Philosophy of Science

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Philosophy of Science

Fall Semester 2022, Monday 1-3:40pm. Special weekend session on November 12-13.

(PHI 420/520) Registration

Undergraduate 23577
Graduate 23578

Venue: Park 141


Barry Smith
Jobst Landgrebe

Prerequisites: Open to all persons with an undergraduate degree and some knowledge of philosophy.

Office hours: By appointment via email at

The Course

Course Description: What are the essential features of a scientific discipline, and how are the different scientific disciplines related to each other and to the world which they seek to represent? This course will provide an introduction to questions such as this, beginning with a treatment of the role of models in different types of science, and of the truthmakers for different kinds of scientific proposition. We then attempt to create a synoptic and non-reductionist view of science in its entirety, aiming to do justice to each of the sciences from a realist point of view, and at the same time throw light on the interplay between the natural sciences and mathematics, and between the sciences in general and the world of common-sense experience.

Course Structure: This is a three credit hour graduate seminar.

The final session will be structured around powerpoint presentations by the students in the class. These presentations will be recorded.

Target Audience: The course is open to all interested students with an undergraduate degree and some knowledge of philosophy.

Sample Topics

What is a scientific model?
Descriptions, Explanations, Interpretations, Predictions
Classifying sciences
Science as a habit
Simple and complex systems
The reproducibility crisis
The applicability of mathematics
Philosophy of explicit and implicit mathematics
Carl Stumpf: Philosopher in the Lab
Do the mathematical entities mathematicians use exist independently of the mathematicians who use them?
Popper and after: Four modern irrationalists
Can we discover new scientific theories using AI?
The role of ontology in information-driven science
Nancy Cartwright
The Metaphysics Research Lab
Powers and dispositions
Singular dispositions (chemistry and interpersonal attraction, charisma, intersubjectivity ...)
Philosophy of mathematics
Explicit vs. implicit mathematics
Structural, patterns, Wesenszusammenhänge
Units of measure, measurement results, equations

August 29: Introduction to the Philosophy of Science

Historical Background

Scotus (and Peirce)
Realism about Universals (Universals are What Science is About)
Kant (and Newton and the a priori)
Husserl's Crisis of European Sciences
The Vienna Circle

September 5: Labor Day Observed

September 12: Darwin, Genes, and Units of Measure


Introduction to the Philosophy of Science (Continued)

The Austrian Background of Philosophy of Science
Ontology and Science


D. C. Stove, Popper and After: Four Modern Irrationalists
J. Franklin, Stove's Discovery of the World's Worst Philosophical Argument
J. C. Nyiri, The Austrian Element in the Philosophy of Science

From Aristotle to Darwin

From the Vienna Circle to the Gene Ontology

Ontology of units of measure

Video: Quantities (units of measure) as fiat universals

Reading: Alan Code, Searle, Aristotle, and the mind-body problem (1994)

September 19: Types of Reasoning and Types of Evidence (with Amelia Kahn)



1. Types of reasoning (induction, abduction, and deduction) and their role in science

  The epistemically important features of scientific investigation processes

2. What is evidence?

What type of thing can be evidence: physical objects (the killer's fingerprint!), sense data or perceptual experience, or a mental state like knowledge? Or some other thing?

Reading: Gilbert Harman, "Inference to the Best Explanation

October 3: Biomedical Sciences


The ontology of disease

Reading: "Toward an Ontological Treatment of Disease and Diagnosis"

October 10: Psychological Sciences

Origins of psychology as a science

Brentano and his legacy
Husserl, Meinong and the arrow of intentionality

The Mental Functioning Ontology



Werner Ceusters & Barry Smith, "Foundations for a realist ontology of mental disease", Journal of Biomedical Semanticsmm volume 1 (2010)

Background materials on ecological psychology:

Ontology of niches, affordances, settings, places, habitats: From Aristotle to Gibson and Barker and the Hutchinsonian niche


Behavior settings as emergent relational structures in everyday life



Heft, "Perceptual Information of 'An Entirely Different Order'"
Heft, "Places: Widening the Scope of an Ecological Approach to Perception"
Heft, Ecological Psychology in Context
Smith, "Toward a Realistic Science of Environments"
Smith, "Objects and Their Environments: From Aristotle to Ecological Psychology"

October 17: The Replication Problem: Science as a Social Phenomenon

Cuddy Video

October 24: Practical Applications of Ontology

This session will involve a series of talks and discussions given by UB faculty (including BS) and visitors from the University of Toronto. One central focus will be the ontology of social services. Another will be urban planning. More details will follow.

October 31: Consistent Histories: A Realist view of Quantum Physics




Nancy Cartwright, "Models: The Blueprint for Laws"
Barry Smith, "Quantum Mereotopology"
Barry Smith “True Grid” (2001)

November 12-13: Philosophy of Quantum Physics (with Jobst Landgrebe) (weekend session)



The goal of the lectures is to bring students to the level where they can understand the Schrödinger equation.

The lectures will defend a view of physics resting on a radical division between classical physics on the one hand and quantum mechanics (QM) on the other. General relativity theory (GTR), from this perspective, is still a part of classical physics.

Essentially, with the rise of QM the mathematical modelling of nature has deviated more and more from what we observe in nature. For while GTR is mathematically demanding, it is much closer than QM to what we observe directly in nature. Indeed, the realization of QM effects depends heavily on the use of completely artificial settings. These effects can, it is true, be realized using engineering, both in experimental settings and in machines which address practical purpose, for example in quantum cryptography. But leaving aside what goes on in these unnatural settings, QM has nothing to contribute to our understanding of ordinary reality. (For expanded version of goal see here)


Extract from: Tim Maudlin, Distilling Metaphysics from Physics
Christian Wüthrich, Introduction to Philosophy of Physics
Nancy Cartwright: How the laws of physics lie
Feynman: Lectures on physics, vol III, chs. 1-3 Audio Version (recommended)
Griffith: Consistent Histories
Carsten Held: Axiomatic Quantum Mechanics and Completeness
Steven French: Review of Falkenburg: Particle Metaphysics
Kuhlmann: Quantum Field Theory


09:00 Philosophy for physics or physics for philosophy?
Video 1
10:15 Break
10:30 The dualism of waves and particles
Video 2
12:00 Lunch
12:30 Basic Laws of Quantum Mechanics and Introductory Remarks on the Ontology of Physics and Mathematics
Video 3
13:45 Break
14:00 The Ammonia Molecule and the MASER
Video 4
15:15 Break
15:30 Interpretations of Quantum physics

Video 5

17:00 Close


09:00 Interpretations of Quantum physics (continued)'
Video 5 continued
10:15 Break
10:30 Laws, Causality and Particles
Video 5 continued
12:00 Lunch
12:30 Introduction to the Ontology of Physics and Mathematics
Video 5 continued
13:45 Break

November 13: Philosophy of Mathematics (BS)

14:00 Philosophy of mathematics (BS)

November 14: Philosophy of Physics and Mathematics (with Jobst Landgrebe)

1:00pm: Laws, causality and particles; general wrap-up on ontology of physics and mathematics

Topics dealt with include:

The nature of particles
Classical physics and quantum mechanics
Quantum electrodynamics
Quantum field theory
The operational view and the dynamic view
Ontology of physics
Ontology of mathematics

November 21 Student Projects

1:00 Giacomo De Colle, The Ontology of Energy Management in Data Centers
1:15 Josh Vonderhaar, Epistemic Models and Social Science
1:30 Delaney McNulty, Issues with fMRI Scans
1:45 Tiankui Zeng, An alternative interpretation of the replication crisis
2:00 Lance Hill, Sophistry in the Social Sciences
2:15 Hyemi Jun, Visualizing Cultural Difference: Analyzing the Dynamic Between Visual Perception and Emotion through Aesthetic Expression
2:30 Noah Kim, International relations as a science and the role of ontology
2:45 Cameron More, Economics is Not a Science: The Metaphysical Assumptions of Neoclassical and Marginalist Theory
3:00 Jieming Yu, Conceptual Revision and the Change in the Concept of Gene

Background Reading

Readings on Gibson, Affordances, Dispositions

Student Learning Outcomes

Program Outcomes/Competencies Instructional Method(s) Assessment Method(s)
The student will acquire a knowledge of the philosophy of both the natural and social sciences. Lectures and class discussions Review of reading matter and associated online content and participation in class discussions
The student will acquire experience in using the methods of philosophical argument, in formulating complex propositions on the interrelations between philosophy, science, and mathematics. Participation in practical experiments Review of results
The student will acquire experience in formulating ideas using powerful persuasive prose. Creation of documentation and youtube presentations Review of results

How to Write an Essay

Jordan Peterson's Essay Writing Guide
Steven Pinker, The Sense of Style, Penguin Books, 2014
Strunk and White, The Elements of Style
Harvard's guide to writing philosophy
Jim Pryor's guide to writing philosophy

Important Dates

Sep 7 - about now start to discuss by email the content of your essay or essays with Dr Smith
Sep 25 - submit proposed title and abstract
Oct 10 - submit a table of contents and 300 word summary plus draft of associated ppt slides
Oct 20 - submit first draft of essay (~1000 words) and associated powerpoint (~10 slides)
Nov 15 - submit second draft of essay (~2000 words) and associated powerpoint (~10 slides)
Nov 21 - class presentation
Dec 11 - submit final version of essay and powerpoint and upload final version of video to youtube


Grading will be based on two factors:

I: understanding and criticism of the material presented in classes 1-13

All students are required to take an active part in class (and where relevant on-line) discussions throughout the semester.

II: preparation of an essay, and associated powerpoint slides and recorded presentation.

Content and structure of the essay should be discussed with Dr Smith.

Grading Policy: Grading follows standard Graduate School policies. Grades will be weighted according to the following breakdown:

Weighting Assignment

20% - class discussions
15% - youtube video presentation
15% - powerpoint slides
50% - essay

Final Grades

Percentages refer to sum of assignment grades as listed above

Grade Quality Percentage

A 4.0 90.0% -100.00%
A- 3.67 87.0% - 89.9%
B+ 3.33 84.0% - 86.9%
B 3.00 80.0% - 83.9%
B- 2.67 77.0% - 79.9%
C+ 2.33 74.0% - 76.9%
C 2.00 71.0% - 73.9%
C- 1.67 68.0% - 70.9%
D+ 1.33 65.0% - 67.9%
D 1.00 62.0% - 64.9%
F 0 61.9% or below

An interim grade of Incomplete (I) may be assigned if the student has not completed all requirements for the course. An interim grade of 'I' shall not be assigned to a student who did not attend the course. The default grade accompanying an interim grade of 'I' shall be 'U' and will be displayed on the UB record as 'IU.' The default Unsatisfactory (U) grade shall become the permanent course grade of record if the 'IU' is not changed through formal notice by the instructor upon the student's completion of the course.

Assignment of an interim 'IU' is at the discretion of the instructor. A grade of 'IU' can be assigned only if successful completion of unfulfilled course requirements can result in a final grade better than the default 'U' grade. The student should have a passing average in the requirements already completed. The instructor shall provide the student specification, in writing, of the requirements to be fulfilled.

The university’s Graduate Incomplete Policy can be found here.

Related Policies and Services

Academic integrity is a fundamental university value. Through the honest completion of academic work, students sustain the integrity of the university while facilitating the university's imperative for the transmission of knowledge and culture based upon the generation of new and innovative ideas. See

Accessibility resources: If you have any disability which requires reasonable accommodations to enable you to participate in this course, please contact the Office of Accessibility Resources in 60 Capen Hall, 645-2608 and also the instructor of this course during the first week of class. The office will provide you with information and review appropriate arrangements for reasonable accommodations, which can be found on the web here.

University suppert services: Students are often unaware of university support services. For example, the Center for Excellence in Writing provides support for written work, and several tutoring centers on campus provide academic success support and resources.

Available resources on sexual assault: UB is committed to providing an environment free of all forms of discrimination and sexual harassment, including sexual assault, domestic and dating violence and stalking. If you have experienced gender-based violence (intimate partner violence, attempted or completed sexual assault, harassment, coercion, stalking, etc.), UB has resources to help. This includes academic accommodations, health and counseling services, housing accommodations, helping with legal protective orders, and assistance with reporting the incident to police or other UB officials if you so choose. Please contact UB’s Title IX Coordinator at 716-645-2266 for more information. For confidential assistance, you may also contact a Crisis Services Campus Advocate at 716-796-4399.

Counseiling services: As a student you may experience a range of issues that can cause barriers to learning or reduce your ability to participate in daily activities. These might include strained relationships, anxiety, high levels of stress, alcohol/drug problems, feeling down, health concerns, or unwanted sexual experiences. Counseling, Health Services, and Health Promotion are here to help with these or other concerns. You learn can more about these programs and services by contacting:

Counseling Services: 120 Richmond Quad (North Campus), phone 716-645-2720
Health Services: Michael Hall (South Campus), phone: 716-829-3316
Health Promotion: 114 Student Union (North Campus), phone: 716- 645-2837