Philosophy of Science

Course No. 4100
Professor Jeffrey L. Kasser, Ph.D.
Colorado State University
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Course No. 4100
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Course Overview

Science can't be free of philosophy any more than baseball can be free of physics. With this bold intellectual swing for the fences, philosopher Jeffrey L. Kasser uses the tools of philosophy to launch an ambitious and exciting inquiry into what makes science science. In this brilliant course you will discuss

  • Why is science so successful?
  • Is there such a thing as the scientific method?
  • How do we distinguish science from pseudoscience?
  • Is science rational, cumulative, and progressive?

Focusing his investigation on the vigorous debate over the nature of science that unfolded during the past 100 years, Professor Kasser covers important philosophers such as Karl Popper, W. V. Quine, Thomas Kuhn, Paul Feyerabend, Imre Lakatos, Carl Hempel, Nelson Goodman, and Bas van Fraassen.

All of these thinkers responded in one way or another to logical positivism, the dominant movement influencing the philosophy of science during the first half of the 20 th century. Logical positivism attempted to ground science exclusively in what could be known through direct experience and logic.

It sounds reasonable, but logical positivism proved to be riddled with serious problems, and its eventual demise is an object lesson in how truly difficult it is—perhaps impossible—to secure the logical foundations of a subject that seems so unassailably logical: science.

A Surprisingly Practical Field

The philosophy of science can be abstract and theoretical, but it is also surprisingly practical. Assumptions about the nature of science affect such contemporary debates as:

  • Which research gets funded
  • What topics qualify as science in elementary and high school classrooms
  • What is considered legitimate and ethical medical care
  • What and whether treatments are reimbursed by insurance companies.

Science plays a pivotal role in our society, and a rigorous study of its philosophical foundations sheds light on the ideas, methods, institutions, and habits of mind that have so astonishingly and successfully transformed our world.

Philosophy Made Accessible

In 36 half-hour lectures, Dr. Kasser takes you step by step through a host of philosophical arguments that illuminate important aspects of science. His goal is "to leave you puzzled in articulate and productive ways"—a mission at which he has compiled an impressive track record, as evidenced by such honors as the prestigious Senior Class Charles Bassett Teaching Award at Colby College.

In reporting this award, Colby Magazine cited the following testimonial from a student: "Jeff makes difficult material accessible better than anyone else from whom I've taken a class. After one of Jeff's classes, students feel as though they have conducted a complete study, not just a survey of scattered ideas."

Slaying Philosophical Dragons—or Wounding Them?

One example of how even the most promising approach to science is beset with unforeseeable problems involves the favorite philosopher of many working scientists: Karl Popper. People from all walks of life are familiar with Popper's rule of thumb for separating pseudoscience from science: If a theory can't be "falsified"—if there is no way to disprove it—then it doesn't qualify as science.

Early in the course, you will learn that Popper came up with this formulation in the 1930s in response to his disillusionment with Marxist political theory and Freudian psychology. Neither discipline appeared to have the self-confidence of, for example, Einstein's relativity theory, which could unequivocally state the kinds of observations that would disprove, or falsify, it.

By contrast, Marxists and Freudians tended to argue away all apparently disconfirming evidence, rendering their theories immune to falsification. Spurred by this realization, Popper proposed that true science is engaged in a ceaseless attempt, not to prove theories (something that can never be done definitively), but to falsify them, and having done so, to move ahead to improved theories. These, in turn, undergo a new round of tests until falsified, and so on.

As you will learn, Popper's demarcation criteria seemed to slay some prominent philosophical dragons, including the notorious problem of induction, first proposed by the Scottish philosopher David Hume in the 18th century. Hume argued that there is no justification for making the inductive inference that the future will resemble the past, which is a linchpin of scientific reasoning.

For Popper, this was not a problem because his falsification criteria made no appeal to induction. Professor Kasser quips that Popper is like a mutual fund manager who warns that past performance is not only no guarantee of future performance; it's no evidence at all for future performance.

But consider these cases:

  • Contrary to Popper's model, at some point we stop testing our theories and start taking them for granted. Ask yourself how much sense it makes to get on an airplane if you don't think past performance is any indicator at all of future performance.
  • From reading Popper, you might expect that early 19th-century scientists would have been anxious to reject Newtonian physics when the planet Uranus did not have the orbit that Newtonian physics predicted. Instead, they kept Newtonian physics and posited an as-yet-unobserved planet that turned out to be Neptune.
  • Astrology is the poster child of alleged pseudosciences. But advocates of this view often say in one breath that astrology makes false predictions and in another that it's unfalsifiable and hence, unscientific. But making false predictions is just one outcome of making testable ones. You can't simultaneously reject a theory as false and unscientific, especially if your criterion for science is falsifiability.
  • Popper's criteria admit virtually all competitors into the race to survive falsification. But "nobody would watch the Olympics if everybody got to compete," says Professor Kasser. "We have to find some way of distinguishing views that should be taken seriously, that should receive our resources, from views that shouldn't."

Popper is not the only thinker to get the philosophical third degree in this manner. If you already hold views about the nature of science or if you simply have strong instincts about what sounds right, you will find your convictions tested repeatedly in this course.

A Manual for Intellectual Self-Defense

Popper represents one powerful current of philosophical thought about science in the 20th century. Another was initiated by Thomas Kuhn in his 1962 book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, which Professor Kasser also covers in depth.

In the course of these lectures, you will investigate a wide range of philosophical approaches to science, including empiricism, constructivism, scientific realism, and Bayesianism.

You will also explore such concepts as natural kinds, bridge laws, Hume's fork, the covering-law model, the hypothetico-deductive model, and inference to the best explanation (mistakenly called "deduction" in the Sherlock Holmes stories). Professor Kasser shows how these and other tools allow us to take apart scientific arguments and examine their inner workings.

"Philosophy, in general, is supposed to provide a kind of manual for intellectual self-defense," he explains. "So philosophy of science should help us look at claims made within science, and claims made about science, and help us make informed judgments about how and what we're to think about each case."

Throughout the course, Dr. Kasser is careful to be an impartial guide, describing the arguments among different philosophers as these debates developed during the past 100 years. In Lecture 36, he ventures his own synthesis of the major themes that stand out in this remarkable century of thought.

Dr. Kasser's masterful summary in this last lecture might just count as a game-winning play in the inquiry he launched so boldly with a baseball analogy in Lecture 1. But we invite you to be the umpire.

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36 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Science and Philosophy
    Does a scientific worldview leave any room for distinctively philosophical knowledge? Do philosophers have anything useful to tell anyone, especially scientists, about science? Professor Kasser argues that this course will give ample reasons to answer "yes" to both questions. x
  • 2
    Popper and the Problem of Demarcation
    The distinguishing mark of science, according to Viennese philosopher Karl Popper, is that it seeks to falsify, not to confirm, its hypotheses. This lecture develops and assesses Popper's remarkable proposal. x
  • 3
    Further Thoughts on Demarcation
    What would be the implications of describing astrology as lousy science rather than as pseudoscience? Would this treatment of the problem of separating science from pseudoscience inevitably lead to the teaching of creationism in high school classrooms? x
  • 4
    Einstein, Measurement, and Meaning
    Einstein's special theory of relativity shocked physicists and scientifically minded philosophers by revealing a lack of clarity in familiar concepts such as length and simultaneity. When we insist on understanding simultaneity and length experimentally, we see that they crucially involve the notion of a reference frame, which is why durations and lengths are measured differently by observers moving relative to one another. x
  • 5
    Classical Empiricism
    The classical tradition of Locke, Berkeley, and Hume sets the terms for the problems that a sophisticated empiricist account of scientific knowledge must address. Empiricism's antimetaphysical tendencies constantly threaten to force it into a disabling and radical skepticism. x
  • 6
    Logical Positivism and Verifiability
    Born in the early 20th century, logical positivism tried to develop an empiricist conception of philosophy that was logically coherent and adequate to the practice of science. This lecture sketches the positivist program, paying special attention to the demarcation criterion and the verification principle. x
  • 7
    Logical Positivism, Science, and Meaning
    It is difficult for empiricism to make room for unobservable reality. However, scientific theories are full of claims about quarks and other apparently unobservable entities. One response is instrumentalism, according to which a scientific theory need only "save the phenomena." x
  • 8
    W. V. Quine's "Two Dogmas of Empiricism," published in 1953, is often considered the most important philosophical article of the century. In it, Quine draws radical implications from his idea that hypotheses are not testable in isolation. x
  • 9
    Discovery and Justification
    John Stuart Mill systematized a number of techniques used in earlier empiricist approaches to inquiry. Although overly ambitious and curiously naïve by today's standards, Mill's methods have proved valuable in fields such as artificial intelligence. x
  • 10
    Induction as Illegitimate
    This lecture begins the discussion of inductive logic by wrestling with Hume's argument that there is no justification for believing that the sun will rise tomorrow. Popper claimed that this was not a problem for science, which could operate perfectly well without such inductive inferences. x
  • 11
    Some Solutions and a New Riddle
    There are several philosophical responses to Hume's problem of induction. Notably, Nelson Goodman's "new riddle of induction" turns Hume's problem on its head, showing that experience lends support to too many inferences of uniformity in nature, not too few. x
  • 12
    Instances and Consequences
    Carl Hempel offered a paradox that appears as frustrating as Goodman's, showing that almost anything counts as evidence for a proposition such as "All crows are black." This instantial model was replaced by the hypothetico-deductive model, which faced challenges of its own. x
  • 13
    Kuhn and the Challenge of History
    Thomas Kuhn's 1962 book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, dealt logical positivism its mightiest blow. This lecture discusses the pattern of normal science punctuated by periods of revolution that Kuhn finds in the history of science, and his explanation of this pattern via the notion of a paradigm. x
  • 14
    Revolutions and Rationality
    Kuhn's treatment of normal science is controversial, but his treatment of scientific revolutions created a greater sensation. Notions of rationality and truth play little role in his explanation of the rise of a new paradigm. x
  • 15
    Assessment of Kuhn
    Kuhn's powerful and wide-ranging work raises several questions: How accurate is his portrayal of patterns in science? How acceptable is his explanation of these patterns? Are his claims about perception defensible? How sophisticated are his views of language and truth? x
  • 16
    For and Against Method
    Imre Lakatos tried to reconcile Kuhn's historical approach with a more robust role for scientific rationality. Lakatos's intellectual sparring partner, Paul Feyerabend, argued against all scientific methodologies. If there has to be a rule governing scientific practice, Feyerabend's is: Anything goes. x
  • 17
    Sociology, Postmodernism, and Science Wars
    Sociology of science promoted itself as the heir to philosophy of science, inspiring ideas such as "the social construction of reality." This lecture also explores postmodern views of science, including physicist Alan Sokal's notorious submission of a parody essay to the journal Social Text. x
  • 18
    (How) Does Science Explain?
    This lecture explores some philosophical ideas that have come to the fore since the Kuhnian revolution, focusing on Hempel's covering-law model of explanation. Hempel tried to reconcile empiricist scruples with the need for genuine scientific explanations. x
  • 19
    Putting the Cause Back in "Because"
    Many philosophers appeal to causation to avoid problems that crop up in Hempel's covering law model, which allows arguments that intuitively have no explanatory force as legitimate scientific explanations. The causal model appears to deal with this concern. x
  • 20
    Probability, Pragmatics, and Unification
    This lecture examines the remaining major issues in the philosophy of explanation, including Bas van Fraassen's radical proposal that explanation is no part of science itself and that good explanations are nothing deeper than contextually appropriate answers to "why" questions. x
  • 21
    Laws and Regularities
    It is generally, though by no means unanimously, agreed that science seeks to uncover laws of nature. But the role of such laws is controversial. Empiricist philosophers are suspicious of the very concept because of the association of laws of nature with divine decrees and other metaphysical pictures. x
  • 22
    Laws and Necessity
    This lecture looks at several other approaches to the problem of laws of nature. Nancy Cartwright, a philosopher of physics, argues for a stark dilemma: Either the laws of nature are false, but can be used in scientific explanations; or they are true, but useless for explaining things. x
  • 23
    Reduction and Progress
    Science appears to progress when one theory is absorbed by or reduced to another. According to the positivists, bridge principles allow the reduced theory to be derived from the reducing theory. But Kuhn and Feyerabend hold that many such cases are more like replacements of one theory by another. x
  • 24
    Reduction and Physicalism
    Many philosophers have been tempted by the view that the social sciences reduce to psychology, which reduces to biology, which reduces to chemistry, which reduces to physics. What are the prospects for this bold outlook? x
  • 25
    New Views of Meaning and Reference
    This lecture explores a new approach to meaning and reference, along with a new conception of scientific theories. These ideas conceive of theories in terms of models and analogies, rather than as deductive systems. x
  • 26
    Scientific Realism
    Scientific realism is the claim that successful scientific theories correctly depict unobservable as well as observable reality. "Hard" realists seek to discover how the world truly is. "Soft" realists strive to organize a mind-independent world in the way that makes the most sense out of the many possibilities. x
  • 27
    Success, Experience, and Explanation
    Realists defend their position as the best explanation for the success of science. Anti-realists point to a number of successful-but-false theories in the history of science. Under what conditions, if any, does the success of a theory give grounds for believing it is true? x
  • 28
    Realism and Naturalism
    The realist asserts and the empiricist denies that a theory's explanatory success provides evidence that the theory is true. Many realists argue that realism is best defended from within a naturalistic approach, which abandons the project of providing a philosophical justification for science. x
  • 29
    Values and Objectivity
    This lecture examines the values that animate science and scientists. Might the social structure of science generate objective results even if individual scientists are motivated by the pursuit of recognition, money, or tenure? Who should get to participate in the formation of a scientific "consensus" and why? x
  • 30
    Throughout much of Western intellectual history, "chance" was thought to represent the enemy of reason. But notions of chance, or probability, are now arguably inquiry's greatest ally. This lecture confronts the philosophical issues that arise about the interpretation of probability statements. x
  • 31
    Bayesianism is a remarkable program that promises to combine the positivists' demand for rules governing rational theory choice with a Kuhnian role for values and subjectivity. After explaining the basics of Bayesianism, this lecture examines its approach to scientific reason. x
  • 32
    Problems with Bayesianism
    Predictably, a Bayesian backlash has also been gaining momentum in recent years. This lecture investigates Bayesianism's surprisingly subjective approach to probability assignments as well as the Bayesian treatment of the problem of old evidence. x
  • 33
    Entropy and Explanation
    Typically, philosophy of science is philosophy of a particular science. This lecture turns to the philosophy of physics to examine such concepts as the reduction of thermodynamics to statistical mechanics, the direction of time, the origin of the universe, and the nature of explanation. x
  • 34
    Species and Reality
    Biology defines species in a number of ways, and even some of the best definitions seem to exclude most organisms on Earth from being members of a species. How valid is the species concept, and does a sufficiently well-defined notion of species track something real? x
  • 35
    The Elimination of Persons?
    Folk psychology is the commonsense explanation of human behavior in terms of beliefs, desires, and so forth. Many folk psychological explanations face direct empirical challenge and are vulnerable to eliminative reduction, which has the paradoxical effect of rendering personality an illusion. x
  • 36
    Philosophy and Science
    Seeking to "leave you puzzled in articulate and productive ways," Professor Kasser sums up the overarching themes of the course, which involve recurring ideas such as the search for demarcation criteria, the inescapability of metaphysics, and the tension between empiricism and realism. x

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Your professor

Jeffrey L. Kasser

About Your Professor

Jeffrey L. Kasser, Ph.D.
Colorado State University
Dr. Jeffrey L. Kasser is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Colorado State University. He earned his B.A. from Rice University and his M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. As a graduate student, Dr. Kasser taught Philosophy of Science to Ph.D. students in Michigan's School of Nursing. He was the first recipient of the John Dewey Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Education given by the Department...
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Philosophy of Science is rated 4.2 out of 5 by 91.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fun and Informative Dr. Kesser is a delight to listen to. While the content is information-dense and requires careful listening, the process is light and fun with examples filled with a sense of whimsy. I highly recommend this course to those who love language and logic.
Date published: 2018-05-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This was missing in my studies of Physics! I studied physics, always with particular interest in the 'big theories' and went on to computational neuroscience for a PhD. Most scientists I've met have a sense of why the scientific enterprise would have a privileged access to reality. However, the accounts differ quite a bit. Theoretical physicists presuppose fundamental laws; in contrast environmental scientists merely do 'models of nature' and neuroscientists claim that consciousness can be explained in terms of neurons, yet they model agents as if everyone human (or rat) was a empiricists! Once disciplines start (trash)talking about each other you'll learn why biologists are just 'stamp collectors' or why 'physicists' are lost in their irrelevant quests about fundamentals... All this experience in science has exposed me (without knowing) to many of the ideas presented in the course. But I've never so explicitly stumbled about their internal contradictions. It was like someone making you see the forest after you bumped into a bunch of trees. A real pleasure! Moreover, Kasser does a great job at outlining the main arguments of different schools of philosophy of science. He backs them up with tangible examples and shows nicely how they challenge each other. Only that after the course I was more confused about 'what we can actually know' than before. But raising questions is probably what good philosophy does.
Date published: 2018-01-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Not for easy listening I bought this course years ago and I still listen to it over and over, trying to get it to fully sink in. It is the most demanding course I have purchased, out of probably a dozen, but the intellectual challenge is invigorating - like a tough workout. It must be taken in small doses. I recommend this course to all non-scientists who regard science as monolithic and perfect. This course will pull back the curtain.
Date published: 2017-05-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Like a crime story Good read. I could not stop listening to the lectures. A the end we don't find out who is the murder. But we learn which promising trails lead us to far and why. The lecture is very dense and quick. I'll listen to it again as soon as possible.
Date published: 2017-05-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Gets an A+ It did take a while to get through this as Professor Kasser says in his summation, science is hard and philosophy is hard and you put them together it is very hard. However it is very rewarding. Kasser is as clear and lucid as it possible to be given the material. He's judicious in his judgments and nobly attempts to avoid bias in explicating a position. If he does display a bias it's toward the exceptional and superior epistemic virtue of Science as opposed to other methods of intellectual inquiry and this is not a bad thing as my predilection leans the other way. If I have a criticism it is that many of the texts assigned as "essential reading" are not easily found or readily available. Kudos to Professor Kasser, this is truly a "Great Course"
Date published: 2017-03-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding Course Jeffrey Kasser's course on the philosophy of science is as good as any course offered by the Teaching Company. Kasser is concise and thorough, so much so that of all of the many courses I have purchased, this is the one most frequently repeated. Professor Kasser's biographical sketch indicates an interest in pragmatism. We would greatly benefit from an offering by him devoted to this subject..
Date published: 2017-01-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Profound ideas made accessible This is my fourth course, and my favorite yet. I'm only at the Kuhn part of the story -- which is blowing my mind -- but it's already been worth the price, and more than worth the time. The strongest aspect is that it really is a story: the presentation takes you from stage to stage, but shows you all the back-tracking and debate that went along with that seeming progression. Like any lecturer, once you've listened to them for several hours something will start to bug you. This guy has a hint of vocal fry that you just have to accept. But it's well worth it!
Date published: 2016-10-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Course But Not for the Casual Listener I have a Ph.D. in the humanities and I have found this course to be a real challenge. That's not to say Professor Kasser is bad. I actually think he is remarkably good. I am not sure I have ever listened to a Great Courses teacher who has so much clarity of understanding and expression -- and such a gift for organization. But the material is hard, and there is a lot of it, and Kasser doesn't pad the presentation out much. He usually explains an idea very clearly, but succinctly. Then he gives one good example, and he does this in about 20 seconds. There is seldom a second example. Then he is on to the the next point, which often involves raising an objection to the point he just made. He might spend two minutes on an objection. Then he is on to another point -- perhaps another, different objection, or perhaps a reply to the objection. He is scrupulously fair about showing the problems with everyone's theory of science. But he doesn't believe in wasted words. As far as I can tell, he doesn't care much about sharing the philosophers voice either. he seldom quotes any of the philosophers. He just extracts the key arguments and the helpful examples. And of course, it's a taped lecture, so you can't ask questions. Have you ever seen the philosophy book called "Just the Arguments"? Kasser's lectures are like that. He gives you just the arguments, and having given the key idea, he doesn't lolligag around waiting for you to understand it. I am reminded of Samuel Johnson's comment, "Sir, I have provided you with an argument; I am not obligated to provide you with an understanding." In some Great Courses you feel like a lecture is really an attempt to get you to understand a single point. The professor sort of wanders around the idea, looks at it from various angles, states it, restates it, gives quotations, gives numerous examples. The treatment is expansive, even a little sprawling. This can be helpful if you are new to the subject, as it gives you some time to get your mind around the point. Also, you can tune out if the traffic picks up and tune back in when it dies down. But Kasser's course is not like that at all. His course has the structure of a series of propositions in which all unnecessary verbiage has been left out. It is well organized and tight. Man, is it tight! But as a result, it is demanding, and I can see why some people think the lectures are poorly put together and overwhelming. They feel to me like they are pitched at an audience with an IQ a good deal above average. I was listening to some of the lectures today -- in some cases I am listening for the second or third time. I felt the need to pull over and devote all of my attention to listening to what Kasser was saying. And then I got to the point where my brain was full and I had to turn off the CD. As I was sitting there in my car, I said to myself, "Wow! If these lectures are this much of a challenge for me, I have to think they are going to be a challenge for others who have done less relevant reading. . . . or am I perhaps dumber than I think I am?" I felt a sudden urge to go to the Great Courses page and see what other people have to say about the course. I have just read most of the other reviews and I feel somewhat re-assured. I am clearly not the only person who finds these lectures challenging. The reviews on this page actually show precisely what I expected. Some people really like the course, but some really don't. I think it's going to depend on your tolerance for an intellectual rigorous, taut, and terse presentation. It's not for everybody. If you are looking for "easy listening," look elsewhere. But these really are remarkable lectures if you have a little interest in the subject. It might help if you have read one or two of the things he is discussing -- like maybe Kuhn's book or a little Popper. I find it somewhat easier sledding now that I have read some of the key texts. But it's not easy listening even with this background reading. I have listened to probably 35 of these Teaching Company courses over the years. I think Kasser and Bart Ehrman are perhaps the two most intellectually impressive lecturers I have heard.
Date published: 2016-10-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great for hard-core philosophy-enthusiasts This course is great for hard-core philosophy-enthusiasts, definitely not something to listen to with half an ear. It covers more material and in better depth than do many university introductory courses in the philosophy of science. (Much more than I do in MY philosophy of science course!) Be prepared to listen to some of the lectures more than once.
Date published: 2016-09-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A perfect course Honestly, I don't know how this course could be improved upon. All subjective considerations aside ~ like, "Do you find the philosophy of science interesting?" ~ everything about this course is just what it should be, and more. Is the content difficult and challenging? Of course! Will most auditors need to listen to it more than once to catch everything? Absolutely! But these are essential elements and consequences of any subject that is worth thinking deeply about. I am midway through my 6th listening of the entire series of 36 lectures, and not only am I still gaining greater clarity on many points and discovering previously unrecognized nuggets, but I still enjoy Dr. Kasser's lecturing as much as ever! His style is clear, engaging, and amusing; and he has a wonderful talent for anticipating my questions, and providing satisfying answers. Well, "answers" may be too strong a word, since philosophy seems to be largely the art of showing why all answers are wrong! But Dr. Kasser's explanations are always clear, and as easy to follow as discourse on this intellectual level can be expected to be. I have listened to five other Teaching Company courses that fall within the broad category of science and philosophy, and Dr. Kasser's is by far the best; and this is due almost entirely to Dr. Kasser himself. There are two points about his lectures that I particularly appreciate. One is that he never allows his own opinion to cloud the issue being discussed. He always presents a balanced perspective, pointing out fairly what the proponents have to say, and then countering with the arguments against. But in hardly any point can one tell what Dr. Kasser himself thinks about it. I feel that this is immensely important; and it is a quality that I have not found in the other courses I have listened to. In all of the others, the lecturer can clearer be recognized as trying to lead the listener towards his own way of seeing things. The second point about Dr. Kasser's course is that there is not a single moment in all 36 lectures where I have been able to detect any sloppiness of reasoning. I am not a philosopher myself, and have no formal training; nevertheless, in every other lecture series there are moments where I can detect a fallacy in the argument that is being presented, or an important point that has been glossed over because it is not consistent with the opinion of the presenter. That this is completely absent from Dr. Kasser's lectures, yet so common in the other courses I have listened to, is rather remarkable; and in my mind it says much about Dr. Kasser's excellence as a teacher. In short, if you have an interest in philosophy and science, pour yourself a cup of tea or coffee, settle into your favorite armchair, and start listening to these lectures. You are in for an intellectual treat!
Date published: 2016-05-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from You have to work for this one Audio CD Review While I recommend this course for a friend, I do so with the caveat that it is exceptionally challenging. Do not commence this course lightly. I had two false starts before I finally steeled myself to make it all the way through. It is detailed and dense, but if you stick with it, you will be rewarded. Dr. Kasser says at the end of the notes: “This lecture (and the entire course) aspires to leave you puzzled in articulate and productive ways”, and he meets that objective. For me, it finally started to gel (to the extent I was able to comprehensively comprehend it all) in the final six lectures. I will not feign to be able to meaningfully recapitulate the materiel; I will need to re-listen to the course and read portions of the transcripts, which I purchased to help me through. I will likely re-listen to this course when I am retired and I can single mindedly apply myself against this course. Taking it as a “past time” in competition with other demands is just too much. All the above notwithstanding, I feel like I am a better thinker than before having been exposed to extremely nuanced argumentation and reasoning – but getting there was hard work. BOTTOM LINE: If you are looking for a stern intellectual challenge then try this course. If not, then stay away.
Date published: 2016-03-11
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Be forewarned This is one of the VERY few poor reviews I've given, but I do so with reservations. I actually kind of liked the professor and the information was really great. It simply seemed to me to be a bit over my head and I REALLY needed to absorb everything he threw out (and there is a LOT of info packed in here) in order to keep up. I gave up after about 8 lectures as I felt I was completely lost in the weeds. In the meantime, I purchased "Redefining Reality: The Intellectual Implications of Modern Science" and am thrilled with it (but am only on lecture 9 as of now). Redefining Reality is FAR preferable for anyone like me who has an interest in learning about the Philosophy of Science, but has a limited interest in learning about every nuanced argument made between 300 different Philosophers over the years. The two courses cover very similar material, but Professor Gimbel is a more dynamic presenter and he presents the material in a more accessible way. After doing RR, I'm planning to try Philosophy of Science one more time, better prepared with some of the basics. Perhaps I'll like it more at that point. If so, I'll make sure to edit this review. In the meantime, P of S is only for the hardcore, academic types while RR is more for the everyday learner like me.
Date published: 2015-10-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thoroughly satisfied This was an extremely satisfying course. It was a deep and wide exploration of issues around science I've wondered about casually many times: how we know, what exactly a scientific assertion means, what is able to serve as evidence and how. I came away with exactly what I wanted going in: clarity about the general philosophical views presumed in scientific practice. Highly recommended if that is your interest. The course is very dense. The professor consistently speaks quickly and thus packs much more into each lecture than in any other Teaching Company course I've taken. I suspect this was a deliberate attempt to squeeze in as much as possible. I see some other reviews have complained about this. I viewed it as a distinct benefit; it played a role in my choosing 5 stars for Course Value. I felt I got more from this course than from other courses of the same length. Take it slowly, pause and absorb when necessary, and you'll be fine. It is solidly a philosophy course. Specifics of science are discussed only insofar as necessary to deal with the philosophical concerns. If you're looking for practical science, history of science, overview of science, or similar, look elsewhere. It won't have what you want and will probably seem maddeningly detached from anything useful.
Date published: 2015-07-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A profound learning experience Listening to this course was a profound learning experience that has expanded my understanding of science, enhanced my day-to-day experience working as a research scientist, and given me a new appreciation of philosophy. I have advanced degrees in mathematics and physical chemistry, and I have spent a decade working as a research scientist developing new technology. From my experience as a graduate student at Caltech and a postdoctoral researcher at UC Berkeley, I have found that even in an academic setting, scientific research is usually focused more on getting results than on developing a deep understanding. After receiving a broad overview of a field from an undergraduate education, students at these schools are often encouraged to dive into research, learning what they need to learn in order to make progress on their research problem. For the most part, I think that this is a good way to learn, but a limitation of this approach is that the focus on getting research results does not always encourage deep thinking. An example of this limitation is that I never found an opportunity during my scientific education to explore questions about whether science is really "true." I was initially drawn to science because I wanted to understand what it could really tell us about the world, but somehow questions about what science can really tell us ended up getting lost in all of the technical questions. For example: although much of my research has involved quantum mechanical analysis of atomic nuclei, I have for years been telling people that I was not sure that I really believed in atoms. They want to know how it could be that I am devoting my career to scientific work involving atoms if I have doubts about whether atoms exist! Frankly, I was never sure how to answer this question. I have found it truly thrilling when a detailed quantum mechanical analysis leads to a prediction that is confirmed by experiment, a prediction that I could never have guessed without first doing the analysis. It is impossible not to feel that there is something beautiful and powerful in the scientific theories that I am using, but does this definitely establish beyond any doubt that they are "true"? Particularly since atoms are so much smaller than any particles that we can see directly with our eyes, how could we definitively establish that atoms exist? The great gift of this course is that it taught me how to think about questions of this sort. Before listening to this course, I had read a few philosophy books, including a modern textbook on the philosophy of science, and while I had found the material interesting, it had never really "come to life" for me or seemed to connect to the questions that I am deeply interested in. One of my professors in graduate school told me that whenever he tried to read philosophy, the discussion always seemed to end up focusing on distinctions that did not matter to him, distinctions that seemed meaningless. He did not necessarily conclude that the philosophical distinctions were meaningless, though: he just found it difficult to relate to the distinctions. I could definitely relate to this opinion at the time, but this course showed me how questions about scientific truth lead "down a rabbit hole" to questions posed centuries ago by Lock and other philosophers. By tracking these questions to their origins and then following the developments that occurred in the 20th century, we gain resources for grappling with them. I think that it is natural for people with a scientific background to feel frustrated when they encounter the sorts of philosophical distinctions that are discussed in this course. It can seem ridiculous to consider whether we have any good evidence for the idea that the sun will rise tomorrow morning--how can this be a worthwhile question, when there is so much science to be understood? But the course shows how the spectacular achievements of Einstein's theory of relativity led some philosophers and scientists to conclude that science should be sanitized of reference to unobservable objects. Einstein showed that the idea of absolute simultaneity is meaningless--can we track down and eliminate other meaningless ideas that are impeding scientific progress? This line of thinking leads back to the ideas of Lock and Hume, and (among other things) the question of whether it is rational to believe that the sun will rise tomorrow morning. As a scientist, I have found that in order to gain a high-quality understanding of a theory, I sometimes have to wrestle with details that can seem remote from the exciting problem that I want to solve. In the same way, this course requires us to wrestle with philosophical distinctions that are challenging, and that we may initially be inclined to dismiss as meaningless. However, I found the course immensely rewarding, one of the most rewarding learning experiences of my life. By setting aside impatience and facing the question of whether it is rational to believe that the sun will rise tomorrow morning (along with many difficult questions of this sort), I learned to see my own questions about scientific truth are part of a dialogue that has lasted for centuries. A careful analysis of these questions shows that to a significant extent, they boil down to the same philosophical distinctions that I was initially inclined to dismiss. This course requires patience, and a willingness to open one's mind to philosophical questions that to a scientist may at first glance seem to be counterintuitive or unimportant. None of the questions that are brought up in the course are really resolved: the lectures teach us how to think about these questions, rather than trying to persuade us of a particular philosophical theory. In listening to the course, I felt that I was "learning by doing," rather than "receiving knowledge," because I constantly had to evaluate theories, criticisms of the theories, and counter arguments supporting the theories. The lecturer did an excellent job of helping me appreciate the merits of each theory, together with the theory's weaknesses and the motivation for developing alternatives to the theory. I had several moments of feeling that my world had been transformed because a theory that had initially seemed counterintuitive suddenly seemed to be showing me something profound, something that changed my way of thinking about science. A broad range of topics is discussed, ranging from the ideas of Lock and Hume to positivism and Bayesianism and philosophical work devoted to specific sciences. The course is well organized, and the lecturer repeatedly reminds us how the ideas discussed in a given lecture connect to ideas presented in previous lectures. In the final lecture of the course, the lecturer sheds some of his reserve and expresses a few of his own opinions while revisiting several of the ideas discussed in the earlier lectures. I found this conclusion to the course, like the course itself, to be clear, well balanced, illuminating, and memorable.
Date published: 2015-03-30
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Worst Course Encountered at Great Courses I have advanced degrees in scientific fields and purchased this course with great interest. However, I could not even complete it as it was wasting time better spent listening to other courses. This will be the first time I will be asking for a refund. Here are some of the problems. 1. The way this course is presented has nothing to do with teaching. The presenter appears to be reading from a manuscript and at a speed far too fast for the complexity of the material he is presenting. Furthermore, he drones on and on in a monotone as a result of this technique. It is most definitely not the style used in active classroom teaching. If he was forced to diagram some of his statements on a blackboard, he might do better. 2.The early lecture, on the "Demarcation Problem" i.e., telling science from pseudo-science, is a classic example of what I term philo-babble. Philo-babble is an attempt to carry on extended discussions, often reaching startling results, about a subject that is never defined. In this case, the presenter tries to talk about what is real science without ever defining what science is ! Unfortunately, the failure to define science infects most of the lectures as well. These "language games" were identified by Wittgenstein long ago. 3. The presenter's prose is very dense, full of qualifiers, and soon becomes mostly unintelligible, at times resembling a "word-salad". You will frequently ask yourself " What on earth is he talking about ?" 4. The examples used are absurd and involve things such as dragon's and invented terms. The best he can do with actual real world science is Copernicus, Kepler, plus a little Newton and Einstein .There is no real treatment of current problems crying for philosophical analysis, such as string theory and quantum mechanics.
Date published: 2015-02-22
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Opportunity Unfulfilled The Philosophy of Science can be a broad, interesting and an impactful field of concern. The opportunity for this course was wide open to craft, out of the wealth of material available for presentation, a far ranging examination of the framework of science. Unfortunately this opportunity wasn’t fulfilled. Professor Kasser is a engaging lecturer and would like to see him in another course that would better showcase his talents. One of his observation I particularly enjoyed is: “Philosophy is the art of asking child-like questions and then using the methods ad arguments of lawyers to find answers.” Be warned or encouraged! The scope of this course is narrowed to looking at only a small slice of the picture 20th century logical positivism, its’ challengers; Scientific realism and its’ challengers, and some of the other more recent attempts developments among some academic philosophy practitioners. Well this may be a good approach if the audience is primarily philosophy students well versed in range of philosophical examinations of science, for others, including those with a background in science as it is practiced, and without a strong philosophical background, as well as those who are starting at the beginning of study of Philosophy of Science, an opportunity for learning is left unfulfilled. The course seems to have a bias against mathematics, a language used to communicate and validate in science including an unclear understanding of p-values use in evaluating research findings, and not the best understanding of science as it is practiced. As such, it doesn’t fulfill the potential of the course, even with such a limited scope. If you are not well-versed in philosophical minutiae and informed about the development of the Philosophy of Science up to the 20th century, this may not be the best place to start your search and learning. I hope that TGC adds a more general and inclusive Philosophy of Science course that addresses some of the concern expressed in a number of reviews to better communicate an important field to a wider audience of learners.
Date published: 2014-12-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The best Teaching Company course I've taken I recently completed Dr. Kasser's Philosophy of Science course and found it to be outstanding. He is articulate, funny,and never dumbs down the material too much, despite the fact that some of ti can be quite complicated.
Date published: 2014-09-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Great Overview of the Subject This course was just what I hoped it would be: an eloquent, fair-minded, impressively comprehensive, eye-opening introduction to a subject I've recently become fascinated by, and that I wish more people were familiar with (given the role of science in many of our most significant social & political disputes#. I found Professor Kasser to be a congenial, articulate and sometimes witty instructor #though, on occasion, he appeared a bit flustered -- but that happens to a lot of us). It introduced me to a lot of new material that has expanded my thinking about science.
Date published: 2014-09-26
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Good science, poor Philosophy The course contain some valuable classes, it is very dense so I think many will have a hard time to follow it without prior knowledge of the field. The professor is generally interesting but there are some major flows in this course: - the professor really seem to have contempt for all the other branches of philosophy, and especially metaphysics, which he uses almost like a curse word... - the point of view is very narrow, almost never questioning the philosophical flows that many philosophers have found in the modern so-called "scientific" philosophy, which is based on the dogmas of positivism. - In this course, "Philosophy of Science" is considered an independent branch of philosophy, the only "serious" one apparently, never realizing that all philosophy of science is based on the larger field of Epistemology. The weakest point of this course is that epistemology is almost never discussed, but how to do a philosophy of science without discussing a proper definition of knowledge ?... The Great Courses would need an update of this course, from a professor who doesn't just do "methodology of science", which this course basically is, but real philosophy of science.
Date published: 2014-07-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Highly Recommended This is one of my favorite of the Great Courses I’ve listened to or watched. The material is inherently complex and challenging, and Professor Kasser developed and presented it clearly and comprehensively. The material itself is not only challenging, but gives the audience an excellent background in epistemology, an essential area of philosophy helpful for evaluating belief and skepticism and developing skills to reason about knowledge in general. If you’re interested in science generally, and exploring justification for knowledge, you’ll likely find this course, as I did, fascinating and enjoyable.
Date published: 2014-02-19
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very Detailed Course This was a very tough course for me. I'm glad that I listened to the "Science Wars: What Scientists Know and How They Know It" before I listened to this, or I doubt that I could have understood any of it. Unless you have a real interest in this topic you might want to listen to the other lectures as well. However, I've listened to this lectures series twice now, and gotten more out of it each time and I'll probably do a little more reading and come back to it again. I got one excellent term out of this series although Dr. Kasser never says it but he almost says it "Science is epistemologically privileged", and it's what he means. As a society we tend to think that if it's scientific the information must be better. Dr. Kasser's presentation is excellent. If it wasn't I could never have stayed with the lectures. I thought he brought up a lot of good an interesting ideas, and I have to admit that I've always thought Science was a little special, even though I've always been glad to be an engineer and thought that engineering is better than science. I was surprised at many of the points that he brought up. One thing that drives me crazy about this is how powerful a concept logical positivism is as a philosophy even though it's been mostly shown to be lacking. Most people that I know think that science is only facts that are indisputably proven. I kept hoping that he would bring up A.J. Ayer who said that the only thing wrong with logical positivism was that is was almost all wrong, but he didn't. I actually heard that in another Great Courses Lecture Series, but I forget which one it was. Good course. I'd recommend it but with reservations.
Date published: 2014-02-02
Rated 3 out of 5 by from A Narrow Field of Limited Interest; Good Professor This course presents an introduction to a narrow and atypical field within philosophy. A love for other areas of philosophy (it is one of my favorite fields of study) will not necessarily carry over to the philosophy of science, although clearly there are many who find this fascinating and very worthwhile. Be aware that philosophers of science attempt to abstract the essentials of the scientific enterprise so that they can explore and explain them mostly devoid of actual scientific content. That is, critical questions involve such things as how we can know what we know (epistemology) - through our senses (empiricism) or through our mental processes (rationalism) or some combination of these; how scientific theories emerge from this process and then change to other theories over time; what justifies believing in causation; what justifies believing in a world outside our minds; what is meant by "objectivity" and "probability"; and the like. I found these enquiries to be of some intrinsic interest, but of little help in actually understanding the scientific process. The major problem, it seems to me, is that the philosophers are looking at an extraordinarily complex enterprise from various narrow and often incompatible perspectives, vastly oversimplifying what they see, abstracting from these oversimplifications, and then disputing as to whose abstractions are "correct." It is as if one movie critic evaluated a film in terms of its acting, a second wrote of the vision of the director, a third analyzed the screenplay, a fourth focused on the cinematography, and then all argued about whose perspective and insights are true. Much of the substantive disagreement in the philosophy of science, at least as presented here, struck me as being more semantic and perspectival than objective. A good dose of Ludwig Wittgenstein's linguistic analysis of philosophical problems would, I think, go a long way towards reducing the conflicts and clarifying the issues. It is also of relevance that scientists, for the most part, have achieved their extraordinary results without reference to the concerns developed in this course, and Professor Kasser provides little reason, other than pure academic interest, for either scientists or interested laity to immerse themselves in them. Professor Kasser is very good - well spoken, highly knowledgeable, very organized, and probably as clear as possible when discussing complex concepts which most of us do not deal with on a regular basis. Despite my personal reaction to the subject matter (which of course I realize need not be shared by others), I feel he did a fine job of presenting the material. My only objections here are that he several times made the obligatory comments disrespecting mathematics (e.g., "I'm about to commit mathematics" and "I don't perpetrate mathematics lightly") , and his discussion of "subjective probabilities" in Lecture 32 (regarding the common use of a 95% likelihood criterion for saying that a finding is "significant") is quite misleading, and ascribes much more weight to a blind adherence to an arbitrary criterion than is actually found in practice. So - a worthwhile course for those who have a particular interest in this philosophical area. But do not expect to gain any appreciable insight into the thinking or practice of science or scientists themselves.
Date published: 2014-01-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Difficult material gracefully tamed I suspect that those giving Kasser's presentation of this material a lukewarm reception haven't tried other means of acquiring it. I have many books on philosophy of science. This is one of only two I would ever recommend. Coverage of the principle actors is extremely well balanced.
Date published: 2013-11-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Difficult but Rewarding This is much more difficult than the usual Great Courses lecture series, so be prepared to study the course booklet and concentrate on every word spoken. You can't sit back, relax, and enjoy the information the way you can with other courses, but instead, you must actively engage with the material to benefit from it. It does not help matters that the professor speaks very quickly and sometimes lapses into jargon. The lectures also form much more of a coherent whole than other courses, so you might find yourself having to remember lecture 15 in order to understand lecture 25. For all that, the material is sufficiently interesting to be worth the effort. Philosophy of science is not studied at universities as much as it should be, and it really should be regarded as a necessary foundation for all natural science majors, not just as an option for philosophy majors.
Date published: 2013-10-15
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Decent Professor, Bad Material Dr. Kasser is an amiable fellow who presents the philosophy of science in a friendly and easy-to-follow manner. He motivates the perspectives he introduces and manages to make it possible to follow along in a detached audio lecture, which is good. The material he's presenting, on the other hand, is a mess. I don't even fault Dr. Kasser for this, rather I blame it on the state of modern philosophy. While scientists and engineers are sending rockets to Mars and building carbon nanotubes, the philosophy of science offers little practical guidance and instead seriously considers the idea that induction -- from which the laws that enable those advances come -- is invalid as an approach to gaining knowledge. He does not discuss Bacon in any detail and focuses on modern obfuscations over the basic principles underlying the field of science. It's unfortunate because any non-philosopher will easily admit that there is a legitimate field called science, and yet many of the questions seriously debated in this course would undermine that position. Dr. Kasser does an excellent job trying to make the material relevant and presenting practical-sounding issues scientists could deal with that the philosophy may shed some light on. It's clear he's trying hard to concretize and apply. And he's likeable. Unfortunately, the material is not. And since even in the best case form follows function, the lectures don't end up accomplishing much and the good teaching isn't sufficient to overcome the content deficiencies.
Date published: 2013-07-12
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Two steps back... I've purchased several courses here on Philosophy including Great Ideas of Philosophy (highly recommended). I am a scientist and was very interested in this topic. After listening to it, I wonder how we get anything done. Lecture after lecture discussed ideas for how we know and do science, but in lecture after lecture, problem after problem was found with those ideas. As you progress, the lectures become more jargon-rich, more technical, and less and less interesting. I was disappointed.
Date published: 2013-03-23
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Frustrating I must admit defeat. After diligently attempting to complete this lecture series -first in my car while semi-casually listening (warning: don't attempt this without a potent caffeine preload), then at home while studiously listening, taking notes, making diagrams, and reading the syllabus, I am throwing in the towel, crying "Uncle", throwing the baby out with the bath water - choose what colorful metaphor you wish! The lecture pace is too fast, the material too dense and too abstract. The professor's detailed approach is admirable in some respects but is not offset by concrete examples or helpfully broad summary statements that might allow one to create a context for some of the topics. Paradoxically I DID learn a lot from this course. Why? Because in an ultimately futile attempt to fully digest what the Professor was trying to convey I read Ayer's, Language Truth and Logic, Kuhn's, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, and Godfry-Smith's, Theory and Reality. I also reread my Copleston on Hume and the other classical empiricists: oh and I partially digested the Oxford short introductions on Relativity and Quantum Mechanics. The overall experience of this course was positive only because the lectures serve as an annoying though effective goad to further reading. Sort of like working through your broccoli and cauliflower in order to get to the banana split. I rate this course a 2, because I am a generous spirit and because I did learn a great deal from the supplementary readings. Do I recommend this course: emphatically NO !
Date published: 2012-11-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A philosophical tour de force! One of the best philosophy courses I have watched from the great courses collection. This is the real deal, not an overview or an introduction, but a full on philosophy course. It's demanding it makes you think about things in deep and new ways and shakes the very foundations of your beliefs. Certainly not for everyone, this is not intellectual fast food, it makes your brain hurt but is worth the pain. First class course that would hold its own in any university philosophy degree
Date published: 2012-11-16
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Not for Everyone Audio Version Review: Let me start out by echoing some of the previous reviews. This course is NOT for everyone. It is difficult to follow, continuously leaves you unsatisfied with the way it contradicts almost every view put forward, and leaves you at times thinking your head will explode. If you are a skeptic at heart, however, you will enjoy this course for its balanced approach of pro's and con's and the way it expands your ability to play the ultimate devil’s advocate when it comes to scientific claims. There is a lot of really interesting and thought provoking material in this course, and I will say that, although it took me longer than any other TGC course to finish (mostly because I was constantly having to play parts over again while driving), I was very satisfied with the course overall. Heed my (and others’) warning(s) though: This course requires some seriously heavy mental lifting! It is easily an upper level college course, and even the professor congratulates you for making it to the end (if you can). It IS a drawn out narrative with lots of interconnected parts that require great effort to piece together. If you are a true academic that wants a mental challenge (and haven’t been scared away by this point), I recommend you give this course a try. If none of this review sounds appealing to you, then I recommend you stay away from “Philosophy of Science.”
Date published: 2012-08-15
Rated 4 out of 5 by from CHALLENGING, THOUGHT PROVOKING This review refers to the CD's The following comments are really directed to those who have only a limited interest in either science or philosophy as academic disciplines. Among the more than one hundred TGC lecture series I've either listened to or watched, I would say this one requires serious heavy lifting. It's not for the faint of heart. Moreover, it's strongly suggested one warm up on some introductory TGC philosophy programs before tackling this one. Having said all that, the journey is well worth the work entailed. You will be introduced to some original thinking as well as considerations about how science falls into the main stream of intellectual discourse. My guess you would encounter this quality of presentation at about the junior year college level. It requires careful attention to get the most out of it. Understand this professor is one of those who doesn't make many, if any, concessions in his presentation to those who are not up to speed in terms of philosophical thinkers in the background. It's not the intent of this review to scare anyone away, but this series is one that will stretch your mind and force you to think hard about the issues discussed. Thus, it's not one to entertain while commuting, but may be more useful to listen to during the quiet hours at home. Despite all the challenges I've listed, this series is one well worth the investment and effort. It's highly recommended to those with a serious, or perhaps even casual, interest in the subject.
Date published: 2012-05-07
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