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Instructor: Marc Lange. This course meets T 1:00 – 3:30 p.m. in CW 208.

Theoretical Virtues in the Epistemic Evaluation of Scientific Theories (with a Glance at Their Role in Philosophical Theory-Choice)

This course will concern the sorts of “theoretical” or “non-empirical” virtues that philosophers of science, epistemologists, and scientists themselves have long said that science appeals to – over and above the empirical evidence – in theory choice. These (alleged) virtues include simplicity, parsimony, explanatory power, unification, fertility, and various more aesthetic-sounding virtues (e.g., elegance, beauty). Key questions that we will consider (over and over) will be: What are these various (alleged) virtues? Does science appeal to them? If so, are they epistemic or pragmatic virtues? If epistemic, then what entitles scientists to use them to justify placing greater confidence in one theory rather than another, especially when the rivals all fit the empirical evidence about equally well? Some of these theoretical virtues have sometimes also been invoked in defending a given philosophical account against its rivals (sometimes with the thought that if scientists appeal to these virtues, then philosophers are entitled to do so as well).  We may have time and interest in taking a glance at this meta-philosophical matter.

Elliott Sober has recently (2015) written a marvelous new book about simplicity. Some of the course is built around it.The rest of the readings will be drawn from the literature, old and new, including Lennox, Reichenbach, Popper, Goodman, Jeffreys, Ackerman, Quine, Nozick, White, Baker, Janssen, van Fraassen, Okasha, Salmon, Lipton, Nolan, Kitcher, McAllister, Huemer, and Longino. I may also put before you some of my own recent thoughts about some of these matters, for your reading pleasure (and, of course, feedback).

Although I will be responsible for lecturing through some of the material, especially nearer to the start of the course, I hope that the class meetings will mostly be powered by lively class presentations and discussions.

The course presupposes no background in the philosophy of science in particular.

Assigned work: There will be a final paper of the customary sort (15-25 pages). There will also be student presentations – perhaps several per student, depending on how many students there turn out to be. There might also be a homework assignment on Bayesian confirmation theory, on which you may work together.