Foundations of Philosophy of Science

Basic Information

Course 2021/2022
Carl Hoefer
José Antonio Díez Calzada
Department of Philosophy
Universitat de Barcelona
Module 7. Issues in Contemporary Theoretical and Practical Philosophy


Wednesdays, 9:30 - 12:00
Philosophy Faculty (UB), 410


The goal of this course is to introduce students to contemporary philosophical debates in philosophy of science, and to build the analytical and critical skills needed to contribute to those debates. This year the topics we will focus on are causation and probability. In addition to being intrinsically philosophically interesting (and problematic), these two notions are both crucially involved in most scientific testing and inference. They have also been at the core of scientific and governmental attempts to grapple with the Covid-19 pandemic. So we will explore philosophical debates related to causation and probability both in the abstract, and in connection with real problems of causal inference and causal attribution such as: what effect does a mask mandate have on Covid-19 transmission? What role does chance or [bad] luck play in the course of a pandemic?

No special mathematics or scientific knowledge is presupposed, other than high-school level mathematics.

Structure and contents:

  1. Introduction: laws, causation, determinism, and probability: views from the 17th – 20th centuries
  2. Causal fundamentalism: pro and con
  3. Is there causation in fundamental physics?
  4. Probabilistic causality
  5. Causal inference and attribution - applied issues
  6. The two faces of probability (subjective/epistemic; objective/chance). Classic accounts.
  7. Recent theories of objective probability and chance
  8. Probability in scientific testing - applied issues

Learning outcomes

  • Students should be conversant with the fundamental concepts arguments deployed in the philosophical literature relating to the various notions of causation and probability.
  • Students should become acquainted with the most widely discussed and defended analyses of causation and of probability, and their strengths and shortcomings.
  • Students should be able to critically understand central texts in contemporary philosophy of science. 
  • Students should be able to communicate their knowledge and their arguments in a clear and articulate way. 
  • Students should be able to work both independently and in a team in an international environment. 
  • Students should be able to identify fallacies and methodological errors in reasoning.
  • Students should be able to critically engage with the concepts and methods of contemporary philosophy of science.
  • Students should be able to identify and critically engage with the current state of a particular philosophical debate, and form a reasoned view, even if provisional, about it.


Classes in the first 2 or 3 weeks will be organized as lectures, with time for discussion and practice with some exercises.  In those weeks, students will be given homework assignments, due the following class, intended to complement the lectures and solidify understanding of the basic concepts.

In the remaining sessions, students will be required to read one or more contemporary text before each class, and submit to the instructors a substantive question or comment on the reading, for discussion during class, the day before class.  This will help ensure that students prepare adequately for classes and will ensure discussion in class that is both stimulating and helpful in advancing students’ understanding.

Students will also be expected to complete two examinations during the course (format to be determined later).


(See Methodology)



(representative – not a list of what we will read!)



Bird, A., 2007, Nature’s Metaphysics: Laws and Properties Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Cartwright, N., 1999, The Dappled World, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Collins, J., Hall, E., and Paul, L., 2004. Causation and Counterfactuals, Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.

De Finetti, B., 1990 [1974], Theory of Probability (Volume 1), New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Eagle, A., 2010, Philosophy of Probability: Contemporary Readings, London: Routledge. (Anthology)

Earman, J., 1986, A Primer on Determinism, Dordrecht: D. Reidel Publishing Company.

Ellis, B., 2001, Scientific Essentialism, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Frisch, M., 2014, Causal Reasoning in Physics, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Gillies, D., 2000b, Philosophical Theories of Probability, London: Routledge.

Howson, C. and Urbach, P., 1993, Scientific Reasoning: The Bayesian Approach, La Salle, IL: Open Court, 2nd edition.

Lewis, D., 1973, Counterfactuals, Oxford: Blackwell.

Maudlin, T., 2007, The Metaphysics Within Physics, New York: Oxford University Press.

Pearl, J. (2000): Causality. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Price, H and Corry, R., 2007. Causation, Physics, and the Constitution of Reality: Russell's Republic Revisited, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Sosa, E. and Tooley, M. (eds.) (1993): Causation. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (Anthology).

van Fraassen, B., 1989, Laws and Symmetry, Oxford: Clarendon Press.

von Plato J., 1994, Creating Modern Probability, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Woodward, J. (2003): Making Things Happen: A Theory of Causal Explanation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.



Bird, A., 2005, “The Dispositionalist Conception of Laws,” Foundations of Science, 10: 353–370.

Cartwright, Nancy, 2010, “What are randomised controlled trials good for?”, Philosophical Studies 147:59–70. DOI 10.1007/s11098-009-9450-2

Cartwright, N. (1979). Causal Laws and Effective Strategies. Noûs, 13(4), 419-437. doi:10.2307/2215337

Clarke, B. et al., “Mechanisms and the Evidence Hierarchy,” Topoi 33:339–360 DOI 10.1007/s11245-013-9220-9

Eriksson, L. & Hájek, A., 2007, “What are Degrees of Belief?”, Studia Logica 86: 183–213.

Fidler, Fiona and Wilcox, John"Reproducibility of Scientific Results", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2018 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.),

Giere, R. N., 1973, “Objective Single-Case Probabilities and the Foundations of Statistics”, in Logic, Methodology and Philosophy of Science (Volume IV), P. Suppes et al., (eds.), New York: North-Holland.

Goodman, N., 1947, “The Problem of Counterfactual Conditionals,” Journal of Philosophy, 44: 113–128.

Hájek, A., 2003, “What Conditional Probability Could Not Be”, Synthese, 137 (3): 273–323.

Hall, N., 2004, “Two Mistakes About Credence and Chance”, Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 82 (1): 93–111.

Hitchcock, C., 2002, “Probability and Chance”, in the International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences (Volume 18), London: Elsevier, pp. 12,089–12,095.

Hitchcock, C., 2004. “Do All and Only Causes Raise the Probabilities of Effects?”, in Collins, Hall and Paul (2004), pp. 403–418.

Hoefer, C., 2007, “The Third Way on Objective Probability: A Skeptic's Guide to Objective Chance”, Mind, 116 (2): 549–596.

Hoefer, C. & Krauss, A., 2021, “Measures of effectiveness in medical research: Reporting both absolute and relative measures”, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 88: 280-283.

Humphreys, P., 1985, “Why Propensities Cannot Be Probabilities”, Philosophical Review, 94: 557–70.

Krauss, A., 2019, “Are randomised controlled trials as random, as controlled and as valid as thought?”  [Preprint].

Lewis, D., 1973, “Causation”, Journal of Philosophy, 70: 556–67. Reprinted in his (1986).

Lewis, D., 1980, “A Subjectivist's Guide to Objective Chance”, in Richard C. Jeffrey (ed.) Studies in Inductive Logic and Probability, Vol II., Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, reprinted in Lewis 1986.

Lewis, D., 1983, “New Work for a Theory of Universals,” Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 61: 343–377.

Lewis, D., 1986, Philosophical Papers: Volume II, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Lewis, D., 1994b, “Humean Supervenience Debugged”, Mind, 103: 473–490.

Loewer, B., 2001, “Determinism and Chance”, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B 32 (4):609-620

Lyon, A., 2011, “Deterministic Probability: Neither Chance nor Credence”, Synthese, 182 (3): 413–32.

Mayo, Deborah G. "Models of Error and the Limits of Experimental Testing." In Science At Centurys End: Philosophical Questions On The Progress And Limits Of S, edited by Carrier Martin, Massey Gerald J., and Ruetsche Laura, 317-44. Pittsburgh, Pa.: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2000. doi:10.2307/j.ctt5vkgxg.23.

Ramsey, F. P., 1926, “Truth and Probability”, in Foundations of Mathematics and other Essays, R. B. Braithwaite (ed.), London: Kegan, Paul, Trench, Trubner, & Co., 1931, 156–198.

Russell, B., 1913, “On the Notion of Cause”, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, New Series, Vol. 13 (1912 - 1913), pp. 1-26.

Suárez, M., 2013, “Propensities and Pragmatism”, The Journal of Philosophy, 110 (2): 61-92.

Stenenga, J., 2015, Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 54: 62-71.


Tentative schedule of readings, 08 March –


Laudan, L., 1981, ‘A Confutation of Convergent Realism’, Philosophy of  Science, 48: 19–48.


Worrall, J., 1989, ‘Structural Realism: The Best of Both Worlds?’, Dialectica, 43: 99–124


Psillos, S. 1999, 'Resisting the pessimistic induction', ch. 5 ofScientific Realism


Psillos, S, 2000, 'Empiricism vs Scientific Realism: Belief in Truth Matters', International Studies in the Philosophy of Science, 14, pp.57-75.


Stanford, P., 2003, 'Pyrrhic Victories for Scientific Realism’, Journal of Philosophy, 100: 553–572.


Vickers, P., (2017). Understanding the selective realist defence against the PMI. Synthese 194 (9):3221-3232.


Díez, J. (2018). A (Fatal) Trilemma for best theory realism. European Journal for Philosophy of Science 8 (2):271-291.


Hoefer, C., 2020, ‘Scientific Realism Without the Quantum’, in Scientific Realism and the Quantum, ed. Steven French & Juha Saatsi, Oxford P.


Hoefer, C. & Martí, G. (2020) ‘Realism, Reference & Perspective’, European Journal for Philosophy of Science.