Philosophy 12

Logic and Decision Making

Winter 2004, Tues. Thurs.:11:00-12:20

Professor:         William Bechtel
Office:              HSS 8076
Telephone:        822-4461
Office Hours:    Wednesday, 2:00-4:00 and by appointment         





Office hours

A. Monday, 3 pm

Sophia Efstathiou

 HSS 8085

 Monday, 1:00-3:00

B. Monday, 4 pm

Sophia Efstathiou

 HSS 8085

 Monday, 1:00-3:00

C. Thursday, 5 pm

Lisa Damm

HSS 8073

Monday, 11:00-1:00

D. Thursday, 6 pm

Lisa Damm

HSS 8073

Monday, 11:00-1:00

1. Course Description

Here are some of the questions we will be addressing in this course:  (1) What makes for a good piece of reasoning in science? (2) Can you ever be absolutely certain of the truth or falsity of a scientific hypothesis? (3) How objective is observation?  (4) What might we learn by systematic observation? (5) When can we learn from discovering correlations?  (6) What does it take to establish a causal relationship?  (7) Do physics, psychology, and economics follow different rules? (8) What are mechanisms and how do scientists discover them?

This course provides an introduction to logical reasoning and decision making by focusing on the sciences. We will emphasize active engagement in the kinds of reasoning and decision making which scientists us in testing hypotheses, especially through on-line exercises and demonstrations.  The goals of the course are for students to understand the logical and statistical principles by which scientific claims are created and evaluated and to develop a critical appreciation for the methods by which knowledge is acquired in science.  You should leave this course with a better ability to distinguish good from poor reasoning and decision making.

2. Course Materials

All course materials are on the course website at  The modules found there include text, animation, and interactive exercises.  Some modules have questions to answer at the end.  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 on-line exercises is a requirement of the course.

3. 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 30% on the mid-term, 35% on the final exam, 20% on two-short (1- 2 pages) written assignments, 10% for participation and activities (including quizzes) in sections, and 5% for timely completion of the web-based exercises and questions.

4. Email List

There are email distribution lists for this course, one for each section:;;;

It is required that you subscribe to the list for your discussions section. Do it IMMEDIATELY. You can always unsubscribe later if you drop the course or change sections. The purpose of the list is to allow me and the TAs to distribute information regarding due dates for assignments, changes of schedule, etc. Some of this information is crucial, and some of it may be distributed early on. To subscribe, you simply need to send an email message to the following address: (the message must be sent from the account that you want to be subscribed). The body of the message should contain one line

            subscribe secX

where X is replaced by the letter of your section.  After you send the subscribe request, you will receive a reply from that will ask you to confirm your request.  Follow the directions in this message to confirm you subscription.  If you later want to remove yourself from this list, send another one-line email to

            unsubscribe secX

Only the TAs and I have authorization to send mail to this list.  There should be no spam.  If you receive mail from this list that is not from one of us, be assured that I will as well and will take measures to block further abuse.

5. Schedule of Classes and Web Assignments

Note: This schedule of reading assignments is tentative and subject to revision.  Items in italics are modules on the course website.  You should complete these, including any attached questions, before the assigned class (although subsequent review is certainly encouraged).

January 6: Introduction: The Inquiry Website

January 8: Elements of science

Introduction to Scientific Reasoning, Statements: the atoms of reasoning; Justification and argument

January 13: Valid arguments

            Some basic valid argument forms

January 15: Confirmation, falsification, and fallibility

            Evidential relations; The fallible character of human knowledge

January 20: Observation, categories, and taxonomy

            Observation and learning to see

January 22: Categorizing phenomena

            Categories and taxonomy

January 27: Observational research

            Observational research

January 29: Distributions and samples

            Variables and measurement

February 3: Midterm Exam

February 5: Predicting relationships between variables

            Predicting relations between variables

February 10: Predicting from correlations

            When variables are correlated

February 12: Differences between means

            When variables are not correlated; When groups differ

February 17: Correlation and causation

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

February 19: Causal explanation

            Causal explanation

            First 1-2 page written assignment due

February 24: Reasoning about and graphing causes

            Reasoning about causation; Causal reasoning with directed graphs

February 26: Causality and experiments

            Testing causal claims experimentally

March 2: Causation when experiments are not possible

            When randomized experiments are not possible

March 4: Mechanism and mechanistic explanation

            Entities and activities organized to produce a phenomenon

            Second 1-2 page written assignment due

March 9: Organization and levels of organization

            Levels of organization within mechanisms; Describing and portraying mechanisms

March 11: Discovering and modeling mechanisms

Experimenting on mechanisms; Denying phenomena when mechanisms cannot be conceived; Modeling strategies

Final Exam: Monday, March 15, 11:30-2:40