Spring 2023 - PHIL 302 D100

Topics in Epistemology and Metaphysics (3)

Philosophy of Statistics

Class Number: 7186

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Jan 4 – Apr 11, 2023: Mon, 10:30–11:20 a.m.

    Jan 4 – Apr 11, 2023: Thu, 10:30 a.m.–12:20 p.m.

  • Prerequisites:

    PHIL 201 or 203.



An exploration of philosophical issues concerning, e.g.: causation, time, modality, or the self; the realism/nominalism or realism/idealism debate; relativism; the concept of truth; naturalized epistemology; global epistemological skepticism or perhaps a 'local' form of skepticism such as skepticism about induction or about sensory belief. May be repeated for credit.


Selected Topics: Philosophy of Statistics

Note: This is a philosophy class, not a statistics class.
Prerequisites: if you don't have one of PHIL 201 or PHIL 203, we will also accept any one of the following courses as a prerequisite (please contact the Philosophy Advisor at philcomm@sfu.ca if you are not able to enroll):

  • PHIL 110 or PHIL 315
  • Any STAT course
  • ECON 233 or BUS 232
  • POL 201 or POL 315

This course surveys key philosophical issues in the use of statistics in science. We will start with interpretations of probability and the debate between frequentist and Bayesian theories in the foundation of statistics. Next, we examine recent claims that various problems in science (notably the replication crisis) originated in the misuse/ misunderstanding of statistics, or otherwise can be resolved through better statistics. Finally, we look at machine learning, “big data”, and “data-driven research”, and ask whether scaling statistics up to the level of “big” and having machines do it will save us from the standard pitfalls.

This class does not have a specific statistics course as a pre-requisite. However, sometimes a philosophical idea about a method may be difficult to grasp if you don’t know how the method works. As such, we will cover a little bit of basic statistics throughout the term. Some assignments will also involve statistics exercises to help you get some sense of what it’s like to use these techniques. You will be able to work in groups for these exercises.


For Philosophy students, this course can satisfy the M&E requirement. 

SDA students can apply this course towards the Social Data Analytics Minor as an Elective. Please contact the SDA Advisor at sda_advisor@sfu.ca to let them know you are taking this course. 


  • Assignments (10% x 8) 80%
  • From weeks 2-10, there will be weekly assignments, for a total of 9. The lowest assignment grade will be dropped. The assignments take a variety of forms: some are statistics exercises; some are summaries of reading; some are critical reflections.
  • Group presentation 15%
  • Students, in groups of 3-4, will give a 10min presentation in the last week of class where you 1) pick a scientific paper that uses a statistical method, 2) explain how the method works and what the paper concludes, 3) use what we learned in this class to identify at least one weakness and one strength of this paper.
  • Assessment of other groups’ presentations 5%
  • During presentation week, students should listen carefully to other groups’ presentations and, using a simple rubric I provide, conduct a brief assessment of other groups’ performance. You don’t have to do assessment on your own group or the group that immediately precedes your presentation. These assessments will inform but not dictate each group’s final grade.



All reading will be posted online.


Your personalized Course Material list, including digital and physical textbooks, are available through the SFU Bookstore website by simply entering your Computing ID at: shop.sfu.ca/course-materials/my-personalized-course-materials.

Department Undergraduate Notes:

Thinking of a Philosophy Major or Minor? The Concentration in Law and Philosophy? The Certificate in Ethics? The Philosophy and Methodology of Science Certificate?
Contact the PHIL Advisor at philcomm@sfu.ca   More details on our website: SFU Philosophy

New elective grade policy : P/CR/NC, pilot project in place from Spring 2021 to Summer 2023. List of exclusions for the new policy. Specifically for Philosophy: 

  • Students can use a P or CR to satisfy any requirement for a major, joint major, honours, or minor in Philosophy (with the exception of Honours tutorials).
  • Students can use a P or CR to satisfy any prerequisite requirement for any PHIL course.
  • Students can use a P (but not a CR) to satisfy any requirement for the Ethics Certificate, or the Philosophy and Methodology of Science Certificate.
  • Philosophy Majors and Honours students can use a P (but not a CR) to satisfy any WQB requirement.

Registrar Notes:


SFU’s Academic Integrity website http://www.sfu.ca/students/academicintegrity.html is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating. Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the university community. Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the university. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the university. http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student/s10-01.html