Philosophy of Science Survey: Study Guide

Below is a list of student learning objectives for each week. In each exam, you will be tested only on these objectives, so this page serves as a study guide for the exams. This page will be updated periodically to reflect our progress in the course. In order to keep up with the course, by the end of each week, you should be able to do the tasks listed.

If you have any question, don’t hesitate to email me at (or through the email tool on Blackboard).

By the end of each week below, you should be able to what is listed. The lectures and the questions given in the lectures are designed to help you achieve these objectives. So be sure to review the lectures and do the questions to test your mastery.

Week 2

  1. Define the concept of a worldview.
  2. State some core beliefs of the Aristotelian worldview.
  3. Explain the jigsaw puzzle metaphor for a worldview.
  4. State some core beliefs of the Newtonian worldview.
  5. Explain the idea of indirect evidence (coherence with a worldview).
  6. Explain why the common-sense nature of a worldview and its beliefs is not good evidence that they are correct.
  7. State the popular misconceptions about facts, truth, and their relations to science.
  8. Explain the correspondence theory of truth, with an example.
  9. Explain the individualistic coherence theory of truth, with an example.
  10. Explain the science-based (group) coherence theory of truth, with an example.
  11. Explain the distinction between the definitional question of what truth is and the epistemological question of how we come to know truth.
  12. Explain how the correspondence theory makes the epistemological question difficult.

Week 3

  1. Define the concept of a fact (in the technical sense used in this course).
  2. Give some examples of facts in the Aristotelian worldview.
  3. Explain the difference between empirical facts and conceptual facts, using the pencil examples.
  4. Explain why the categories of empirical and conceptual facts are not clear-cut. In other words, explain why a fact can be both empirical and conceptual.
  5. Describe the schema of confirmation and disconfirmation reasoning (in the simple forms).
  6. Give an example of confirmation reasoning, either from science or from everyday life.
  7. Give an example of disconfirmation reasoning, either from science or from everyday life.
  8. Explain the notion of auxiliary hypotheses.
  9. Describe the schema of disconfirmation reasoning that incorporates auxiliary hypotheses.
  10. Explain why confirmation reasoning cannot prove a theory in the sense of guaranteeing the theory’s truth.

Week 4

  1. Explain the thesis that what is tested in science is a body of beliefs rather than an isolated hypothesis.
  2. Explain the concept of a crucial experiment.
  3. Explain why crucial experiments are nearly impossible, according to Quine and Duhem.
  4. Explain the concept of underdetermination of theories by evidence.
  5. Describe the main characteristics of the axiomatic method.
  6. Describe the main characteristics of falsificationism (as understood as a method of science).
  7. Describe the hypothetico-deductive method.
  8. Briefly explain why, in light of what we have learned so far, the textbook view of the scientific method is misleading.
  9. State in general terms the central question that animates the problems of induction.
  10. Explain Hume’s problem of induction using the sunrise example.
  11. State the uniformity principle.
  12. Explain Hume’s argument that the uniformity principle itself is supported only by induction.
  13. Explain Hempel’s raven paradox, using DeWitt’s example of quasars or Hempel’s own example of ravens.

Exam 1 covers Weeks 2–4.

Week 5

  1. Explain Popper’s concept of falsifiability (as a property of a theory).
  2. Describe Popper’s example of a falsifiable theory.
  3. Describe an example (your own or Popper’s) of an unfalsifiable theory.
  4. Explain DeWitt’s concept of falsifiability (as a person’s attitude toward theories).
  5. Illustrate DeWitt’s concept of falsifiability with an example (such as DeWitt’s own).
  6. Describe how astrology is in fact falsifiable in Popper’s sense.
  7. Explain how DeWitt’s concept of falsifiability applies to astrologers’ attitude toward astrology.
  8. Explain what it means to have a disagreement over standards of evidence.
  9. Explain prediction, explanation (in the minimal sense), and understanding as things that we use scientific theories for.
  10. State instrumentalism and realism as attitudes about the aim of scientific theories.
  11. Describe examples of theories or models that do not accurately describe reality (as the realist demands) but which are successful at prediction and explanation.

Week 6

  1. State the Aristotelian beliefs about the shape, motion (stationary), and location of the Earth.
  2. Describe the structure of the Aristotelian universe, especially the order of celestial bodies.
  3. Describe the characteristics of the sublunar region in the Aristotelian universe.
  4. Describe the characteristics of the superlunar region in the Aristotelian universe.
  5. Describe the basic tenets of Aristotelian teleology.
  6. Explain the difference between teleological and mechanistic explanation, with examples.
  7. Provide an Aristotelian teleological explanation of why a rock falls.
  8. Describe Ptolemy’s arguments for the belief that the Earth is spherical (focus on passages [1] and [5]).
  9. Describe Ptolemy’s argument against the belief that the Earth is flat (focus on passages [4] and [6]).
  10. Describe Ptolemy’s common-sense argument against the belief that the Earth is in motion.
  11. Describe Ptolemy’s argument from stellar parallax.
  12. Describe Ptolemy’s common-sense argument for the belief that the Earth is at the center of the universe.

Week 7

  1. Explain the observational distinction between fixed stars and planets in the Aristotelian worldview.
  2. State some general patterns of the movement of fixed stars. (This is part of an answer to 1 above.)
  3. Explain why certain points of light in the sky are called planets. (This is part of an answer to 1 above.)
  4. Describe retrograde motion (as the observed motion).

Week 8

  1. Explain the role of conceptual facts in scientific problem solving.
  2. State the two major conceptual facts in the Aristotelian astronomy.
  3. State the pre-1600s principle of motion.
  4. Describe the Aristotelian explanation of why celestial bodies move continuously.
  5. Identify parts of the epicycle-deferent system. (You should be able to accurately label the diagram like Fig. 13.1 in the textbook. The labeling convention can be DeWitt’s or like the diagram used in lecture. Disregard the equant point for this week.)
  6. Explain why the Earth is still at the center of the universe even though the epicycle-deferent system allows eccentric (off-centered deferent).
  7. Explain the concept of an adjustable parameter.
  8. List some adjustable parameters of the epicycle-deferent system.
  9. Briefly state how the epicycle-deferent system explains retrograde motion.

Exam 2 covers Weeks 5–8.

Week 9

  1. Define an equant point in Ptolemy’s system.
  2. Explain the role of conceptual facts in Ptolemy’s introduction of an equant point.
  3. Explain the role of empirical facts in Ptolemy’s introduction of an equant point.
  4. Describe the translation movement at the House of Wisdom in Baghdad. (Who participated in the movement? What was it about?)
  5. Describe three main activities of the medieval Islamic astronomy.
  6. Describe the revival of science in Europe starting in the 12th century. (How did Europeans relearn science? Where was science studied and taught?)

Week 10

  1. Describe the order of the celestial bodies in the Copernican universe.
  2. Describe the key difference between the Ptolemaic epicycle-deferent system and the Copernican epicycle-deferent system. (For example, you should be able to explain DeWitt’s Figure 14.1 and describe the treatment of the equant point.)
  3. Describe the Copernican explanation of retrograde motion.
  4. Explain how Copernicus’s commitment to the Aristotelian ideal of uniform circular motion motivated the Copernican system.
  5. Describe Neoplatonism and its emphasis on the sun. (You don’t have to be able to describe the potential historical influence of Neoplatonism on Copernicus.)
  6. Describe Tycho’s system (e.g., the order of celestial bodies; the Earth’s position and motion (or lack of it); what bodies move around what).
  7. Describe the 16th century scientific and religious criticisms of the Copernican universe.
  8. State Kepler’s first law of planetary motion.
  9. State Kepler’s second law of planetary motion.
  10. Describe Kepler’s motivations for studying mathematical and geometrical regularities in the world.

Week 11

  1. Describe Galileo’s observations based on the telescope, especially the Moon’s mountains and Venus’s phases.
  2. Explain why Galileo’s observation of the Moon’s mountains challenged the Aristotelian distinction between the sublunar and superlunar regions.
  3. Explain why Galileo’s observation of the phases of Venus challenged the Ptolemaic system.
  4. Explain why the evidence from the telescope underdetermines the earth-centered and the sun-centered views.
  5. Briefly state the biblical criticism of the Copernican view.
  6. Describe what Cardinal Bellarmine prohibited and allowed Galileo to do.
  7. Describe how, in writing the Dialogue, Galileo tried to respect Bellarmine’s warning.
  8. Describe the three common misunderstandings of the Galileo affair.
  9. Describe Galileo’s position on the relevance of Scripture to science.
  10. Describe the two types of demonstration that Bellarmine distinguishes.

Week 12

  1. Describe the open problems for a new science in the early 1600s. (These are what DeWitt calls the problems for the Aristotelian worldview.)
  2. Describe the new theological problems that emerged in response to the scientific developments in the early 1600s.
  3. Describe how de Cusa’s and Bruno’s theological views helped make the idea of an infinite universe palatable.
  4. Describe the basic views of ancient Greek atomism.
  5. Describe the mechanical view of the world, which was widely held by the 17th century scientists. (It’s easier to do this by contrasting the mechanical view to the teleological view.)
  6. State the law of inertia, as stated by Newton himself or by his predecessors or by DeWitt. (DeWitt’s version is in Ch. 12.)
  7. Describe two key ideas of inertial motion.
  8. State the law of universal gravitation as given by Newton himself.
  9. Describe the differences between the Aristotelian worldview and the Newtonian worldview regarding (i) the ultimate cause of motion, (ii) the nature of the world, and (iii) the role of God in the universe.
  10. Explain Leibniz’s argument that Newton’s gravity is an occult force.

Exam 3 covers Weeks 9–12.

Week 13

  1. Describe the problem of organic origins.
  2. Describe two historically old and competing solutions to the problem of organic origins.
  3. State the thesis of species essentialism and special creation.
  4. Explain Erasmus Darwin’s species transformism.
  5. Explain Lamarck’s species transformism.
  6. Explain Charles Darwin’s thesis of common descent.
  7. Explain Darwin’s central argument for natural selection. (Pay attention to the conditions for natural selection laid out by Darwin.)

Week 14

  1. Define how evolutionary change is understood in population genetics.
  2. Describe how the theory of population genetics explains changes in allele frequencies.
  3. State the conditions for natural selection as they are given in the modern evolutionary theory.
  4. Explain the concept of fitness.
  5. Explain what genetic drift represents and how it is different from natural selection.
  6. Explain the effect of small population size on changes in allele frequencies (with or without natural selection). (We discussed this point in simulations.)
  7. Explain the sense in which the modern evolutionary theory is mechanistic.
  8. Summarize the Darwinian worldview.
  9. State the key premise of Paley’s design argument.
  10. Explain how Darwin’s explanation of design is different from Paley’s.
  11. Explain the conception of God that, in the eyes of religious and secular scholars, is incompatible with the Darwinian worldview. (Note that this conception is the traditional one; not all conceptions of God are incompatible with the Darwinian worldview.)
  12. Explain the metaphor of a universe as an organism.
  13. Explain the metaphor of a universe as a machine.

Final Exam covers Weeks 2–14. New questions will cover Weeks 13–14, and other questions will be drawn from the previous exams.