I will be teaching a Statistics class next semester. A lot of the thought process behind classical statistical methods (e.g. hypothesis testing) is driven by the need of scientists to quantify strength-of-evidence, and is ultimately rooted in some flavor of fallibilism. I would like to take a short time to introduce the main takeaways of the philosophical roots of modern science, but geared toward an audience who will be actually using the inductive thought processes espoused by fallibilism and its immediate relatives, but who also who have ~0 philosophy background.

My primary concern is the tendency for philosophers to endlessly address every conceivable and historical objection to a theory. So, for example, I don't want to assign readings from Popper's Logic of Scientific Discovery, because he goes on at (great) length referencing the historical debate surrounding the topic and rebutting/refuting other philosophies that a layman would not be familiar with. I realize that it is impossible to really get a sense of a theory without a contrast, but sometimes philosophical texts really require a depth of philosophical knowledge and context that isn't appropriate for my use case.

Are there any good, short resources for "a practical guide to modern science philosophy for dummies"?

  • "he goes on at (great) length about Historicism and whatnot" - I assume you mean he frequently refers to arguments he's made in The Poverty of Historicism, as Logic contains no other references to historicism.
    – J.G.
    Commented Dec 10, 2021 at 17:17
  • @J.G. it's possible I'm confusing Logic with Open Society. It's been a while. Certainly Popper has a truly tremendous depth of knowledge of the philosophical debate surrounding the topic, and makes many references and rebuttals that would not meaningful to a layman. I'm inclined to take your claim at face value, though, and will edit to use more generic language reflecting my poor memory. :)
    – Him
    Commented Dec 10, 2021 at 19:07
  • Just cleaned up typos and added emphasis.
    – J D
    Commented Dec 10, 2021 at 23:10

8 Answers 8


Yes. I recommend a single resource as an introduction:

  • James Ladyman, "Understanding Philosophy of Science", 2001.

(The book is roughly 300 pages long, so short-ish.)

If you really want shorter, then Stanford encyclopedia:

And notes from Stanford class on Philosophy of Science (this probably covers most big ideas):

  • I was thinking of 30 pages. :) Is there a particular chapter in that book that you might recommend for my described use case?
    – Him
    Commented Dec 8, 2021 at 20:13
  • 1
    I'm poking through this book now. I might be able to excise a few sections in the front to adequately cover this in 40 pages or so. Ladyman really does present the material in an easy-to-read-and-understand-for-laypeople fashion.
    – Him
    Commented Dec 8, 2021 at 20:27
  • 2
    @Him this book probably wouldn't do if it's that short. In this case, the best is Stanford encyclopedia, but it has plenty of philosophical jargon involved. Commented Dec 8, 2021 at 20:27
  • @Him Also added some content from Stanford general class on Philosophy of Science. I guess you can use that and then, if needed a more extensive understanding of something, read a specific section from Ladyman's book. Commented Dec 8, 2021 at 22:14
  • 2
    @Him thinner books dont mean you need to spend less time to understand.
    – lalala
    Commented Dec 9, 2021 at 12:50

I would suggest Philosophy of Science: A Contemporary Introduction 4th edition by Alex Rosenberg and Lee McIntyre. Chapters 10 and 11 may serve your purpose. The book is very easy-going (as other books of the series Routledge Contemporary Introductions to Philosophy) while not falling short of reliable, connected knowledge.

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You do not need textbooks, but instead some very top level summary materials. This series of blog posts, from Kuhn thru Feyerabend, is an excellent reference for your class: https://antimatter.ie/2011/02/01/was-kuhn-more-wrong-than-right/ Here is a second summary reference on Lakatos, whose thinking is the best single summary of the path science has taken out of the debates of the mid 20th century on philosophy of science. http://people.loyno.edu/~folse/Lakatos.html


I'd recommend Potochnik, Colombo, and Wright's Recipes for Science. The book is written for general education scientific reasoning courses, rather than a more specialized philosophy of science course. Case studies get more time than the views of particular philosophers, past or present. I use §4.3 at the beginning of the philosophy of science course that I teach, as a way to dive into the problem of induction without having to give background on Hume's empiricism first.


Philosophy of Science: Very Short Introduction, 2016 Second Edition, by Samir Okasha. It has just 160 pages!

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    – J D
    Commented Dec 10, 2021 at 5:40

I found this brief 2021 article of only16 pages to cover a lot of ground (including statistics!) with many references as an excellent intro to philosophy of science for those who have little or no intention of pursuing the subject seriously.



Although these books won't fit your requirement of length, I feel obliged to recommend them even if only for future visitors.

For the philosophy of science in general:

Godfrey-Smith, Peter, 2021. Theory and Reality: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Science (2nd ed.). University of Chicago Press, Chicago, London.

It's 368 pages long. It's a very clearly written yet comprehensive book. The author is purposefully not impartial to the ideas and arguments he presents. For me, this was an advantage. Of course, your mileage may vary.

For something specifically on statistics and how our current statistical techniques relate to concepts in the philosophy of science:

Dienes, Zoltán, 2008. Understanding Psychology as a Science: An Introduction to Scientific and Statistical Inference. Red Globe Press, Basingstoke, New York.

It is 184 pages long. The first two chapters are about selected ideas and arguments from the philosophy of science. They meet their purpose, but they should not be taken as a comprehensive introduction to the philosophy of science. The other three chapters are a treasure for those who want to understand what concepts lie behind the statistical techniques one uses.

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    – J D
    Commented Dec 15, 2021 at 7:10
  • +1 The second looks like a promising lead.
    – J D
    Commented Dec 15, 2021 at 7:11

My suggestion is to get your hands on A Companion to the Philosophy of Science edited by W. H. Newton-Smith. There's a newer version, but it looks like it might have different contents. The guide is intended for students, and it has some short entries (between 5 and 10 pages) that might help:

  • "Statistical Explanation"
  • "Computing"
  • "Causality"
  • "Probability"
  • "Measurement"
  • "Mathematics
  • "Role in Science"

There are a total of 81 chapters, and the material is highly amenable to bite-sized fair use doctrine.

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