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Study information

Philosophy of Science

Module titlePhilosophy of Science
Module codePHL3026
Academic year2024/5
Module staff

Dr Adam Toon (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

This module will introduce you to key debates in the philosophy of science. It will draw on canonical texts, as well as historical and sociological case studies, running from classic philosophical debates in the 1960s about the status of scientific knowledge up to recent work in science and technological studies that brings in the practical and social dimensions of science. The module will also explore the relationship between history, sociology and philosophy of science. It has no prerequisites and is suitable for non-specialist students in the social and natural sciences, the humanities and engineering. It is also appropriate for students following interdisciplinary pathways.

The module will be taught through a combination of lectures and seminars. Seminars will be organised around open-ended discussion of pre-assigned readings. 

Module aims - intentions of the module

The course seeks to open up and address key questions concerning scientific knowledge, practice and the world. You will engage with a range of canonical texts in the philosophy of science and become familiar with central debates in the field. You will also think critically about the nature of science and its place in the modern world. 

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. acquire a variety of conceptual tools for analysing the nature of science as a body of knowledge and a field of practice
  • 2. adopt a stance of critical distance from one of the most powerful and authoritative cultural formations in the contemporary world, and to achieve a sophisticated appreciation of current issues and problems surrounding science in our society;

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 3. engage with key philosophical debates on topics including the nature of knowledge, representation, classification, epistemology, practice and ontology;
  • 4. acquire interdisciplinary experience in integrating such thinking with sociological perspectives concerning the social nature of scientific practice

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 5. learn to think, write and argue logically through class discussions and written assignments
  • 6. challenge and think in new ways about science as an authoritative body of knowledge and a key social institution
  • 7. reconsider your personal understanding of science and its place in their own culture;

Syllabus plan

Whilst the module’s precise content may vary from year to year, it is envisaged that the syllabus will cover some or all of the following topics:

  • Induction—Justification
  • Induction—Description
  • Popper and falsificationism
  • Kuhn—Paradigms and progress
  • Kuhn—Incommensurability
  • Realism and anti-realism
  • The no-miracles argument
  • The Pessimistic meta-induction
  • Theories, models and experiments
  • The Sociology of Scientific Knowledge

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching activity 22Weekly 2-hour lectures/seminars or 1 hour lecture + 1 hour seminar
Guided Independent study5511 x 5 hours for course
Guided Independent study2Preparation of presentation
Guided Independent study35.5Reading for and writing of essay 1
Guided Independent study35.5Reading for and writing of essay 2

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Seminar presentation5 minutes1-7Written

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay 1501,500 words1-7Written
Essay 2501,500 words1-7Written

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Essay 1Essay (1,500 words)1-7August/September reassessment period
Essay 2Essay (1,500 words)1-7August/September reassessment period

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Selections from:

Barnes, B., Bloor, D., & Henry, J. (1996) Scientific Knowledge: A Sociological Analysis. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Cartwright, N. (1983) How the Laws of Physics Lie. Oxford: Clarendon.

Curd, M., Cover, J.A. and Pincock (Eds.) (2012) Philosophy of Science: The Central Issues. New York: Norton.

Godfrey-Smith, P. (2003) Theory and Reality: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Science, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Goodman, N. (1954) Fact, Fiction, and Forecast. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Kuhn, T. (1970) The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

Latour, B. (1987) Science in Action: How to Follow Scientists and Engineers through Society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Lipton, P. (1991) Inference to the Best Explanation. New York: Routledge.

Okasha, S. (2002) Philosophy of Science: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford: OUP.

Popper, K. (1959) The Logic of Scientific Discovery. London: Routledge.

Psillos, S. (1999) Scientific Realism: How Science Tracks Truth. London: Routledge.

Van Frassen, B. (1980) The Scientific Image. Oxford: Clarendon.

Key words search

Philosophy, Science, practice, epistemology, ontology

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date