Philosophy 12: Logic and Decision Making

Autumn 2004
When: MWF, 10-10:50
Where: Center Hall 115
Back to UCSD philosophy courses

Instructor: Jonathan Cohen
email: (omit text in caps, which reduces automated spam)
phone: (858) 534 6812
Office hours: Wednesday 1-2:30 and by appointment, in H&SS 8072
Section Place and TimeTAOfficeEmailOffice hours
A01CSB 004, Wednesday 5-5:50 Jeff StedmanH&SS Monday 2-4
A02WLH 2113, Monday 3-3:50 Matt BrownH&SS 7055mjb001@ucsd.eduFriday 12-2
A03CSB 005, Monday 2-2:50 Matt BrownH&SS 7055mjb001@ucsd.eduFriday 12-2
A04CSB 005, Friday 2-2:50Jeff StedmanH&SS 8056jstedman@ucsd.eduMonday 2-4


This course will be devoted to an examination of scientific reasoning - what it is, how it works (and how sometimes it doesn't), how it makes use of observations, correlations, and causation, and how these are all related.

The point of the course is not to learn any particular body of results in any particular science (although we will constantly be appealing to particular results as examples); this course is not intended as a substitute for learning the actual physics, chemistry, linguistics, economics, meteorology, or what have you. Rather, we will be focussing our attention on the logical and argumentative techniques by which scientists observe, experiment on, and reason about the world. By becoming familiar with these techniques, students will become more adept at systematic argumentation, and will be in a position to be good consumers of science.

Course Materials

All course materials are on the course website at The online modules include text, animation, and interactive exercises. Some modules have questions to answer at the end. You must complete the interactive exercises and answer the online questions in order to pass the course. In order to access the website, you will need to procure a login and password from your instructor. All activity on the site is recorded and logged, including answers to question sets attached to the modules. Completion of the online exercises is a requirement of the course.

In order to access the web materials, you will need a login and password. Luckily, one will be sold with a (partial) printout of the web materials at the bookstore. You will probably find it convenient to have the printout for studying when you are away from your computer. But you won't be able to rely totally on this, since you can't do the required web exercises without going to the website. But you can't get on to the website without getting the login/password, which means you have to get the thing from the bookstore after all. Ah, well.

Course Requirements

For each module, students are expected to complete the module and any questions attached to it, before attending classes. Attendance in class and sections is required.
Final grades will be based 25% on the mid-term, 40% on the final exam, 20% on two short (1-2 pages) written assignments, and 15% for timely completion of the web-based exercises and questions.

Tentative Schedule of Classes and Web Assignments

You should complete module readings, including any attached questions, before the assigned class.
DateTopicsWebsite modules
September 24

Introduction -- the web site

September 27

Statements, arguments, and justification

Introduction to Scientific Reasoning, Statements: the atoms of reasoning
September 29

Justification and argument, valid arguments, argument forms

Some basic valid argument forms
October 1 Confirmation, falsification Evidential relations
October 4

Fallibility, observation

The fallible character of human knowledge
Observation and learning to see
October 6 Categories, and taxonomy, observational research Categories and taxonomy
Observational research
October 8 Variables and measurement Variables and measurement
October 11 Variables and measurement, again  
October 13 Midterm Exam  
October 15 Relationships between variables Predicting relations between variables
October 18 Establishing correlations When variables are correlated
October 20 Establishing differences between means When variables are not correlated
October 22 Group differences When groups differ
October 25 Correlation and causation

Correlational studies as tests of causal claims
Correlational vs. experimental research

October 27

Causal explanation, part I
First 1-2 page written assignment due

Causal explanation
October 29 Causal explanation, part II  
November 1 Reasoning about causes Reasoning about causation
November 3 Graphing causes Causal reasoning with directed graphs
November 5 Testing causal claims experimentally, part I Testing causal claims experimentally
November 8 Testing causal claims experimentally, part II  
November 10 Testing causal claims non-experimentally When randomized experiments are not possible
November 12 Mechanism and mechanistic explanation
Second 1-2 page written assignment due
Entities and activities organized to produce phenomenon
November 15 Levels of organization Levels of mechanisms
November 17 Moving between levels Describing and portraying mechanisms
November 19 Discovering mechanisms Discovering and testing mechanisms
November 22 Mechanism and explanation Denying phenomena when mechanisms cannot be conceived
November 24 Modeling mechanisms Modeling strategies
November 26 No class: Thanksgiving Holiday  
November 29 - December 3 Catch up and review  
Friday December 10, 8-11AMFinal Exam