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Philosophy of Science (Level 5)


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 5
  • Convenor and tutor: Professor Robert Northcott
  • Assessment: a 1000-word essay (40%) and 1500-word essay (60%)

Module description

We take our children to medical doctors rather than faith healers; we pay NASA rather than astrologers to send rockets to the moon; and no one’s volunteering for a return to medieval dentistry. But exactly what is it that makes science special? Answering this question turns out to be surprisingly tricky. In seeing why, we’ll look at scientific method, paradigm shifts, whether we should really believe in invisible entities like genes and Higgs bosons, and critiques of science from, e.g. feminists. We’ll look at other topics too: evolution versus creationism; why modern science only came into being recently and in the West; and in what sense science progresses. Along the way, finally, we’ll also cover a fair amount of history of science and indeed of science itself.

Indicative syllabus

  • Empiricism
  • Scientific testing
  • Problems of confirmation
  • Inductive logic
  • Popper and falsificationism
  • Kuhn and paradigms
  • Values and politics in science
  • Social structure of science
  • Feminism
  • Scientific realism
  • Scientific explanation
  • Causation
  • Scientific modelling
  • Idealisation
  • Randomised controlled trials

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will be able to:

  • understand philosophical debates and arguments in some central areas of philosophy of science
  • deploy relevant philosophical concepts and distinctions
  • understand one or more key  theories in philosophy of science
  • formulate philosophical questions with precision and clarity
  • support or challenge philosophical theories by constructing objections and defences.