Centre for Continuing Education

Philosophy for Science Course I: The Language and Logic of Science

Philosophy. Study the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality and existence.

Learn about philosophy the smart way with Philosophy courses at the University of Sydney.

Science is a ‘methodology’: a particular way of observing and explaining the world, of answering the one big question: “What must the world be like, in order that it produce the phenomena we observe?” This Language and Logic of Science course is part one of a four part Philosophy for Science series which elaborates the ‘language’ of Science – the meaning of reality, existence, causation, observation, explanation, and truth; and its ‘logic’ – its premises, its rules of engagement, and its strengths and limitations.

This course is part of a series and should ideally be completed in sequence.

Course content

This philosophy of science course covers the following topics:

Introduction to the Philosophy of Science

  • Are things necessarily as they seem?
  • What must the world be like?
  • The Philosophical Foundations of Science, and the ‘Scientific Method’

Ontology: The Nature of Existence

  • What is ‘existence’ really, and what, if anything, really exists?
  • Is the physical Universe all there is?
  • Different notions of existence
  • Beables vs observables
  • The nature of ontological commitment

Semiotics: The Language of Description

  • Symbolic representation, ‘aboutness’, and denotation
  • Semantics: connotation and meaning
  • Principles of identity, negation, and non-contradiction
  • Meaninglessness
  • Entities and attributes: objects and their various properties

Phenomenology: The Theory of Observation

  • Acts of detection and observation
  • What things are vs what things do
  • Observability in principle
  • Observational Uncertainty
  • The frame/flicker effect
  • The limits of distinguishability
  • Gödel’s Theorems of Undecidability and Incompleteness

Dynamics: The Language of Explanation

  • Describing difference across Space, and change over Time
  • Events: the units of change
  • The 'Arrow of Time'
  • States-of-affairs
  • The ‘Entity-State-Event’ model of Change and its interpretation
  • Causation and determinability

Language, Truth and Logic

  • Statements: predication and proposition
  • Predicate and propositional calculus; the structure of language
  • Truth, fact, and contingency
  • Knowledge: states of ‘knowing’, and the ‘Event-Knowledge-Action’ cycle
  • Bivalent and multivalent systems of truth; ‘fuzzy’ logic
  • Formal Logic and its limitations.

Supervenience: The Theory of Emergence

  • Descriptive vs causal Reductionism
  • Emergentism: how big things are made of little things
  • Over- and under-determination
  • Holism: Descriptive and causal anti-reductionism
  • Descriptive, predictive and explanatory power
  • Physicalism and its discontents

The Scientific Method

  • Physics and metaphysics: the “knowledge-connection” between science and philosophy
  • Observation; interpretation and inference; pattern recognition; generalisation; verification & falsification; modelling and theory-making
  • Argument to best explanation
  • Parsimony & Ockham’s Razor
  • Axioms and assumptions
  • Conservation laws: ex nihilo nihil fit
  • Presumption of the constancy and uniformity of Nature
  • Over-description and under-explanation
  • What might be the ‘best’ account of the world around us?

Course outcomes

By the end of this philosophy of science course, participants should be conversant with:

  • The meaning of existence, of ontological commitment and the difference between observables and beables
  • The language and logical structure of description, explanation, and right reasoning
  • The nature of observation, and the limits of observability
  • The principles of causation, supervenience, emergence, causal reductionism and descriptive holism
  • The philosophical foundations and logical structure of the scientific method
  • The limits of knowability: of what, in principle, can and cannot be known about the world

Course suitable for

Though rigorous and intellectually demanding, this course is designed for a lay audience and no prior knowledge of philosophy, mathematics or physics is needed. This course is part one of a four part series entitled "Philosophy for Science: A Guide to Understanding the Physical World." While not strictly essential, participants are strongly encouraged to take each part of the series in order, as later courses draw on material presented in earlier ones.

Course reading

The following readings are recommended, but not required:

  • Ayer, A. J., Language, Truth and Logic, Penguin, 1990
  • Ayer, A. J., The Problem of Knowledge, Penguin, 1990
  • Briggs, J. P. and Peat, F. D., Looking Glass Universe – The Emerging Science of Wholeness, London: Fontana, 1985
  • Chalmers, Alan F., What Is This Thing Called Science?, 3rd Ed., Qld University Press, 2000
  • Gleick, James, Chaos, London: Macdonald & Co., 1987
  • Maddox, John, What Remains to be Discovered, London: Macmillan, 1998
  • Quinton, Anthony, The Nature of Things, Routledge, 1980
  • Reichenbach, Hans, The Philosophy of Space and Time, New York: Dover, 1958
  • Ridley, B. K., Time Space and Things, 3rd Ed., Cambridge: Canto, 1995


  • Expert trainers
  • Central locations
  • Small class sizes
  • Free, expert advice
  • Student materials – yours to keep
  • Statement of completion

What others say.

  • The tutor is very open to questions and discussion in the course to topics about and out of the course structure, which it makes it great to be part of.

  • A course that all students of all disciplines should attend as an essential introduction to their field of study that gives excellent grounding in logical scientific thinking.

  • A great lecturer who is able to somewhat simplify an otherwise complex topic in an interesting and humorous manner. I am personally looking forward to part 2.

  • Philosophy for Science I is a very stimulating and thought-provoking course given by a presenter who has great enthusiasm and respect for his subject. I had no hesitation enrolling in the second in the series.