Philosophy 350/580

Prof. Warren Schmaus

Science and Method

Office: 228 Siegel Hall

TR †11:15 Ė 12:30

Office Hours: TR 1:30 - 3:30 and by appointment    

202 Siegel Hall     



Mailbox: 218 Siegel Hall 

Web Site:†

Office phone: 312.567.3473




REVISED course syllabus



Science and philosophy have been closely intertwined for most of history. Scientists were even called philosophers until fewer than 200 years ago. When philosophers debated the nature of knowledge and truth, they were not lost in abstractions, but reflecting on developments in the sciences and mathematics of their day. For instance, in astronomy, how could one justify shifting the Earth from the center of the universe to an orbit around the sun? Is the purpose of astronomy to get at the truth, or is it just to provide mathematical models of celestial phenomena for useful purposes such as making calendars and navigational charts? In physics, do we need to know the nature of light as long as we can describe the geometry of how it is propagated, reflected, refracted, and diffracted?† In general, should science try to uncover hidden truths about the world or stick to seeking the laws governing observable phenomena?


In this course, we will study the history of the debates about such questions among scientists and philosophers from the time of the ancient Greeks to the beginning of the twentieth century.† Our focus will be on the natural sciences, including astronomy, physics, chemistry, and biology.† One of the goals of this course is for students to come away with a deeper appreciation of the roles that argument and analysis as well as observation and experiment play in the development of science.† The very skills that we try to teach in humanities courses are integral to the scientific process.† Students should appreciate that there is no such thing as certainty in science, and that what counts as good reasons for accepting or rejecting a theory depends on historical context and is thus subject to change over time.



Required Texts:


†††††††††††††††† A Historical Introduction to the Philosophy of Science, 4th ed., by John Losee (JL) (ISBN 9780198700555)

†††††††††††††††† Science Rules, ed. by Peter Achinstein (PA) (ISBN 9780801879449)

†††††††††††††††† The Scientific Background to Modern Philosophy, ed. by Michael Matthews (MM) (ISBN 9780872200746)  

†††††††††††††††† Worldviews, 3rd.  ed., by Richard DeWitt (RD) (ISBN 9781119118893)


Required Readings on the Web:


†††††††††††††††† Retrograde motion explained

†††††††††††††††† Darwin, Charles, On the Origin of Species, ch. 14

                 Selections by David Hull and Ernst Mayr

                 Poincaré, Henri, selections from Science and Hypothesis


Course Requirements:




3 500-word essays, 10 points each, due 9/16, 10/7, 10/26


30 %

8 surprise quizzes


10 %

Class Participation and Attendance


10 %

Research Project:




Proposal:† Title, one-paragraph description, 3 sources

†6 %


4 - page progress report or outline, with bibliography

12 %

11/16 - 12/2

Class Presentation

12 %

Finals Week

8 - 10† page final paper

20 %


Total for Research Project


50 %



100 %




 Same as above but with a longer, 15-20 page final paper, held to a higher standard.


Class Participation and Attendance:


 Class participation and attendance will count towards 10 % of your grade. Attendance on library day (see below)  is required to receive the full 10%. IIT is requiring that everyone wear face coverings. 


Office Hours:


Office hours will be held either in person at the scheduled hours or online by appointment. Just send me an email ( so we can set up a time to communicate through Blackboard Collaborate Ultra.  




The three 500-word essays will be based on material covered in class.† For each assignment, you will choose and write about one of the three or four questions I will ask. †


I will be providing notes on the web for all of the classes, which should help you with the short essays as well as the quizzes.† Take your web browser to the web site named above, where you will find this syllabus with highlighted links to lecture outlines (in parentheses), paper topic assignments, and a guide to paper writing. The URL for this syllabus is also linked to the Blackboard course page.   


All written work, including the essays, the research proposal, the progress report, and the final paper, are to be double-spaced and in a readable 11 or 12-point font, and submitted as Word documents as email attachments. Name the file after yourself, so I don't get 20+ Word documents named "Essay #1." PDFs and other formats will be returned. Plagiarized work receives a failing grade and cannot be made up.† Students whose written work is not up to college level will be requested to seek assistance at the Writing Center at a location to be determined.




In addition, there will be approximately 8 surprise quizzes, which typically consist of 7 true-and-false questions and one 3-point question that requires a written answer.† Your average quiz grade will count for 10 % of your final grade.

These quizzes will be given the first 10 minutes of class. After everyone turns in their quiz, Iíll go over the answers in class, as they often provide important clues for the essays, which are worth considerably more towards your grade.


Students may make up missed quizzes only if they have an excused absence.† Valid excuses concern things that are outside a studentís control, such as an illness, injury, or other medical problem.† It is the studentís responsibility to inform the professor ahead of time when the student knows he or she will be absent from class.†


Research Project:


Every student will be responsible for a library research paper of about 8 - 10 pages and a 10 to 15-minute class presentation based on that paper.† The paper should focus on some scientistís or philosopherís views on the goals and methods of science.† Choose one either from the list linked to this syllabus, from any of the four texts for this course, or through consultation with the professor.† We will visit Galvin Library during class time on September 28, where a librarian, Ms. Nichole Novak, will introduce you to some of the research tools available to you. She has also prepared an online research guide for philosophy papers:


This project will proceed through a series of guided stages, each of which shall contribute towards your grade for the course.†



First each student will turn in a project proposal, including a tentative title, a one-paragraph description of the topic to be investigated, and a tentative bibliography of at least three reputable sources.† This will be returned with comments by the professor.


The next stage will be a progress report of about 1000 words.† This may be in either paragraph or outline form.† It should also include the current bibliography on a separate page.† You may think of this progress report as serving as the basis of the class presentation.


The third stage is a class presentation. Total time allotted each student will be no more than 15 minutes. Save some time for questions. Although many students like to use powerpoints, no particular format is required. Word documents and pdfs can be projected, too, and you can even write on the whiteboard with markers, if you prefer! Grades will be based on the content of your presentation and not on your facility with technology.


Comments on the progress report and class discussion generated by your class presentation will then provide you with feedback for writing your final paper.† The final research paper is due during exam week and serves in place of the final exam.


Disability Accommodations:


 Reasonable accommodations will be made for students with documented disabilities. In order to receive accommodations, students must obtain a letter of accommodation from the Center for Disability Resources and speak with me about it as soon as possible. The Center for Disability Resources is located in Suite 3F3-1, 10 W 35th St. You can also call them at 312-567-5744 or email them at


Readings and Assignments:



Topics, Readings, and Written Assignments


8/24 T

Introduction to course.† Ptolemyís arguments about the shape, position, and motion of the Earth. RD 81-91 (Ptolemy).†

8/26 R

Ancient astronomy. RD 31-35, 66-71, 92-114; JL 17-19 (ancient)

8/31 T

Aristotleís philosophy of science and physics.† RD 48-51; JL 4-13, 20-25; MM 5-15, 26-32; recommended: MM 15-26 (Aristotle).† FIRST ESSAY WILL BE ASSIGNED.† DUE:† 9/16.

9/2 R

Copernicusís Revolution in Astronomy.† RD 115-24; JL 39-40; MM 33-44; Retrograde motion explained. (Copernicus).†

9/7 T

The Revolution in Astronomy, contíd.† RD 125-58; JL 41-44, 46-53; MM 53-55 (astronomy).

9/9 R

Galileoís defense of the new science.† JL 46-54; MM 56-77; PA 364-71 (section Matthews left out on p. 77); MM 81-86 (Galileo).

9/14 T

Baconís philosophy of science.† JL 54-63, MM 45-52 (Bacon).

9/16 R

Descartes on Scientific Method.† JL 63-64; MM 87-94, PA 9-11, 17-34, 48-54 (Descartes1). FIRST ESSAY DUE.† SECOND ESSAY WILL BE ASSIGNED.† DUE:† 10/7.

9/21 T

Descartes’s mechanics.  JL 64-71; MM 94-99, 105-8; PA 11-16, 40-47, 54-66 (Descartes2).†

9/23 R

Descartes, concluded.

9/28 T

Class Visit to Galvin Library.

9/30 R

The Mechanical Philosophy. Boyle and Huygens.MM 109-32 (mechanical).

10/5 T

Newton on method, space, and time. JL 72-85; RD 164-66; MM 133-46. (Newton1).

10/7 R

Newton's celestial mechanics. PA 69-104; MM 146-48; JL 83-84 (Newton2). SECOND ESSAY DUE. THIRD ESSAY WILL BE ASSIGNED: DUE 10/26.

10/12 T

Whewell’s critique of Newton.  PA 112-23 (Whewell2).

10/14 R

Philosophical aspects of Newton's mechanics. RD 168-70; MM 148-58; PA 104-11 (Newton3). RESEARCH PAPER PROPOSALS DUE.

10/19 T

Young’s wave theory of light. PA 127-30, 137-49.  Recommended:  234-47 (Young).

10/21 R

Whewell’s philosophy of science JL 108-15; PA 130-32, 150-67 (Whewell1).

10/26 T

Mill versus Whewell on induction.  JL 132-41; PA 133-36, 173-207 (Mill1). THIRD ESSAY DUE.

10/28 R

Thursday’s assignment, cont’d.†

11/2 T

Mill on hypotheses in science.  PA 207-33 (Mill2).

11/4 R

Darwin’s views on scientific method.  Origin ch. 14; Selections by David Hull and Ernst Mayr.  (Darwin). †PROGRESS REPORTS DUE.

11/9 T

Positivism, Conventionalism, and the Atomic Debates.  JL 118-21, 143-44, 146-52; PA 252-55, 258-80; Poincaré handout. (positivism).

11/11 R

Positivism, etc., continued. Perrin's realism about molecules. PA 255-57, 298-311 (Perrin).

11/16 T


11/18 R



11/23 T



11/25 R


11/30 T


12/2 R


12/6 M Ė 12/10 F