Coordinates Thursdays from 10 to 12 AM in room 021 of Ludwigstrasse 31.
Lecturer Tom Sterkenburg. Contact me at; visit me in room 126 of Ludwigstrasse 31.
Course description

Means-ends epistemology (a.k.a. formal learning theory) is a relatively recent approach in the philosophy of science that takes its cue from the theory of formal learning in computer science. Motivated by ideas that go back to Hans Reichenbach and Hilary Putnam, the project of means-ends epistemology is to analyze what inferential methods can reliably and efficiently achieve which epistemic aims.

In this course, we will read and discuss key texts in this field. We will give special attention to the divergences between means-ends epistemology and the Bayesian approach to the philosophy of science.

Contents and material

In the first half of the course, we will read chapters from the classic textbook by Kelly (1996), The Logic of Reliable Inquiry, and the recently updated Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy entry on formal learning theory by Schulte (2002/22) for further background.

In the second half of the course, we will study chapters and papers on a number of central topics of debate, including Bayesian reasoning and Occam's razor. See the below schedule for details. (There is some room for adjustment based on participants' interests as the course progresses.)


The course is worth 9 ECTS. Your grade will be determined by a term paper at the end of the course. The term paper treats of a theme we have discussed in the course, and has a length of about 5000-6000 words.

In addition, there will be two homework assignments about the material in the first half of the course. While these assignments do not count towards your grade, passing them is a necessary condition for passing the course.


Date Topic Material Assignment
Thu 28 Apr Introduction. Schulte (2002/22), up to sect. 1.
Kelly (1996), ch. 1.
Thu 5 May Reliable inquiry. Kelly (1996), ch. 2.
Thu 12 May Solvability of inductive problems, part 1. Kelly (1996), ch. 3 up to sect. 3.3.
Schulte (2002/22) sect. 3 up to 3.1.
Thu 19 May Solvability of inductive problems, part 2. Kelly (1996), ch. 3 from sect. 3.4.
Schulte (2002/22) sect. 3.3.
Thu 26 May NO CLASS: Ascension Day.
Thu 2 June Characterizing solvability topologically, part 1. Kelly (1996), ch. 4 up to sect. 4.5.
Schulte (2002/22) sect. 3.2.
Deadline assignment 1.
Thu 9 June Characterizing solvability topologically, part 2. Kelly (1996) ch. 4 up to sect. 4.7.
Thu 16 June NO CLASS: Corpus Christi.
Thu 23 June Computability. Kelly (1996), ch. 6 up to sect. 6.6, propo. 6.3; sect. 7.1. Kelly (2004a) up to sect. 5. Deadline assignment 2.
Thu 30 June Probability and confirmation. Kelly (1996), ch. 13 up to sect. 13.3. Kelly, Glymour (2004), sects. 1-3, 7.
Thu 7 July Occam's razor. Kelly (2007). Fitzpatrick (2013).
Thu 14 July The problem of induction. Steel (2010). Howson (2011).
Thu 21 July Logical reliability in science. Davis (2020).
Thu 28 July Logical reliability and rationality. Ye (in press).
Fri 30 Sep Deadline term paper.



Further reading

Books (computer science)
Articles (philosophy)