HPS Part IB Supervision Topics

The topics listed below are given in order. Thus, Descartes is the topic for the first supervision of the year, Primary and Secondary Qualities for the second, and Reference for the fifth (the first of Lent term). Please write an essay about Descartes for your first supervision, even though you have not had the lectures yet.

Please note that, while the topic for each supervision is fixed, the questions are not. The questions given on this page are suggestions. If you want to address a different aspect of the topic, write your own title. Do not address a different aspect under one of the questions I have given, since you must answer the question you have chosen.

If the title of the topic is a link, there are notes about that topic in my 'Topics in the Philosophy of Science' pages. The link will take you to the relevant notes.


"Should we doubt that there is an external world?"


"How much skepticism do Descartes's arguments license?"


Descartes, Meditations, especially numbers 1 & 2 (essential)

B. Williams, Descartes: The Project of Pure Enquiry, esp. chs 2, 3, and 9

Don't overdo the reading for this essay--concentrate on trying to write something good and philosophical. (I.e. reading the two texts listed above is sufficient.)

Primary & Secondary Qualities

"Do you think that a sharp distinction can be made between primary and secondary qualities?"


"How much of the world we see is due to our perceiving it?"

(The second question may also be used as a springboard for talking about Berkeley.)


For an essay on Primary & Secondary Qualities, you must read the texts by Galileo and Locke in the section "Locke and Berkeley" on Professor Lipton's handout. For an essay on Berkeley and idealism, you must read the Berkeley. You should do some reading in the secondary literature as well. You should be slowly increasing the amount of reading you do for an essay over the year.


"What is the difference between causation and correlation?" (1999 exam question)


"How can we know whether one thing causes another?"


You must read the passage of Hume indicated on Professor Lipton's handout. The paper by Lewis is heavy going, but extremely influential. Mackie is an easier read, but less has had less influence. (Philosophers clearly like to make life difficult for themselves.) It is also worth reading the secondary literature indicated.


"Induction is rational if nature is regular." Discuss. (1999 exam question)


What can be a reason for belief?


Once again, you must read the passage of Hume indicated on the handout. The articles in the Swinburne collection are also likely to be of significant use.


'Names may just be labels, but if Kripke were right we would seldom know to whom they are attached.' Discuss. (1999 exam question)


In what sense must water be H2O?


Lecture II in Kripke's Naming and Necessity is essential. You should also read Quine's 'Two Dogmas of Empiricism', particularly if you are doing the second question. If you are doing the first, you should look at the papers in Meaning and Reference, edited by A. W. Moore.


What is the connection between explanation and prediction? (1999 exam question)


How do we explain why a stone falls to the ground? Can we explain why they all do?


The central works are the chapter on scientific explanation in Hempel, The Philosophy of Science, Friedman's paper 'Explanation and Scientific Understanding' in Pitt, Theories of Explanation, and Lewis's paper 'Causal Explanation', in either Lewis Philosophical Papers Volume II or Ruben Explanation.


Can we manage without induction?


Does Popper succeed in distinguishing science from pseudo-science?


You should read plenty of Popper. Read chapter one in Objective Knowledge and chapters one and ten in Conjectures and Refutations first, and as much of chapters I, II, IV, V, and X from The Logic of Scientific Discovery as you can manage. Don't read so much that you have no time to think, though.


Is Kuhn an anti-realist?


How boring is normal science?


You should read as much of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, by Kuhn, as you can manage in the time; pick your chapters depending on the essay you are writing. The essays by Kuhn, Lakatos, and Popper in Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge, edited by Lakatos and Musgrave, are also very useful.

General Question

"A good scientist is interested only in the pursuit of truth." Do you agree?


You should not do additional reading for this question, as you will not be able to do so when faced with the general question in the exam.

Sociology of Scientific Knowledge

"When a scientific finding emerges from the field or laboratory, it undergoes a profound transition, changing from a well-formulated, discipline-bound construct into a dynamic and perhaps unruly component of a complex and interactive social system." (Opening of a book review in Nature.) Discuss.


The asterisked reading for lectures one and two (Laudan, Shapin, and Collins) is most relevant. Make intelligent selections from the Collins based on the direction you plan to take in your essay. (After a year, you should be able to do that.)