Syllabus Philosophy 125: 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, which never meets in a physical classroom. You are welcome to come to the instructor's physical office hours (see sidebar) but he will be highly available to you by electronic communication, either e-mail or Google Chat.  


Your grade in this course will be based on quizzes, tests, an online journal, and participation in the course evaluation process. The quizzes and tests will be taken within the Blackboard environment.  The journal will be written on an online document using Google utilities.

  • Tests (200 points)
    • This course is organized into ten learning modules, with a multiple choice test after each module. Each test will contain 20 questions and the test will be worth 20 pts each. The tests are timed.  You will normally be given 30 minutes to take each test.  The tests cover the textbook, supplementary material 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 are mandatory, but they do not formally count toward your grade.  You must take and pass every quiz in a module prior to taking the module test. There is no limit to the number of times you may take a quiz.  
  • Journal (20 points)
    • Every module will be associated with questions which you will answer in your online journal.  These questions are invitations to you to do your own thinking on a matter about which reasonable informed people may differ.  Although it is important that factual claims you make in the course of answering these questions be informed by the reading, your answers will be primarily assessed for the care you take in producing them.  (A rubric for journal grades is supplied below.)  Each journal entry is worth 2 points, for a total of 20 possible points.  Journal questions must be finished by the due date given.
  • Course Evaluation Extra Credit (2 points)
    • Toward the end of the semester you will be given an opportunity to evaluate this class.  If 95%  or more of the students who finish this course do the evaluations, everyone will be awarded 2 points of extra credit.  If fewer than 95% participate, than nobody will receive this credit.
Discussion Page

In addition to your Google Doc Journal, you will be assigned to a Google discussion group.  This page exists solely to mitigate the isolation of online learning.  You may use it any way you like, for group note taking, exchanging ideas or chatting.  Nobody is required to participate. The only thing you must not do is use the page to copy each other's work. 


There are 222 points  possible in this course (200 for tests, 20 from the journal and 2 points for course evaluations).  However, your grade will be calculated on the basis of 200 points.  So, for example, if you receive 173 total points, your grade will be 173/200 = 86.5% = B.  This means that there are effectively 22 points of extra credit available, but 20 points worth of this extra credit is not tied to any particular assignment.  This structure is likely to tempt some students not to do the online journal.  This is permissible, but it is a very poor idea and I strongly advise against it.  The tests are not easy, and almost everyone will need these points to make up for poor performance on some tests.  In the end, however, this decision is up to you. Your grade is strictly a function of the number of points accumulated during the semester.  

 QuantityValue Total 
Tests 10  20200
Journal  entries 10  220
Course evals 1 2 2
Total possible
Total basis  200

Final letter grades are assigned on a standard scale. 92% and above = A, 90-91% = A-, 88-89% = B+, 82- 87% = B, 80-81% = B-, etc. 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. 

Basic advice for succeeding in this course

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.  With every module you will be supplied with a list of study questions designed to help you pass the quizzes and test.  You are not required to submit written answers to these questions, but you should know their answers before engaging any of the assessments.

Taking tests and quizzes

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 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.

Your online journal

Instructions for receiving 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 and  his teaching assistant.  Your journal will not receive a numerical grade until the end of the semester, but you will be regulalry 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 permits us to determine 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. 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.

3.  Journal entries must always be done in your own words.   Absolutely do not quote the text or the instructor unless specifically directed to do so.  Note that this restriction is not about plagiarism.

4.  Journals that contain plagiarism of any kind will be given a grade of zero, which will result in the student failing 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 or the instructor's journal.

class id 8509729

enrollment password: mayes125

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Grading Rubric for Journals

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

2  =  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. 

1.5 =  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 substantially revised after the due date.

.5 =  Answer is very perfunctory or incomplete and/or poorly formatted and/or contains unacceptable 

0 = Either not done or utterly incomplete, perfunctory or otherwise poorly executed.

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.   

Course Materials

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

Reading and Assignment Schedule

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

Instructor Availability

The instructor will be available by e-mail and will normally respond to all questions within 12 hours.  Students who do not receive timely responses should re-send their e-mail in case I overlooked it.  The instructor will also be available for virtual office hours on Google Chat.  Hours will be displayed in the sidebar and  anyextra hours will be announced on the What's Up page

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 during the first week of the semester.


Minor changes to this syllabus may be made at the instructor's discretion.