Upcoming Seminar: Spring 2015

HPS 2622: Recent Topics in Philosophy of Science: Explanation (co-taught with Bob Batterman)

 This course will explore some of the recent literature on explanation in science and mathematics.  Among the topics discussed will be the following: Are there non-causal forms of explanation and if so, what distinguishes  them from causal  explanations?  What is the role of mathematics in scientific explanation?  Are there mathematical explanations of physical events? What explanatory role is played by abstract structural features of scientific models – topological or network relationships and so on?  What role is played by asymptotics  and limiting behavior?  Must an explanatory model mirror or be isomorphic to or otherwise realistically represent the systems it explains? What is the role of information about mechanisms in explanation?  How do explanations differ in structure across different areas of science?  


Recent courses

HPS 2688 / PHIL 2675: Scientific Explanation (co-taught with Mark Wilson)  

In recent years, a fair number of "analytic metaphysicians" have wandered into topics (causation and how we talk of parts and wholes) that have traditionally belonged to the bailiwick of philosophy of science and applied mathematics. And they usually bring with them very strong assumptions about the "necessary truths" that should guide research in these areas, in a vein that frequently dismisses as "irrelevant to metaphysics" many of the claims about these subjects that we might frame on the basis of the straightforward analysis of real life scientific practice. The result is a Major schism or disjunction between the ideas and methods of these self-described "metaphysicians of science" and more traditional, methodologically oriented philosophy of science. This course will explore this schism and some of its sources. We suspect that one source is the tendency of contemporary philosophers of science to abandon any concern with general philosophy of science (or methodology) in favor of much more specialized kinds of inquiries into the particular sciences. This has left general philosophy of science open to ill-informed interlopers from metaphysics who now occupy its abandoned residences. We shall discuss these issues partially in the light of our own researches. Some of these basic themes are broached by Wilson in his forthcoming book, Physics Avoidance and Other Essays and by Woodward in his Presidential Address to the PSA, "A Functional Account of Causation or A Defense of the Legitimacy of Causal Thinking by Reference to the Only Standard that Matters-Usefulness (as opposed to Metaphysics or Agreement with Intuitive Judgment)".


HPS 2501 / PHIL 2600: Philosophy of Science Core

This course will focus on central topics in general philosophy of science, including explanation, confirmation, theory change, and scientific realism. We shall combine a reading of some of the classic texts along with more recent work.


HPS 2114/PHIL 2662: Causality

This seminar will focus (among other things) on the strengths and limitations of various philosophical “theories” of causation, including regularity theories (Mackie), probabilistic theories (Suppes, Ells/Sober), counterfactual theories (Lewis and students),  and causal process theories (Salmon, Dowe). We will also discuss some accounts of causal inference found in statistics and social science, including accounts based on Bayes nets.  The emphasis throughout will be on the application of these accounts to problems of causal reasoning and inference found in the various sciences.


HPS 2688 / PHIL 2675: Scientific Explanation  

This will be primarily a research seminar, although we will begin with a review of some standard accounts of explanation in philosophy of science, including the DN model, Salmon’s SR and causal mechanical models, and Friedman’s and Kitcher’s unificationist models. We will then explore some more specialized topics and more recent literature. The selections of these will depend in part on what students taking the seminar are most interested in, but possibilities include the role of idealizations and approximations in explanation, the various roles of probability and statistics in explanation, explanation and reduction, notions of levels of explanation, whether there is such a thing as inference to the best explanation, and similarities and differences among the forms of explanations in the different sciences – e.g. how explanations in physics resemble and differ from those in biology, psychology etc.


HPS 2683 / PHIL 2620: Philosophy of Social Science (co-taught with Sandra Mitchell)

The social sciences deal with the interactions of individuals and the products of those interactions. Philosophical scrutiny of explanations of social life raise questions of social ontology, broadly defined to include collective intentionality, shared agency, and the reality of group agents. This seminar will consider questions of explanatory strategy, such as whether the social sciences provide causal explanations similar to those in the natural sciences, or whether instead they provide Verstehen (understanding) and interpretation. In addition in this seminar we will consider specific questions about social causation, rational choice, why people cooperate as much as they do, the biological foundations of human social behavior and the character of social complexity. We will draw from both philosophical and social scientific readings to explore these issues.