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 not hard 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 have improved your understanding of:
  1. basic concepts in the philosophy of science such as: theory, evidence, explanation, confirmation, disconfirmation, induction, and falsification.
  2. the nature of scientific rationality, including change of view 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.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. It is also a conditionally self-paced course.  3 of the 10 tests have mandatory due dates. The others students may take according to their own schedules.  There is a journal requirement for this course and journal entries must be submitted according to a set schedule throughout the semester.  This is further explained below. 


Your grade in this course will be based on quizzes, tests, an 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.

Syllabus test (0 points)

You must pass the syllabus test before you may engage any of the course material.  Students who experience trouble passing this test should seriously consider dropping this course, as this strongly indicates that you are insufficiently prepared for the material you will be required to study. Students who have not passed the syllabus test by the date indicated on the schedule page are subject to being dropped from the course for non attendance. "Subject to," means that it is likely to occur, but you must not depend on it occurring if it is your intention to drop the course.  Dropping is entirely the responsibility of the student.

Quizzes (0 points)

This course is organized into ten learning modules, with a multiple choice test after each module. 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 may 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 80%. 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.

Tests (200 points)

Tests typically contain 40 questions and the tests are worth 20 pts each. The tests are timed. You will normally be given 40 minutes to take each test. The tests cover the textbook and online lectures. Each test may be taken only once, with the exception that at the end of the semester everyone will be permitted to retake one test of their choosing. 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. Some questions on tests are identical to quiz questions, others are similar but changed in significant ways to encourage comprehension and discourage rote memorization of answers. To encourage retention questions covering material from previous modules will sometimes be given.

The 1st, 5th and 10th tests have mandatory due dates, subject to the late penalty described below.  Because it is not possible to take a test without having taken all of the previous ones, this testing schedule will help you get started immediately, encourage you to keep up, but still giving you substantial planning flexibility. 

Journal (30 points)

Every module will be associated with questions which you will answer in an online journal. 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 grades 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 mandatory and will correspond with the advised testing schedule.


There are 230 points possible in this course (200 for tests, 30 for the journal). Your grade is indexed to the total number of points you achieve. as follows. For grades less than A read ' ≥ ' as meaning "greater than or equal to, but less than points required for next highest grade.'
 A A- B+ B B- C+ C C- D+ D D- F
 ≥ 200
  ≥ 190  ≥ 180  ≥ 170  ≥ 160  ≥ 150  ≥ 140  ≥ 130  ≥ 120  ≥ 110  ≥ 100  < 100

Note that it is virtually impossible to receive an A without doing the journal.  For every grade below an A, you will need to average 10% of the minimum total points on tests in order to achieve the corresponding grade without doing the journal. For example, to achieve a B without doing the journal, you must average 10% of 170 = 17 points on tests.  Note that the above grading scale does not correspond to customary designations. For example, you would receive a B in this course if you accumulated 170/230 points, which is 74%. However, if you elect not to do the journal, then you must achieve 170/200 points, which is 85%.  In short: If you plan to do well in this class, do the journal.

Basic advice for succeeding in this course

By far the most important strategy for doing well in this course is to work steadily and to keep up with the recommended schedule. Students who try to get a lot of work done in short periods of time typically do poorly in this class. 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 at the end of 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.

Summary of advice:
  • Work at a steady pace. 
  • Stick to the advised quizzing and testing schedule on the schedule page.
  • Engage all of the material. The lectures contain material not in the book and you are accountable for all of it.

Basic procedure for taking tests

1. 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.

2. At the beginning of your test always take a screenshot.

3. 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.

Late tests and makeups

The first three tests have mandatory due dates.  These tests may be submitted up to 24 hours late and will be assessed a 25% penalty. This penalty applies to tests that are submitted even 1 second after the time it is due.  As noted above, all students are permitted to retake one test of their choosing at the end of the term.

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. Your journal will not receive a numerical grade until the end of the semester, but you will regularly be prompted regarding the basic quality of your entries. As noted above, 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. The due time for any entry is 11:59 PM on the corresponding due date. If you are ever finishing an entry after that time, you must change the part that has been finished late to a blue color. Blue colored late entries will be accepted up to 24 hours late, and downgraded 1.5 pts. Students who misrepresent entries (whether intentionally or not) as being on time by failing to change them to a blue color will lose all of the points on their journal.

2. Place each journal entry to the right of the bullet point provided beneath the question.

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 or the instructor unless specifically directed to do so or unless the precise wording of an author is important. Note that this restriction is not about plagiarism.

5. At the end of the term your Google Doc will be submitted to by the instructor.  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 of previous semester).

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 never resolve or delete them.

Grading rubric for journals

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

3 = 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 substantially revised after the due date.

0 = Answer is perfunctory and/or incomplete and/or poorly formatted and/or does not meet writing basic college writing standards.

Academic honesty and plagiarism

All work done in this course is subject to the CSUS academic honesty policy, which you may read at: Academic Honesty Policy & Procedures. Pay particular attention to entry 4. in the instructions for online journals above.

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.


All general information will be supplied by the instructor at the What's Up link.  Check it on a regular basis, at least every other 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 I overlooked it. The instructor will also be available for virtual office hours on Google Chat during his regular physical office hours. You are free to come to regular office hours as well.

When communicating with 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, I typically respond quickly and you are responsible for the information soon after I send it.

How to get help with the quizzes or tests

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 the instructor for help or advice. Please heed the following:

    • Please try to provide a screen shot or the exact text of the question you are having trouble with. 
    • Always provide some kind of reasoning for why you think a particular answer you are giving is correct.
    • The questions that most people struggle with are multiple answer questions. These are questions in which there may be (and usually is) more than one right answer.

Dropping the class

 It is very important to understand the University's drop policy, which is located on the second page of this form. Student's may drop electively on My Sac State until the end of the 2nd week. During the 3rd and 4th weeks, you require instructor permission. After the 4th week drops are permitted only for serious and compelling reasons. Please read the form for more details.

Students with special needs

Students with disabilities that require accommodation must obtain disability documentation from SSWD, Lassen Hall 1008, (916) 278-9655 and submit it to with the instructor during the first week of the term. 


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