McGill University

Fall 2019

PHIL 641- Seminar in Philosophy of Science: Science and Big Data

Scientific research increasingly involves the collection and processing of large amounts of data. Genetics, neuroscience, medicine, high-energy physics, and sociology are among the areas where large volumes of data have changed the ways scientists design experiments, form and test hypotheses, and collaborate. This seminar will explore a range of ontological, epistemic and ethical questions related to big data across the sciences, including: what are data? Is data-intensive science fundamentally different than traditional modes of scientific inquiry? How can data mining and machine learning contribute to scientific inquiry, and what are the ethical implications of using such methods? (syllabus - PDF)

Winter 2019

PHIL 641- Seminar in Philosophy of Science: Measurement in Medicine

Measurement plays important roles in clinical medicine, biomedical research, and public health. Measured variables range from straightforwardly observable, such as heart rate and mobility, to subjective and value-laden, such as pain and quality of life. At the level of patient populations, medical practitioners estimate abstract variables such as the incidence of disease, the effectiveness of treatment, the accuracy of diagnostic methods, the burden of disease, and the cost-effectiveness of healthcare policies. In recent years, philosophers of science and ethicists have critically engaged with these measurements and the assumptions underlying them. This seminar examines the epistemological limitations and ethical implications of prevalent measuring instruments in contemporary medicine in light of this burgeoning literature. (syllabus - PDF)

Winter 2018

PHIL 641- Seminar in Philosophy of Science: Measuring the Mind

Is it possible to measure mental attributes and states, such as sensation, intelligence, mathematical ability, extraversion, well-being, and perceived quality of life? This seminar will trace debates about the measurability of psychological traits from the 1940s to the present day. We will focus on three approaches to mental measurement: psychophysics, representational measurement theory, and psychometrics. The epistemological and ethical challenges implicit in these approaches will be clarified and compared in light of concrete examples. (syllabus - PDF)

Fall 2017

PHIL 624 / HPSC 500 - Interdisciplinary Seminar in History and Philosophy of Science

The aim of this seminar is to familiarize students with cutting-edge research in history and philosophy of science. External speakers will be invited to give talks on their recent work, and students will prepare for each talk by reading and discussing relevant background literature. Areas covered by the talks include history of medicine, general philosophy of science, philosophy of biology, philosophy of economics, philosophy of measurement and philosophy of physics. (syllabus - PDF)

Winter 2017

PHIL 221 - Introduction to History and Philosophy of Science

Is there such a thing as a distinctly ‘scientific method’? Can evidence by itself decide between competing theories? How can scientists establish the existence of entities that cannot be observed directly, such as atoms and genes? Can computer simulations replace laboratory experiments? Should ethical and social values be allowed to influence the course of scientific research? This course will explore these and related questions by examining historical and contemporary examples of scientific inquiry from the physical, biological and social sciences. (syllabus - PDF)

PHIL 641- Seminar in Philosophy of Science: Measurement

Measurement is a central source of knowledge in both the physical and social sciences. Philosophers of science are gaining renewed interest in the problems and concepts underlying measurement after several decades of relative neglect. What sorts of things are measurable? Is human well-being, for example, measurable in the same sense that temperature is? How is it possible to tell that an instrument measures the quantity it is intended to? Can computer simulations function as measuring instruments? To what extent are measurement outcomes affected by social values? Does measurement deserve to be viewed as the gold standard of scientific knowledge production? The seminar will explore these and related questions by studying concrete historical and contemporary scientific episodes. (syllabus - PDF)

Earlier Courses

University of Cambridge

Experimental Practice (Part II lecture course)

The physical sciences established in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were understood as relying fundamentally on the work of experimentation. Philosophical and sociological models of experimentation have frequently appealed to the practices and claims of the physical sciences. These lectures explore several epistemological problems associated with experimentation and its relation with theory, as well as methodological problems associated with the study of experiments, and examine some of the solutions proposed to these problems by sociologists and philosophers of science. (syllabus - PDF)

Bielefeld University

261021 Contemporary Debates in Epistemology (graduate seminar)

This seminar examines fundamental questions concerning knowledge and justification from a variety of contemporary approaches. Is there a priori knowledge? Can skepticism be refuted? Are all beliefs justified in terms of other beliefs, or are some beliefs basic? Is knowledge personal or public? How does gender influence the acquisition of knowledge? We will discuss recent philosophical writings on these issues and attempt to clarify the current state of debates. Topics covered include contextualism, skepticism, epistemic values, virtue epistemology, foundationalism and coherentism, internalism and externalism, and feminist and social epistemology. (syllabus - PDF)

University of Toronto

PHL 355 - Philosophy of Natural Science (advanced undergraduate course)

The course examines philosophical views concerning the aims and methods of science and the status of theoretical claims. Our primary examples will come from physics. The material is divided into three units: (i) realism vs. anti-realism, (ii) the nature and functions of measurement, and (iii) models and representations in science. We will discuss the following questions, among others: do forces, electrons and black holes really exist, or are they merely convenient constructs that scientists use to predict and explain observed phenomena? Does the definition of length depend on our choice of ruler? Why are fantastical notions such as frictionless planes and point masses so useful to science? The course is writing-intensive, with written assignments due every week (there will be two major essays and a few shorter responses to readings.) (syllabus - PDF)