PHI321 Philosophy of Science

Spring 2005
Professor: Adam Elga
(follow link for contact information).
Assistant in Instruction: Lara Buchak <>
Office hour Wed 1:30-2:30, Office location:111 1879 Hall
Class meeting time 1:30-2:50 Tuesdays and Thursdays, in McCosh 2


First half of course: Theories and space. "Gravity will stop operating tomorrow." All of your evidence is consistent with this claim. So why would it be absurd to believe it? More generally, why is it reasonable for us to favor certain simple or beautiful scientific theories over ugly, artificial ones? Does the apparent fine-tuned nature of the fundamental physical constants give us evidence that there are many universes? What does relativity tell us about the connection between time and space?

Second half of course: Evolution, games and reduction. Is "adaptationist" thinking legitimate in evolutionary theory? Can evolutionary theory be legitimately applied to psychology? Can game-theoretic models shed light on the origins of cooperation and signaling systems? Are explanations of biological and psychological phenomena all grounded in fundamental physics?

Prerequisite: One previous philosophy course.

General guidelines

Reading/writing assignments:

Discussion board

Occasional pop quizzes on readings and on what has gone before in class.

Problem sets due every week or two.

The quizzes and problem sets will be collected at the end of class (so that you may consult them during class) and will not be returned. We will consult them as a whole in order to help determine your class participation grade.

For at least one of the readings, being the official "clarifier".

A take-home midterm exam made available no later than Thursday March 10 and due at noon on Thursday March 24.

A final paper due on Dean's date (Tuesday May 10).

Grading: 20% assignments, quizzes, and participation, 40% midterm exam, 40% final paper.


The texts for the course are available at the U-Store:

  • Skyrms, Brian. The stag hunt and the evolution of social structure.
  • Sterelney, Kim, and Paul Griffiths. Sex and death.

Readings are available online. To access these you will need a userid (the userid is "guest") and a password (announced in class).


Tue Feb 1:

Russell, Bertrand. On induction

Thu Feb 3:

Goodman, Nelson. The new riddle of induction (chapter 3 of Fact, fiction, forecast), sections 1,2,4.

Tue Feb 8:

Jeffrey. Probability primer (chapter 1 of Subjective probability: the real thing), pp. 8-12, 22-23. Also be sure to print out and bring to class the entire chapter. Note: if you do not understand some of this, do not worry---but in this case be sure to ask questions about it at the beginning of class.

[optional] Sober, Elliot. "No model, no inference: a Bayesian primer on the grue problem".

Thu Feb 10:

White, Roger. Why favour simplicity?. Analysis.

Note added February 10, 2005: I have just replaced the online version of this with a corrected version.

Principles of Indifference

Tue Feb 15:

Van Fraassen, Bas. Indifference: the symmetries of probability. Chapter 12 of Laws and Symmetry.

Thu Feb 17 [no AE]:
No class (rescheduled for last session).

Tue Feb 22:

Strevens, Michael. Inferring probabilities from symmetries

Symmetry case study: symmetry in spacetime physics

Thu Feb 24:

Geroch, Robert. Events and spacetime. General relativity from A to B, chapter 1.

Geroch, Robert. The Aristotelian view. General relativity from A to B, chapter 2.

Tue Mar 1:

Geroch, Robert. The Galilean view. General relativity from A to B, chapter 3.

Thu Mar 3:
Spacetime problem set due.

Precept-style spacetime session

Tue Mar 8:

Weinberg, Steven. Beautiful theories. Chapter from Dreams of a final theory.

[optional] Lange, Marc. Spearman's principle British Journal for the Philosophy of Science46(4) (1995) 503-521.

How fundamental is causation?

Thu Mar 10:

Norton, John. Causation as folk science. Philosophers' Imprint Volume 3, No. 4 November 2003.

[Optional] Russell, Bertrand. On the notion of cause. In Mysticism and Logic, pp. 132-151.

Tue Mar 22:

Parfit, Derek. Why anything? Why this? London Review of Books Vol. 20 No. 2,3 dated 22 January 1998, 5 February 1998. Reprinted in Metaphysics: A Guide and Anthology, Crane and Farkas, eds.

Thu Mar 24:

White, Roger. Fine-tuning and multiple universes.

White, Roger. Postscript.

Evolution and adaptationism

Tue Mar 29:

Gould, Stephen and Richard Lewontin. "The Spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian Paradigm: A Critique of the Adaptationist Programme" Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Series B, vol. 205, no. 1161 (1979), pp. 581-598.

Dennett, Daniel. Searching for quality, pp 229-251 (Part of chapter 9 of Darwin's dangerous idea).

[optional] Sterelney, Kim, and Paul Griffiths. The received view of evolution (Chapter 2 of Sex and death).

What is the proper scope of evolutionary explanations?

Thu Mar 31:

Guest leader: Shlomo Sher, Princeton Psychology.

Lewontin, Richard. "The Evolution of Cognition: Questions We Will Never Answer" (Chapter 3 of An Invitation to Cognitive Science - 2nd Edition: Vol. 4. Edited by Don Scarborough and Saul Sternberg)

[optional] Robert Berwick. Feeling for the Organism Review of Richard Dawkins Climbing Mount Improbable. December 1996/ January 1997 issue of Boston Review

[optional] Replies and counter-replies to the above review, as well as related articles are available at the Boston Review Articles on Evolution page.

Tue Apr 5:

Finish off discussion of "Why anything? Why this?" (focus on the notion of a "selector" as it figures in pp. 25-30 of the article). Note that a much more readable scan of the article is available: Why anything? Why this?

Sterelney, Kim, and Paul Griffiths. Organisms, groups, and superorganisms (Chapter 8 of Sex and death).

[optional] Sterelney, Kim, and Paul Griffiths. Adaptation, perfection, function, sections 10.4-10.6 (from Chapter 10 of Sex and death).

[optional] Dennett, Daniel. Bully for brontosaurus, section 2 only. (Chapter 10 of Darwin's dangerous idea).

Thu Apr 7:

Guest leader: Robert Freidin, Princeton Program in Linguistics.

Marc Hauser, Noam Chomsky, W. Tecumseh Fitch. "The faculty of language: what is it, who has it, and how did it evolve?" Science 298, 22 November 2003.

[optional] Steven Pinker, Ray Jackendoff. The faculty of language: what's special about it?. Cognition 95 (2005) 201-236. Selection TBA.

Evolution of cooperation

Tue Apr 12:

Skyrms, Brian. The stag hunt. Chapter 1 of The stag hunt and the evolution of social structure.

Axelrod, Robert. Success of TIT FOR TAT in computer tournaments. Chapter 2 of The evolution of cooperation.

[optional] Axelrod, Robert. The problem of cooperation. Chapter 1 of The evolution of cooperation.

[optional] Kitcher. A beginner's guide to life, sex, and fitness, pages 77-95. (From chapter 3 of Vaulting Ambition.

Thu Apr 14:

Skyrms, Brian. Evolution of inference. Chapter 4 of The stag hunt and the evolution of social structure.

Skyrms, Brian. Cheap talk. Chapter 5 of The stag hunt and the evolution of social structure.

[optional] Lewis, David. Convention refined. Chapter 2 of Convention.


Tue Apr 19:

Weinberg, Steven. Two cheers for reductionism. Chapter 3 of Dreams of a final theory.

Fodor, Jerry. "Special sciences (or: the disunity of science as a working hypothesis)". Synthese 28:2 (1974) 97-115.

Thu Apr 21:

Noam Chomsky The view beyond: prospects for the study of mind (Chapter 5 of The Managua lectures), pp. 138-150.

Weinberg, Steven. Can Science Explain Everything? Anything? New York Review of Books, Volume 48, Number 9, May 31, 2001.

Tue Apr 26:

David Lewis Reduction of mind. Entry in A Companion to the Philosophy of Mind, Samuel Guttenplan, editor.

Jackson, Frank. Epiphenomenal Qualia. Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 32, No. 127 Apr 1982, 127-136.

[optional] Crane, Tim and Mellor, D.H. (1990). "There is No Question of Physicalism", Mind, 99, pp. 185-206.

Thu Apr 28:

Topic TBA.

Tue May 3 [special session]:

2:00-4:30pm [note changed time], McCosh 2. Paper worshop

Adam Elga | | Princeton University
Last modified: Thu Apr 28 11:43:53 EDT 2005