History and Philosophy of Science

Choose four (4) of the questions presented below and for each, write an answer of about 250-500 words.  For insurance, you MAY answer a 5th question and the lowest score will be dropped.

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1) In Astronomy, the Ptolemaic system reigned supreme for over 1000 years.  Briefly describe its most important characteristics, especially what everything revolved around and how motion was supposed to be explained.  Describe contributions to its demise from: members of the Parisian school (1277-1377), Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, Galileo, Kepler, and Newton.  List some empirical data that eventually required a heliocentric system in its place. 

2) Much has been written about the role of Galileo in science and trying to interpret the Galileo affair.  In this essay, please cover Galileo’s philosophy and scientific method, comparing with his predecessors: (a) his philosophical stances that conflict with the realism of St. Thomas Aquinas, (b) how the way in which he employed mathematics in science differed from the way it had been viewed by Pythagoreans such as Nicholas of Cusa, Regiomontanus, Copernicus, and a young Johannes Kepler, (c) how his philosophy of science – his conception of it, its role, and the methods he used – differed from the Scholastics (from Grosseteste down to Ockham, Nicholas of Autrecourt, and on to Oresme), particularly in relation to treatment of Aristotle’s four causes (formal, material, efficient, and final).

3) Discuss societal factors including intellectual movements that promoted the progress of science from the time of Galileo (1564-1642) to the end of the lifetime of Isaac Newton (1643-1727).  Include the influences of philosophers such as any or all of Rene Descartes, Francis Bacon, Christian Wolf, David Hume, (and the later synthesis of their ideas found in Immanuel Kant).

4) Discuss in detail the main features of the scientific method put forth by Isaac Newton and compare it, especially in terms of causes and other Aristotelian philosophical principles, with the method of the Scholastics (Grosseteste, Duns Scotus, Ockham, Autrecourt), that of Galileo, and the ideas of his own contemporary G.W. Leibniz. 

5) List some of the problems with Newtonian plus Maxwellian physics in the final years of the 19th century.  In particular, discuss the stark implications of the Michelson-Morley (interferometry) experiment on the postulated “aether” as medium for light and how a 20th century genius built explanations of this and other problems on the list and opened previously undreamt of areas of physical theory.  Relativity highlighted an important role for the “observer”.  Briefly discuss some of the mind-blowing aspects of quantum theory developed in the same time-frame.

6) As a scientist, if you want to put forward a possible explanation for some repeatable but unexplained (by current theories) result, describe how you would proceed in terms of PoS concepts like: theory, hypothesis, inductive reasoning, deductive reasoning, abduction, confirmation reasoning, falsification, experiment, crucial experiment, theory-laden-ness, auxiliary hypotheses.  How would your experimental results and interpretation have to be communicated to others and what would likely happen after that?  Consider cases of “successful” and “failed” experiments.

7) Discuss the history of science from about AD 1200 to the present day (or a similar period of your choice).  Defend one or more of the following viewpoints (or reconcile mild forms of apparently opposing viewpoints) citing examples from history of science: progress consists of a revolution followed by filling in the details; the thread of continuity before, during, and after (a revolution) is more significant than what is changed in a scientific revolution; revolutions consist in the replacement of degenerating programs/paradigms by progressive programs and guiding paradigms.  

8) (This DOES differ from Q7) Discuss the history of science from about AD 1200 to the present day (or a similar period of your choice).  Defend one or more of the following viewpoints (or reconcile mild forms of the apparently opposing viewpoints) citing examples from history of science: all religion is in perpetual conflict with science; a certain religious culture is one of the requirements for science to take root and flourish.

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