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Philosophy 203: Scientific Reasoning
Spring, 2005, Frequently Asked Questions

Table of Contents

  1. What is the purpose of this course?
  2. What kinds of things are studied?
  3. Is Introduction to Logic a prerequisite for this course? Does this course fulfill any University requirements?
  4. My advisor says this course does not fulfill the Humanities General Elective Requirement.  Why not? It's a philosophy course.

1. What is the purpose of this course?

The general purpose of this course is to introduce some of the main problems of inductive logic, including

w What are the differences between arguments and explanations?
w What are the differences between deductive and inductive reasoning?
w What are the common fallacies in scientific reasoning?
w What are the techniques for definition and classification in science?
w What are hypothetical reasoning and the patterns of scientific discovery?
w What are the presuppositions of experimental inquiry?
w What are the main patterns of scientific investigation?
w What are crucial experiments and ad hoc hypotheses?

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2. What kinds of things are studied?

Inductive reasoning (scientific reasoning) is the kind of thinking used by Sherlock Holmes in the works by A. Conan Doyle. This kind of reasoning involves the claim, not that reasons give conclusive evidence for the truth of a conclusion, but that they provide some support for it.

A unique feature of the course is the study of some examples of pseudo science such as astrology, Bermuda Triangle, and unexplained phenomena. Other examples studies are taken from Scientific American, American Scientist, Science, Nature, and Science News.

The heart of the course, however, emphasizes the inquiry into the basic methods of inductive or probabilistic inquiry, and the investigation of techniques for solving problems under uncertainty. You will learn some of the most effective methods of inquiry, analysis, and criticism in the fields of the physical, social, and political sciences.

This study of scientific reasoning involves a survey of the methods of induction and experimental inquiry. Classical and contemporary inductive logics are considered with a special emphasis on justification, conditional arguments, testing theoretical hypotheses, causal hypotheses, decision analysis, Mill’s Methods, and the "logic" of scientific discovery.

Providing a rational reconstruction of the methods of science is one of the most difficult areas of research in philosophy and science. Many of the fundamental problems have not yet been satisfactorily solved, and many of these problems appear at an elementary level of the subject. No scientist claims absolute knowledge; the foundations of science change and are reformed as an on-going process as paradigms change. Even though science is only probabilistic knowledge, it is knowledge in a genuine sense. Deductive knowledge, on the other hand, is, in a significant sense, trivial because it relies on the meaning of symbols, words, syntax, and convention.

Although the different sciences you study in college utilize different methodologies of inductive logic (scientific reasoning), the underlying schemata are presupposed by instructors and usually not explicitly formulated for the student. This course provides the skills necessary for understanding the nature, scope, and limits of the methods used in those courses.  In sum, Philosophy 203: Scientific Reasoning provides an introduction to the various methodologies of the social and natural sciences.

The class periods are composed, for the most part, of lecture, case studies, simulations, and problem solving.

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3. Is Introduction to Logic a prerequisite?  Does this course fulfill any University requirements?

This course complements Philosophy 103: Introduction to Logic, but you need not have taken that course to do well in the Scientific Reasoning course. They are entirely independent courses.

Scientific Reasoning fulfills the General Education Core Curriculum requirement for logical and analytical thought for many major fields of study..

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4. My advisor says this course does not fulfill the Humanities General Elective Requirement.  Why not?  It's a philosophy course?

Philosophy 203: Scientific Reasoning and Philosophy 103: Introduction to Logic do not meet the Humanities General elective requirement. The methods used in these courses are appropriately described as logical and analytical rather than humanistic.

Due to the nature of the content of the course, Scientific Reasoning meets the General Education Core Curriculum requirement for logical and analytical thought.

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