I'm a mathematician, not a philosopher, by education. I would like to get some reading suggestions to get acquainted with the philosophy of science as intended today. I am mainly talking about the empirical sciences: the philosophy of mathematics, of course, is a different story (and may or may not be the topic of a separate question).

Within the phil. of empirical sciences, I'd be mainly interested in the general epistemological aspects, and also separately in the phil. of physics (though if you deem a book on the phil. of biology/neuroscience/etc extremely essential I'm also interested to know).

When I say "interested in" I just mean "curious about": you should not assume any specific philosophical education on the topics in question. Edit: maybe I should mention I've read parts of The empirical stance of van Fraassen, Two dogmas by Quine, scattered things on the foundation of quantum mechanics including the book by Wallace on Everett's interpretation.

For simplicity, I'd stick to five main suggestions per answer. You can add more if you feel it's useful. They don't have to be original phil. works, they may be reviews, anthologies, or introductory texts. So:

What's your top 5 reading list of fundamental books and/or articles in the philosophy of science?

  • Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions Oct 12 '21 at 1:36
  • Cartwright's 'How the Laws of Physics Lie' oxford.universitypressscholarship.com/view/10.1093/… is very noteworthy. Honestly though, I think your question too general, & was tempted to downvote. What issues are you interested in? What is your angle? If you just want to know everything about the subject, read everything.
    – CriglCragl
    Oct 12 '21 at 1:50
  • @CriglCragl: I understand. As a non-expert, and even non-philosopher, I would just like to get an introduction to the field: what are its main problems, approaches, angles, traditions, etc. Maybe it could be achieved by reading a texbook, or a few key articles (without too many prerequisites). In the introductory university courses on the phil. of science, what are the students required to read? How did you yourself get acquanted with the field at an entry level? ...
    – Qfwfq
    Oct 12 '21 at 4:43
  • Yeah, I was thinking jumping off with heavy-weight texts isn't the way to begin. Read plato.stanford.edu/entries/scientific-method and go from there. Then there are lots of specific topics in philosophy of science not about what science is, science ethics, philosophy of quantum mechanics, philosophy of mind etc etc. All biig topics, that would be better addressed specifically , with specific questions. Philosophy of scientific subdisciplines inc maths tends to get very technical, & be more for policy-makers & people at interdisciplinary interfaces than for casual interest.
    – CriglCragl
    Oct 12 '21 at 5:45
  • I was think demarcation is important too, which hasn't been mentioned I think plato.stanford.edu/entries/pseudo-science
    – CriglCragl
    Oct 12 '21 at 13:32

An old classic is Karl Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery, which is highly influential, though in my view over-long and contains too much pointless formalism. It features Popper's presentation of the view that science is primarily about falsifying, not confirming, theories.

Another frequently referred to text is Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Kuhn's position is that sometimes a paradigm shift occurs in our scientific understanding, and sometimes these paradigm shifts cannot be understood simply by saying that one theory fits the data better than another. Sometimes, theories are incommensurable and cannot be assessed simply as better or worse.

The Rationality of Science by William Newton-Smith is a kind of counter to what the author considers 'irrational' theories of science. He is critical of Popper, Lakatos, Kuhn and Feyerabend, and defends a more traditional account of scientific rationality.

Specifically on the issue of causality, James Woodward's Making Things Happen, is one of the best recent accounts of causal explanation.

Michael Redhead's Incompleteness, Nonlocality and Realism, is a book about the philosophical aspects of quantum mechanics. It was published back in 1987, so there may be more up to date books, but it is a fairly easy read without over-simplifying.


Peter Godfrey-Smith's Theory and Reality: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Science has just been released in a secodn edition. As he is one of the leading Philscis out there, and writes very well (His Other Minds was a NYT bestseller) I can recommend it. I have taught from the first edition.


I would get a general lay of the land first before jumping into reading sources, you will benefit more from them when you have at least a vague idea of how they fit into the big picture. Some textbook recommendations can be found on Leiter Reports. Also LMU and UC Berkeley have helpful orientation pages. SEP has a number of relevant articles with extensive bibliographies, see e.g. Underdetermination of Scientific Theory; Scientific Objectivity; Scientific Method; Scientific Discovery; Scientific Realism; Philosophical Issues in Quantum Theory.

Popper, Logic of Scientific Discovery; Quine, Two Dogmas of Empiricism; Kuhn, Structure of Scientific Revolutions; Feyerabend, Against Method; Lakatos, Falsification and the Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes; Cartwright, How the Laws of Physics Lie; Friedman, Dynamics of Reason are some of the major originals works that focus on philosophy of science viewed through the prism of physics.


I would highly recommend Michael Polanyi's Personal Knowledge. Polanyi is not terribly well known, but he brings a very interesting perspective, inasmuch as he was a chemist before he moved to philosophy; so he knows science from the inside. I got into him after reading an excerpt in graduate school and thinking, “Yes, that's how science actually works.” (To be clear, his focus is on epistemology and not just the sociology of science.) He is arguably an influence on Kuhn, and offers trenchant criticisms of Popper.


General philosophy of science I'll leave to others to answer, I studied this years ago and we used the Curd and Cover book which contains lots of classic papers and excerpts etc. No idea if this has been superseded but it certainly covers the ground.

Re the subsidiary question on philosophy of physics - as introductory texts I would recommend Dean Rickles's book called (drum roll) The Philosophy of Physics, or David Wallace's Very Short Introduction to the Philosophy of Physics. Both these books are excellent introductions by serious researchers in the field and both give very helpful guidance re further reading.

The newly released Routledge Companion to the Philosophy of Physics is a great collection, bang up to date and with contributions by all sorts of interesting people, but you'll want to be pretty sure you are interested or have access to a library copy because it ain't cheap in hardback, and the kindle edition is annoying due to kindles' lame inability to display mathematical text.

  • Thanks, I wasn't aware of the existence of Wallace's Very short introduction even though, as I wrote in the question, I've read his book on Everettian quantum mechanics (and found it very well-written).
    – Qfwfq
    Oct 12 '21 at 18:18
  • Yeah his VSI is very new. Is a great survey of the field. Much higher level than the Emergent Multiverse (which I enjoyed but found pretty challenging, esp the decision theory parts - unlike you my maths is largely self taught!) If you google 'david wallace reading list' (and ignore refs to david foster wallace) there are some reading lists he has done online for phil of phys which are really good. PS the rickles is good too Oct 13 '21 at 11:49

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