Class ID: 13339240
  • Enrollment password: mayes

Before proceeding, read all of the following carefully:

  1. If you have never used Turnitin before, then you will follow the instructions for creating an account at the Student Instructions link above.
  2. If you already have an account, then you will follow the instructions for enrolling in a new class.
  3. After you have enrolled in the class, you will be able to submit your journal by following the instructions to submit a document using Google Drive.
  4. When you submit the document you will be required to name it.  Give it the same name that is on the top left hand corner of your journal.  For example:  Smith, Sam Philosophy 125 Journal.
  5. Before submitting your document, be sure you understand why you are doing this by reviewing lines (5) and (6) above under Online Journals.  Almost every semester one or more students fail the class because they shared their answers with others who, despite promising they would not simply copy the answers, do exactly that. It is important to understand that you will fail the entire class if your journal contains any entries or parts of entries that are identical or sufficiently similar to those of other students or plagiarism of any other kind. It will not matter whether you are the one who plagiarized or who allowed your work to be plagiarized. 
  6. Submit your journal only when you have understood all of the above and are entirely finished with it. 
  7. The absolute due date for submitting journals to is December 18th @ 11:59 PM.
  8. Only journals that are submitted to will receive credit.
Grading rubric for journals

Although you will not receive a score for individual answers, the basic grading rubric for individual answers is as follows.

 =  Answer is thoughtful, complete and contains few or no writing errors.  Answer is neatly formatted, on time , with only minor corrections or revisions being made after the due date. 

2 =  Answer is fairly thoughtful and  complete and contains few writing errors.  Answer is neatly formatted, on time, with only minor, infrequent corrections or revisions being made after the due date.  

1 = Answer is perfunctory or significantly incomplete and/or contains some writing or formatting errors.  Or answer meets criteria for higher grade, but is late or substantially revised after the due date.

.5 =  Answer is very perfunctory or incomplete and/or poorly formatted and/or contains unacceptably low acquaintance with the material.  Or answer meets criteria for higher grade, but is late or substantially revised after the due date.

0 = Either not done or utterly incomplete, perfunctory or otherwise poorly executed.  Or answer meets criteria for higher grade, but is late or substantially revised after the due date.

Course materials

  • Worldviews, by Richard De Witt, 2nd edition. (e-book available)
  • Supplementary material provided online.
  • Instructional material provided online.

Assignment schedule

The reading and assignment schedule is at the schedule link on the home page.

How to succeed!

By far the most important strategy for doing well in this course is to work steadily. Students who wait until the day a test is due in order to study the material, pass the associated quizzes and take the test are in for a particularly stressful and unproductive experience. Since quizzes may be taken as many times as needed to pass, it may be tempting to try passing the quizzes before you have carefully engaged all of the material. This, too, is a poor strategy, as you will often get multiple choice questions right just by chance. Moreover, passing the quizzes is not a guarantee of total preparedness for the test, as there will often be test questions that you did not encounter in any form on a quiz. Study questions for the lecture are supplied in every lecture and study questions for the book and supplemental material are supplied on a webpage at the top of the schedule page. You are not required to submit written answers to any of these questions, but you should know their answers before engaging any of the assessments. 

To summarize:

  • Work at a steady pace. Do not plan to be able to do more than one chapter's worth of work and pass the associated quiz in a day.
  • Engage all of the material. The lectures contains material not in the book and you are accountable for all of it.
  • Do your very best to stick to the advised quizzing and testing schedule on the schedule page.
  • If you are in any way skeptical of the advice given above, please take a moment to go to this page and listen to your peers talking about their experience in it. All of these testimonials are from a regular semester and the requirements of the course are slightly different, but the experiences they report are fairly uniform and typical.

How to stay informed

All general information will be supplied by the instructor at the What's Up link. Check it at least once a day.

The instructor will be available by e-mail and will normally respond to all questions asked during the weekdays within a few hours.  Students who do not receive timely responses should re-send their e-mail in case it was overlooked.  Absolutely do not hesitate to to this!  The instructor will also be available for virtual office hours on Google Chat.  

How to get help

When you are struggling with the answer to the question on a quiz or do not understand why you got a question wrong on a test,  you should feel free to ask help or advice.  Unless the issue is of a personal nature, your default mode should be to ask the question on the discussion page link, on our main page.  This way you will see if the question has been asked before, and others can benefit from your questions as well. To insure a timely reply, send the instructor an email indicating that you have asked a question. 

Please heed the following:

    • Please attach a screen shot or the exact text of the question you are having trouble with.  
    • Because quiz and test questions are randomized, it is not useful to refer to a question or answer by reference to it's number.  You need to supply the actual content.
    • Always provide some kind of reasoning for why you think a particular answer you are giving is correct or that one indicated as correct is wrong.
    • The questions that most people struggle with are multiple answer questions. These are questions in which there may be (and usually are) more than one right answer. 
When sending e-mail to the instructor, always be courteous and clear. Here is a link explaining the proper way of sending an inquiry to the instructor. Students who are insufficiently courteous or clear in an email to the instructor will receive this link as a reply. Please check your email soon after asking me a time-sensitive question. As noted you will typically receive a quick response and you are responsible for the information soon after I send it.

Academic honesty 

You are both free and encouraged to study together. However, all work done in this course is subject to the CSUS academic honesty policy, which you may read at: Academic Honesty Policy & Procedures.  In this regard please pay particular attention to entries 4-8 in the instructions for online journals above.

Students with special needs

Students with disabilities that require accommodation must provide disability documentation to SSWD, Lassen Hall 1008, (916) 278-9655.  Please discuss your needs with the instructor during the first few days of the term.