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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences : Philosophy

Undergraduate Course: Science and Realism, a Historical Look (PHIL10226)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 10 (Year 4 Undergraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThis course explores the ways that scientific realism developed over the twentieth century to become the dominant way to understand the connection between scientific theory and reality, amongst Anglo-American philosophers. Through looking at its historical development, we can examine whether the victory of scientific realism is deserved, or if other historically significant views should be endorsed once again.
Course description In this course we will endeavour to answer the question of how and why scientific realism came to be the dominant view regarding the interpretation of scientific theories, at least amongst non-specialists, by the end of the twentieth century. We will begin by examining the forms of realism that emerged at the start of the century, and how they interacted with rival empiricist, phenomenological and neo-Kantian approaches. We will examine the mid-century decline of logical empiricism, and the canonical arguments in favour of realism. We will finish with an assessment of contemporary varieties of realism: structuralism (considering, in particular, its origins in neo-Kantian philosophy of science), perspectival realism, and recent attempts to align realism with a pragmatist approach to truth.

Students will learn through independent reading of challenging historical texts, discussion of those texts in class, presentations delivered by the instructor, and student presentations.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Students MUST have passed: Knowledge and Reality (PHIL08017) AND Mind, Matter and Language (PHIL08014)
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
Pre-requisitesVisiting students should have completed at least 3 Philosophy courses at grade B or above. We will only consider University/College level courses. Applicants should note that, as with other popular courses, meeting the minimum does NOT guarantee admission. These enrolments are managed strictly by the Visiting Student Office, in line with the quotas allocated by the department, and all enquiries to enrol in these courses must be made through the CAHSS Visiting Student Office. It is not appropriate for students to contact the department directly to request additional spaces.
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2024/25, Not available to visiting students (SS1) Quota:  0
Course Start Semester 2
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Seminar/Tutorial Hours 22, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 174 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 0 %, Coursework 100 %, Practical Exam 0 %
Additional Information (Assessment) Midterm essay (35%)
Final essay (45%)
Class presentation (15%)
Participation (5%)
Feedback Written feedback on essays
Verbal feedback on class presentation
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Understand the differences between different forms of scientific realism.
  2. Identify diverse conceptions of scientific realism in the context of particular philosophical debates and critically evaluate their presuppositions.
  3. Think critically about the relation between philosophy and science.
  4. Improved core skills in philosophy, including the ability to interpret and analyse historical texts, evaluate arguments, and develop critical ideas in response.
  5. Further develop written and oral communication skills.
Reading List
To allow different course organisers to emphasise different topics, the following list of readings is merely indicative. Due to time constraints, only selections from the books listed below would be covered and only articles relevant to the particular topics covered in a year would be assigned:

Cassirer (1910/1923) Substance and Function
Duhem (1906/1954) Aim and Structure of Physical Theory
Guenguen and Psillos (2017) Anti-Scepticism and Epistemic Humility in Pierre Duhem's Philosophy of Science: Transversal
Roy Wood Sellars 1932 Philosophy of Physical Realism
Roy Wood Sellars 1946 Positivism and Materialism - Philosophy & Phenomenological Research
Planck (1909) The Unity of the Physical World-Picture
Mach (1910) "The Guiding Principles of My Scientific Theory of Knowledge and Its Reception by My Contemporaries." (In Toulmin (1970) Physical Reality)
Poincaré's (1912) "Les conceptions nouvelles de la matière" with introduction by Demopoulous et al. (2012)
Krips (1986) "Atomism, Poincaré and Planck" Studies HPS
Neurath (1931/1983) "Physicalism" in Philosophical Papers (1913-1946)
Schlick (1932/1959) "Positivism and Realism" in Ayer (ed) Logical Positivism
Carnap 1934 The Unity of Science Introduction/Carnap 1932 "Die physikalische Sprache als Universalsprache der Wissenschaft" Erkenntnis
Carnap 1966 Philosophical Foundations of Physics
Carus 2007 Carnap and Twentieth-Century Thought
Friedman 2000 A Parting of the Ways
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills This course will enable students to approach the notion of scientific realism with a critical mindset. They will be aware of important changes in conceptions of scientific realism, across different historical episodes. This will broaden students' horizons to ways of understanding scientific knowledge, interpretations of scientific theories, and views about natural reality, that are quite unfamiliar in the contemporary philosophical literature.
Course organiserDr Mazviita Chirimuuta
Course secretary
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