Philosophy of Science Essay Suggestions

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  1. One important lesson of Hume's critique of induction is that a method of induction that is reliable in one situation may not be reliable in another situation. This suggests that there may be no single reliable way of doing science. Discuss.
  2. Before we can explain and understand the success of science, we have to first say which methods of science are responsible for that success. Which of the different descriptions of induction do you think best describes the examples we have studied?
  3. Choose one of the examples out of Readings 15 through 24, in order to criticize the naïve inductivist view of how scientific discoveries are made.
  4. In class, we saw a problem with Simple Bayesianism in the Mayer example, which may be summarized as follows: If assign only a small list of possible hypotheses a non-zero prior probability, we may easily face a situation in which we falsify them all, forcing us to make a new list (which is non-Bayesian kind of 'leap'). On the other hand, if we assign all possible hypotheses equal weight to start out, then there is a sense in which we never go 'beyond the evidence' and never make bold predictions. How might a Bayesian respond? How might a Bayesian improve upon Simple Bayesianism in order to address these problems?
  5. What do we learn from the example of planetary astronomy that applies to other sciences? What, if any, are the dangers of forming a general picture of science from this example? Do other sciences, in other words, differ in important and relevant ways?
  6. Kuhn claims that the harmony of Copernican astronomy is a merely aesthetic virtue. Is he right?
  7. The idea of explaining effects in terms of a common cause crops up again and again in planetary astronomy. Can you find some interesting examples of this in examples of other sciences? (Hacking's "How do we see through a microscope?" (reading 25) might be an interesting example of this.) Can you see any differences in these cases?
  8. Galileo appeals to the idea that his law of free fall is simpler than alternative laws. Is his argument a good one? How does this compare with other 'arguments from simplicity' we have seen?
  9. Does Kuhn really have a good argument for rejecting traditional philosophy of science, and replacing it with a sociology of scientific communities?
  10. Is Kuhn's right to suggest that scientists working under different paradigms live in a different world? If he is not literally right, is there some sense in which he is right?
  11. Scientific empiricism is the view that scientific knowledge of the world comes solely through experience. Mill is often viewed as an empiricist, while Whewell is not an empiricist. Do you think that this characterization is correct?
  12. What is Whewell's view of curve-fitting? How is this an example of the colligation of facts for Whewell?
  13. Mill has a particular view of Kepler's discovery of the orbit of Mars, with which Whewell disagreed. Who, if either, was right?
  14. What is Reichenbach's principle of common cause. Is the same principle appealed to by Copernicus and Newton?
  15. What is Bell's argument? Does it prove that Einstein's view of the world is wrong?