PSA2016: The 25th Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association

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Science as a Problem Solving Activity: A Framework for Teaching Philosophy to Science Students

Philosophers teaching university-level courses directed at science students often struggle with the widespread assumption that doing philosophical work requires an extensive background in the discipline. This is a problem because the methods and conceptual frameworks that philosophers develop and deploy may prove useful to scientific work, independently of the rich intellectual history they are embedded in and derived from. Our aim is to show that treating scientific inquiry as a problem solving enterprise provides a useful scaffold for introducing scientists to philosophy of science. Adapting a framework developed by Banville (in prep.), we show that using the familiar notions of problem solving and heuristics enables students to analyze real cases taken from their field. The learning outcome for such an approach is for students to develop and apply the practical skills associated with philosophical discourse in scientific contexts. In the poster we outline each step of this teaching strategy. The goal to provide students with insights that will make them better problem solvers and thus, more successful scientists.

This project is a first step in the process of “walking the walk” of socially engaged philosophy of science, bringing the expertise of philosophers of science to areas such as science education, which goes well beyond the scope of familiarizing scientists with the questions and methods of philosophy of science. This second, more general motivation stems from the idea that in addition to the advantages of bridging the disciplinary gap between science and philosophy, developing teaching tools based on a practically-minded theory of science can help us foster better science literacy in general. For instance, Lombrozo et al. (2008) found a significant correlation between acceptance of evolution and understanding the nature of scientific inquiry. Another case in which science education may play a crucial role relates to public understanding of neuroscience, which is seen as providing a “reference point on which the reality of contested or ephemeral phenomena was substantiated” (O’Connor, Rees, and Joffe 2012, 224). Such a reference point grounds our understanding of ourselves. As such, the discoveries of science, and the way they are received by the public can be disproportionately influential in policymaking, to name only one example. In the final panel of our poster we consider these and other potential broader impacts of teaching philosophy of science in a manner that is of immediate value to the students, and specifically students of science.

Thus, the project is motivated both by the possibility of bridging the gap between science and philosophy of science, and a more general concern with promoting science literacy in general.

Author Information:

Frédéric-I. Banville    
Department of Philosophy
University of Western Ontario

Jessey Wright    
Department of Philosophy
University of Western Ontario


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