Contemporary Philosophy of Science

This course is an introduction to philosophy of science, concentrating on the contemporary period (essentially the last two centuries). Part One will give a historical overview of the most widespread modern theories of philosophy of science in the western tradition. After a general introduction, we will begin with logical positivism and end with constructive empiricism and other very recent theories. Part Two will initiate a more original and systematic approach: an attempt to construct a systematic philosophy of science starting from essential concepts.

Philosophy of science is the branch of philosophy that investigates what distinguishes ‘science’ from other cognitive fields and activities. We will therefore study questions as: What is science? What is pseudoscience? What is the goal of science? What are the main ingredients of scientific discovery? How are scientific statements justified? Are there general methods of science, used across all disciplines? What degrees of “certainty” (or “truth”) do we have in the different sciences? What are the sociological aspects of science?

Throughout the course we will consider case studies from specific disciplines, such as physics, biology, psychology,.... One of our aims will be to show that philosophy and science go hand-in-hand, and can mutually inform each other for the better of both. Prerequisites for this course are a general and introductory high-school knowledge of science and philosophy, as well as much curiosity as possible.

Louis Vervoort:

I studied physics in Ghent (MSc in engineering physics), Marseille (PhD) and the École Normale Supérieure in Paris (post-doc). Already in this period my main interests shifted from classic physics to the foundations of the field – a research area in which the fundamental axioms are questioned and investigated. This brought me naturally to philosophy, which I studied at the University of Montreal (PhD). Some of the advantages of working in philosophy are that it allows to address a broad range of interests, and that it somehow incites to look for the unifying ideas, the fashionable ‘big picture’ (I will leave this little idea here very vague). Philosophy also encourages to ask ethical questions on research, technology, science and society. If I would have to summarize my most eye-opening experience of these last years, then it would be the observation that, at the very fundamental level, science and philosophy are solidly intertwined, and can greatly inspire each other. An idea popular among interdisciplinary practitioners, but not yet popular enough in other communities!