PHIL 150.001 – Philosophy of Science

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Instructor: Daniel Kokotajlo. This course meets MWF 9:05 – 9:55 a.m. in PH 381.

How likely are we to go extinct in the next hundred years? What should we conclude from the apparent lack of aliens in the galaxy? Are there questions about the mind that cognitive science can’t answer? Are there other universes out there, with inhabitants much like us? Is the “fine-tuning” of the physical constants evidence for God? What counts as good evidence, in general? What makes a theory a good theory? In what ways is science objective and in what ways is it subjective? What’s the difference between science and other disciplines like math and philosophy?

These questions and more will be explored. No prior background of any sort is required; the only expectation is that you come with a sense of curiosity and a willingness to think hard about the concepts you will be taught. This class will involve a small amount of math–mostly just probability calculations–but it will otherwise be like other philosophy classes, with papers and short written exercises.

(Note: Some of the earlier questions in the above list may seem absurdly specific. I assure you they have a lot to do with philosophy–there are big, general questions about how to do science that connect to these questions about extinction, aliens, etc. We’ll focus on the general questions and apply our results to the specific ones.)

Above, I characterized the topics in ways that people unfamiliar with them would understand. Now I’ll say them again, this time by their official names: The Doomsday Argument & Anthropic Shadow. The Fermi Paradox. Reductionism & the Hard Problem of Consciousness. The Fine-Tuning Argument for Multiverse & the Fine-Tuning Argument for God. Induction, abduction, deduction. Occam’s Razor. Bayesian confirmation theory. Pragmatism & anti-realism. The Demarcation Problem. Anthropics & observer selection effects. Boltzmann Brains.

There are no books required for this course. The articles we will read will be made available online each week.