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Philosophy of Science

Let an expert guide you through the history of Western philosophy in this thorough, 60-lecture course taught by a member of the philosophy faculty of Oxford.
Philosophy of Science is rated 4.2 out of 5 by 95.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the best courses I have ever been exposed to. Dr. Kastner tackles a complex and difficult subject and makes it very intelligible. I wish he would do a follow up.
Date published: 2023-05-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent discussion of philosophy of science Very up-to-date & interestingly presented. I've listened to this course multiple times & each time has taught me more about how scientific inquiry generates new knowledge
Date published: 2023-04-12
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Not a good teacher I have purchased many of the Great Courses and this is the only one I found to be sub par. I would want my money back. Simply put, professor Kasser is a very learned man but he is a poor teacher. His presentation of the material is confusing, hard to follow, and leaves one very frustrated. This is a very important subject but the professor does not due it justice. He doesn't properly tie things together and he organizes the information in a way that makes it almost impossible to understand where he is going with it. Sorry, I cannot recommend this course. This is the only Great Course I regretted purchasing.
Date published: 2022-01-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Some good nuggets but prepare to struggle through I would recommend this, but with a qualification: prepare yourself that this is presented at the level of an upper graduate or graduate school level class. To me there were some good nuggets and insights into the nature of knowledge, scientific explanation, and epistemology. For that reason, I am glad I listed to the audio lectures. Frankly, a lot of the material went over my head. And I do not think it was because of me. I have taken quite a few Teaching Company philosophy courses, and never had much of a comprehension problem. I believe the instructor’s lexicon, style, and manner of presentation is suitable for a graduate school classroom setting, and that posed a challenge for me. That said, the instructor’s presentation style is lucid, well spoken, and pleasant to listen to.
Date published: 2021-02-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Informative. I have been listening to courses from this company for about 20 years. MANY courses on a wide variety of subjects. As a professor of Statistics this is quite simply the most valuable course I have ever had from The Teaching Company. My son who is also a professor of Statistics is also highly enthusiastic.
Date published: 2020-04-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Caution: Dense Material I have listened or watched scores of classes from the Great Courses (Teaching Company, as those of us long-timers still think of it). The Philosophy of Science is the course that most clearly qualifies as a real university level class. Unlike most of the courses I have taken which suffice as a series of interesting and informative lectures, Kasser ambitiously presents a rigorous and systematic investigation of a an academic field. I have listened to this class maybe eight times over the years, just finished again. It is dense, and if you don't have a background in science and philosophy you'll probably give up. It is not only densely packed, but much of the material is abstract, and although Kasser gives many examples, there are times when I still found myself lacking a referent for the idea presented. As Kasser says a few times, philosophy has no tangible stuff in its domain like bugs or lasers, just ideas, clarifications, logic, semantics, and the like. Explaining scientific practice in abstract terms is a great challenge, and I think he did a fine job. As my title suggests, and many reviewers noted, this class is not for everybody. You must make a real investment of thought and time, or you will end up wondering what in the world it's all about. It is indeed like taking a difficult real university class. This is the sort of presentation that should be the Great Courses' stock-in-trade. As for the presentation, Kasser does talk pretty fast, and given the mostly abstract material, it requires focus. He has a lot of humor, so it's far from dry.
Date published: 2019-11-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Need to See it at Least Twice I took similar courses in college and university. This one is more in depth and interesting. I must see it at least twice to truly appeciate it.
Date published: 2019-08-09
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good, not great The lecturer is excellent and some of the chapters are done very well and I learned some. However, some of the chapters are the regular philosophy, about splitting hairs.
Date published: 2019-06-27
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Philosopher Jeffrey Kasser launches an ambitious inquiry into what makes science science. The route to the answers is a challenging


Jeffrey L. Kasser

Philosophy of science should help us look at claims made within science, and claims made about science, and help us make informed judgments about how and what we're to think about each case.


Colorado State University

Dr. Jeffrey L. Kasser is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Colorado State University. He earned his B.A. from Rice University and his M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. As a graduate student, Dr. Kasser taught Philosophy of Science to Ph.D. students in Michigan's School of Nursing. He was the first recipient of the John Dewey Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Education given by the Department of Philosophy at Michigan. While completing his dissertation, Dr. Kasser taught at Wesleyan University. He then moved on to Colby College, where he helped direct the Integrated Studies Program and received the Charles Bassett Teaching Award in 2003. Professor Kasser's dissertation concerned Charles S. Peirce's conception of inquiry. The classical pragmatism of Peirce and of William James serves as the focus of much of his research. He won the 1998 essay prize of the Charles S. Peirce Society for his essay, Peirce's Supposed Psychologism.

Science and Philosophy

01: Science and Philosophy

Does a scientific worldview leave any room for distinctively philosophical knowledge? Do philosophers have anything useful to tell anyone, especially scientists, about science? Professor Kasser argues that this course will give ample reasons to answer "yes" to both questions.

35 min
Popper and the Problem of Demarcation

02: Popper and the Problem of Demarcation

The distinguishing mark of science, according to Viennese philosopher Karl Popper, is that it seeks to falsify, not to confirm, its hypotheses. This lecture develops and assesses Popper's remarkable proposal.

31 min
Further Thoughts on Demarcation

03: Further Thoughts on Demarcation

What would be the implications of describing astrology as lousy science rather than as pseudoscience? Would this treatment of the problem of separating science from pseudoscience inevitably lead to the teaching of creationism in high school classrooms?

33 min
Einstein, Measurement, and Meaning

04: Einstein, Measurement, and Meaning

Einstein's special theory of relativity shocked physicists and scientifically minded philosophers by revealing a lack of clarity in familiar concepts such as length and simultaneity. When we insist on understanding simultaneity and length experimentally, we see that they crucially involve the notion of a reference frame, which is why durations and lengths are measured differently by observers moving relative to one another.

32 min
Classical Empiricism

05: Classical Empiricism

The classical tradition of Locke, Berkeley, and Hume sets the terms for the problems that a sophisticated empiricist account of scientific knowledge must address. Empiricism's antimetaphysical tendencies constantly threaten to force it into a disabling and radical skepticism.

29 min
Logical Positivism and Verifiability

06: Logical Positivism and Verifiability

Born in the early 20th century, logical positivism tried to develop an empiricist conception of philosophy that was logically coherent and adequate to the practice of science. This lecture sketches the positivist program, paying special attention to the demarcation criterion and the verification principle.

30 min
Logical Positivism, Science, and Meaning

07: Logical Positivism, Science, and Meaning

It is difficult for empiricism to make room for unobservable reality. However, scientific theories are full of claims about quarks and other apparently unobservable entities. One response is instrumentalism, according to which a scientific theory need only "save the phenomena."

31 min

08: Holism

W. V. Quine's "Two Dogmas of Empiricism," published in 1953, is often considered the most important philosophical article of the century. In it, Quine draws radical implications from his idea that hypotheses are not testable in isolation.

31 min
Discovery and Justification

09: Discovery and Justification

John Stuart Mill systematized a number of techniques used in earlier empiricist approaches to inquiry. Although overly ambitious and curiously naïve by today's standards, Mill's methods have proved valuable in fields such as artificial intelligence.

28 min
Induction as Illegitimate

10: Induction as Illegitimate

This lecture begins the discussion of inductive logic by wrestling with Hume's argument that there is no justification for believing that the sun will rise tomorrow. Popper claimed that this was not a problem for science, which could operate perfectly well without such inductive inferences.

30 min
Some Solutions and a New Riddle

11: Some Solutions and a New Riddle

There are several philosophical responses to Hume's problem of induction. Notably, Nelson Goodman's "new riddle of induction" turns Hume's problem on its head, showing that experience lends support to too many inferences of uniformity in nature, not too few.

30 min
Instances and Consequences

12: Instances and Consequences

Carl Hempel offered a paradox that appears as frustrating as Goodman's, showing that almost anything counts as evidence for a proposition such as "All crows are black." This instantial model was replaced by the hypothetico-deductive model, which faced challenges of its own.

28 min
Kuhn and the Challenge of History

13: Kuhn and the Challenge of History

Thomas Kuhn's 1962 book, "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions," dealt logical positivism its mightiest blow. This lecture discusses the pattern of normal science punctuated by periods of revolution that Kuhn finds in the history of science, and his explanation of this pattern via the notion of a paradigm.

30 min
Revolutions and Rationality

14: Revolutions and Rationality

Kuhn's treatment of normal science is controversial, but his treatment of scientific revolutions created a greater sensation. Notions of rationality and truth play little role in his explanation of the rise of a new paradigm.

31 min
Assessment of Kuhn

15: Assessment of Kuhn

Kuhn's powerful and wide-ranging work raises several questions: How accurate is his portrayal of patterns in science? How acceptable is his explanation of these patterns? Are his claims about perception defensible? How sophisticated are his views of language and truth?

32 min
For and Against Method

16: For and Against Method

Imre Lakatos tried to reconcile Kuhn's historical approach with a more robust role for scientific rationality. Lakatos's intellectual sparring partner, Paul Feyerabend, argued against all scientific methodologies. If there has to be a rule governing scientific practice, Feyerabend's is: Anything goes.

31 min
Sociology, Postmodernism, and Science Wars

17: Sociology, Postmodernism, and Science Wars

Sociology of science promoted itself as the heir to philosophy of science, inspiring ideas such as "he social construction of reality." This lecture also explores postmodern views of science, including physicist Alan Sokal's notorious submission of a parody essay to the journal "Social Text."

31 min
(How) Does Science Explain?

18: (How) Does Science Explain?

This lecture explores some philosophical ideas that have come to the fore since the Kuhnian revolution, focusing on Hempel's covering-law model of explanation. Hempel tried to reconcile empiricist scruples with the need for genuine scientific explanations.

29 min
Putting the Cause Back in

19: Putting the Cause Back in "Because"

Many philosophers appeal to causation to avoid problems that crop up in Hempel's covering law model, which allows arguments that intuitively have no explanatory force as legitimate scientific explanations. The causal model appears to deal with this concern.

28 min
Probability, Pragmatics, and Unification

20: Probability, Pragmatics, and Unification

This lecture examines the remaining major issues in the philosophy of explanation, including Bas van Fraassen's radical proposal that explanation is no part of science itself and that good explanations are nothing deeper than contextually appropriate answers to "why" questions.

30 min
Laws and Regularities

21: Laws and Regularities

It is generally, though by no means unanimously, agreed that science seeks to uncover laws of nature. But the role of such laws is controversial. Empiricist philosophers are suspicious of the very concept because of the association of laws of nature with divine decrees and other metaphysical pictures.

30 min
Laws and Necessity

22: Laws and Necessity

This lecture looks at several other approaches to the problem of laws of nature. Nancy Cartwright, a philosopher of physics, argues for a stark dilemma: Either the laws of nature are false, but can be used in scientific explanations; or they are true, but useless for explaining things.

31 min
Reduction and Progress

23: Reduction and Progress

Science appears to progress when one theory is absorbed by or reduced to another. According to the positivists, "bridge principles" allow the reduced theory to be derived from the reducing theory. But Kuhn and Feyerabend hold that many such cases are more like "replacements" of one theory by another.

31 min
Reduction and Physicalism

24: Reduction and Physicalism

Many philosophers have been tempted by the view that the social sciences reduce to psychology, which reduces to biology, which reduces to chemistry, which reduces to physics. What are the prospects for this bold outlook?

31 min
New Views of Meaning and Reference

25: New Views of Meaning and Reference

This lecture explores a new approach to meaning and reference, along with a new conception of scientific theories. These ideas conceive of theories in terms of models and analogies, rather than as deductive systems.

31 min
Scientific Realism

26: Scientific Realism

Scientific realism is the claim that successful scientific theories correctly depict unobservable as well as observable reality. "Hard" realists seek to discover how the world truly is "Soft" realists strive to organize a mind-independent world in the way that makes the most sense out of the many possibilities.

30 min
Success, Experience, and Explanation

27: Success, Experience, and Explanation

Realists defend their position as the best explanation for the success of science. Anti-realists point to a number of successful-but-false theories in the history of science. Under what conditions, if any, does the success of a theory give grounds for believing it is true?

30 min
Realism and Naturalism

28: Realism and Naturalism

The realist asserts and the empiricist denies that a theory's explanatory success provides evidence that the theory is true. Many realists argue that realism is best defended from within a "naturalistic" approach, which abandons the project of providing a philosophical justification for science.

30 min
Values and Objectivity

29: Values and Objectivity

This lecture examines the values that animate science and scientists. Might the social structure of science generate objective results even if individual scientists are motivated by the pursuit of recognition, money, or tenure? Who should get to participate in the formation of a scientific "consensus" and why?

30 min

30: Probability

Throughout much of Western intellectual history, "chance" was thought to represent the enemy of reason. But notions of chance, or probability, are now arguably inquiry's greatest ally. This lecture confronts the philosophical issues that arise about the interpretation of probability statements.

31 min

31: Bayesianism

"Bayesianism" is a remarkable program that promises to combine the positivists' demand for rules governing rational theory choice with a Kuhnian role for values and subjectivity. After explaining the basics of Bayesianism, this lecture examines its approach to scientific reason.

31 min
Problems with Bayesianism

32: Problems with Bayesianism

Predictably, a Bayesian backlash has also been gaining momentum in recent years. This lecture investigates Bayesianism's surprisingly subjective approach to probability assignments as well as the Bayesian treatment of the problem of old evidence.

32 min
Entropy and Explanation

33: Entropy and Explanation

Typically, philosophy of science is philosophy of a particular science. This lecture turns to the philosophy of physics to examine such concepts as the reduction of thermodynamics to statistical mechanics, the direction of time, the origin of the universe, and the nature of explanation.

29 min
Species and Reality

34: Species and Reality

Biology defines species in a number of ways, and even some of the best definitions seem to exclude most organisms on Earth from being members of a species. How valid is the species concept, and does a sufficiently well-defined notion of species track something real?

31 min
The Elimination of Persons?

35: The Elimination of Persons?

"Folk psychology" is the commonsense explanation of human behavior in terms of beliefs, desires, and so forth. Many folk psychological explanations face direct empirical challenge and are vulnerable to "eliminative reduction," which has the paradoxical effect of rendering personality an illusion.

31 min
Philosophy and Science

36: Philosophy and Science

Seeking to "leave you puzzled in articulate and productive ways," Professor Kasser sums up the overarching themes of the course, which involve recurring ideas such as the search for demarcation criteria, the inescapability of metaphysics, and the tension between empiricism and realism.

31 min