Science and the Quest for Truth (PHIL0216)

 On a fairly conventional view, science exemplifies humankind’s rational inquiry into the true structure of the world. But what exactly is science? In what sense is it rational? Are scientific claims true or merely useful in predicting and controlling our environment? To answer these questions, we will examine scientific activities such as theory construction, explanation, confirmation, and experimentation, and their role in debates concerning the role of rationality and truth in scientic knowledge.

 Course meeting times and places:  Tuesday : 7:30-10:30, Twilight Hall, 201

Office hours:  Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday : 12:15PM-1:15PM Twilight Hall, 303A

Course policies are here.

Schedule of Readings and Assignments:

Links to readings below are available if you are connected via the Middlebury College Network. Copies for unlinked readings can be found on the “Readings” page. Password is: philsci


  •  Introductions
  • Chakravartty, Anjan (2017). “Scientific realismStanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, E. Zalta (ed.) We will focus on §1, “What is Scientific Realism?,” but skim the entire article. [PPT][PPT] [HANDOUT]
  • Nolt, John (1997). “Validity & Counterexamples.” In Logics. Belmont: McGraw-Hill.
  • Khalifa, Kareem (2018). “Reconstructing Arguments” in The Art of Argument (open-access book, in progress.) [PPT] [HANDOUT]

I.           Does the History of Science Favor Realism or Antirealism? 

A.          The No-Miracles Argument 

2/19 (Ellie Martini, Cater Wang)

B.          The Pessimistic Induction & Selective Realism

2/26 (Sarah Yang, Alex Kovalick)

3/5 (Jackson Sennett, Kristin Kimble)

II.          Eliminativism, reduction, and realism

3/12 (Anna Zumwinkle)

3/19 (Jenna Marotta, Rachael St. Clair, Katherine Jackson)


            Spring Break

III.        Alternatives to realism

A.          Social construction

4/2           (Greg Dray, Kyle Meredith)

  • Kuhn, Thomas. (1970). “Revolutions as Changes in World View” in Structure of Scientific Revolutions. [PPT] [HANDOUT]
  • Boghossian, Paul. (2001) “Constructing the facts” and “Relativizing the facts” in Fear of Knowledge.  [PPT] [HANDOUT]
  • (Both readings are on the Readings Page. Note the password at the top of this page.)

B. Feminist philosophy of science

4/9 (Thea Bean, Mika Morton) with Special Guest Lecture from Marion Boulicault (MIT) via Skype

C.          Constructive empiricism

4/16 (Eric McCord, Jeremy Barovick)


D.          Entity realism

4/30 (Sidney Portner, Lin Han)

E.          The natural ontological attitude

5/7 (Charlotte Massey, Omar AlSaeed)

5/15    Final Paper Due