With course enrollment for the fall semester opening up, every student knows the trials and tribulations of finding the right class to sign up for. Whether it’s asking your friends for their thoughts on the matter or checking the holy grail that is Rate My Professors, it’s no surprise to see students look for that one perfect class to fulfill a graduation requirement. It is almost like a seasonal ritual, a rite of spring in which the most unfortunate students are stuck in the cruelest, most difficult courses within academia.
There is, however, one course I believe has been unfairly judged by a large percentage of the student body: PHI 340, or Philosophy of Science. It is notorious both inside and outside of the philosophy department, having a strong negative reputation on both Rate My Professors and r/NCSU. And while I agree and relate to the sea of criticisms Philosophy of Science has received, I’m going to speak heresy towards the student body and praise the gargantuan beast that is Philosophy of Science.
On paper, Philosophy of Science sounds like an incredibly interesting course. The main premise of the class, as its WolfWare page describes it as, is analyzing the nature of science through the “differences between science and pseudoscience, relationships between science and religion, and roles of purpose-directed (teleological) and causal explanation.” Every student, regardless of their major, should find the information taught in this course vital, especially with a lot of it covering crucial debate on misinformation and the role of religion within science and our education.
Interesting material, however, is not enough to convince your average student to give a notorious class a chance, and Philosophy of Science is no exception. The course is almost universally accepted as unnecessarily difficult — indeed, it’s a running joke among philosophy majors and minors at NC State that Philosophy of Science is akin to Dante’s “Inferno.” There is no denying this claim, considering I myself have fallen prey to the trickster that is Philosophy of Science’s dense readings and debilitating tests.
This critique, however, is not a complete picture of the trials and tribulations of the course. All test windows are 24 hours long, open note and curved extensively. Both the syllabus and textbook, as absurdly detailed as they are, not only do a very good job at explaining some of the more challenging concepts within the course, but offer studying tips on how to successfully pass the course and what expectations of it should be made as well. It’s definitely not a free A, as most students come to harshly realize after the first MicroQuiz or two, but it’s not the GPA killer many students make it out to be either.
Discourse is not the only thing students should expect within Philosophy of Science, as there are plenty of lighter topics covered in class. The course often touches on attacks and defenses of astrology, parapsychology and even machine functionalism. The main textbook, which was written and updated extensively by the professor, also provides plenty of wit, sarcasm and humor within its expanse of content as well.
This is not to say I wholly recommend Philosophy of Science. It’s obvious from its inherent divisiveness that it isn’t a class for everyone, both in terms of its workload and its challenging structure. There is only so much one can take from multiple-choice quizzes and exams on dense philosophy readings, after all, and its in-person version is reported to only have three class meetings. However, I do not believe these to be universal detriments — indeed, I ended up enjoying the weird nature of having two one-question multiple choice quizzes a week over your generic short and long writing assignment.
In short, if you’re feeling intimidated by the behemoth that is Philosophy of Science, don’t. It’s not the worst class on campus, the material’s really interesting and you’ll get a rise or two out of the absurdity of the material. It’s not often that you get to read about a scientist and an NPR journalist beef about finger lengths for a class.