PHI312 - Philosophy of Science

An image of the Eagle Nebula (Hubble Telescope)


Note: This module will not be offered in session 2010-11 due to research leave arrangements.

This course will deal with general issues in the philosophy of science, with particular emphasis on explanation, the status of scientific laws, scientific realism, and the structure of scientific theories. We will examine the Popper-Kuhn dispute about theory change, and take the Copernican Revolution in astronomy as a case-study in the history of science. Most of the course will be devoted to the methodology of natural science, though there will also be an option for students to do their coursework essay on some main topics in the philosophy of the social sciences.

Introductory Reading

It would be useful preparation to read any of the following:
Chalmers, A.F. What Is This Thing Called Science? (Open UP 1978;1982; 1999 3rd edn.)
Kuhn,T.S. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Univ of Chicago Press, 1962)
Lipton, P. Inference to the Best Explanation (Routledge, 1991)
Newton-Smith, W.H. The Rationality of Science (Routledge, 1981)
Popper, K.R. Conjectures and Refutations (Routledge, 1963; 5th edn. 1989)
Kuhn 1962 is a modern classic. Popper's Conjectures and Refutations is a collection of papers, with the paper that gives the collection its title making a good place to start. (Popper's autobiography Unended Quest would make a good substitute.) The books by Chalmers and Newton-Smith are general texts – useful works, but not such original contributions. Peter Lipton's book is good for discussion of explanation and inductive reasoning.
Although you don't need to have taken any science subjects to follow this module, there are a number of general books on science which could be read with pleasure and instruction by anyone, whatever their background, such as:
Bernstein, Jeremy. Cranks, Quarks, and the Cosmos. Basic Books, Harper Collins: New York, 1993.
Gribbin, John. Almost Everyone's Guide to Science. Weidenfeld & Nicolson: London, 1998.
Scott, Andrew. Basic Nature. Basil Blackwell: Oxford, 1991.


Assessment is by a combination of coursework and examination, 50% of the final grade being derived from an end of semester essay and 50% from a two hour, pre-released examination paper.

Advised previous modules:-

Reference & Truth, Formal Logic, Descartes and the Empiricists, Theory of Knowledge.

(Note: There are no restrictive pre-requisites; no previous background in any scientific discipline is required)


George Botterill