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PPR.203: Philosophy of Science

Tutor: Garrath Williams (Michaelmas) and Brian Garvey (Lent)
Term: Michaelmas and Lent

Course Description

This course considers philosophical issues that arise in both the natural sciences (Michaelmas term) and social sciences (Lent term).

With regard to the natural sciences, we will consider traditional accounts of scientific method and theory-testing, then examine philosophical challenges to the status of science as a rational form of enquiry. We give particular consideration to four of the most important twentieth-century philosophers of science: Popper, Kuhn, Lakatos and Feyerabend.

With regard to the social sciences, we will ask whether endeavours such as sociology, economics, anthropology and history should really be counted as sciences, and then consider some of the special issues that arise in the study of human society. For example, how are we to understand other societies (for instance, in anthropology)? What is the place for individualism versus collectivism in social explanation (for example, in sociology and history)? What is the scientific status of social models based on postulates of rational choice (for example, in economics and politics)?

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this module students will be able to:

  • Demonstrate familiarity with philosophical debates around the questions raised on the module.
  • Engage critically with the arguments of major twentieth-century philosophers of science and philosophical critics of science.


40% coursework and 60% exam.
Coursework: 2 essays of 2500 words each. Exam: 3 hours.

Teaching Method

Lecture (1.5 hours) and seminar (1 hour) weekly.

Introductory Reading

Alexander Bird Philosophy of Science (Routledge, 1998)

Alan Chalmers What is this thing called science? (Open University Press, 1999)

Brian Fay Contemporary Philosophy of Social Science (Oxford: Blackwell, 1996)

James Ladyman Understanding Philosophy of Science (Routledge, 2001)

Alan Ryan The Philosophy of the Social Sciences (MacMillan, 1970)

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