Teaching philosophy of science to scientists: why, what and how
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This paper provides arguments to philosophers, scientists, administrators and students for why science students should be instructed in a mandatory, custom-designed, interdisciplinary course in the philosophy of science. The argument begins by diagnosing that most science students are taught only conventional methodology: a fixed set of methods whose justification is rarely addressed. It proceeds by identifying seven benefits that scientists incur from going beyond these conventions and from acquiring abilities to analyse and evaluate justifications of scientific methods. It concludes that teaching science students these skills makes them better scientists. Based on this argument, the paper then analyses the standard philosophy of science curriculum, and in particular its adequacy for teaching science students. It is argued that the standard curriculum on the one hand lacks important analytic tools relevant for going beyond conventional methodology—especially with respect to non-epistemic normative aspects of scientific practice—while on the other hand contains many topics and tools that are not relevant for the instruction of science students. Consequently, the optimal way of training science students in the analysis and evaluation of scientific methods requires a revision of the standard curriculum. Finally, the paper addresses five common characteristics of students taking such a course, which often clash with typical teaching approaches in philosophy. Strategies how best to deal with these constraints are offered for each of these characteristics.
KeywordsMethodology Science education Philosophy of science curriculum
For valuable discussions and insightful comments I thank Hanne Andersen, Mieke Boon, John Cantwell, Marion Godman, Sven Ove Hansson, Jesper Jerkert, Inkeri Koskinen, Jaakko Kuorikoski, Caterina Marchionni, Samuli Pöyhönen, Kristina Rolin, and the audiences at Helsinki University, KTH and at the 2013 Meeting of the German Society for Philosophy of Science in Hannover. Remaining mistakes are my own. Financial support from the Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet) and the Finnish Centre of Excellence in the Philosophy of the Social Sciences (TINT) is gratefully acknowledged.
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