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The University of Southampton

PHIL2034 Philosophy of Science

Module Overview

We build our world on scientific knowledge, in fact we stake our lives on it. Every time we board a train, send an email or take a medical drug we reaffirm our trust in the products of science. But what, if anything, gives science the authority it seems to have? Is there a particular method that is distinctive of science? Can we distinguish science from pseudo-science? And how do the sciences generate and confirm theories from limited series of particular observations? Should we believe that the best-supported scientific theories and models are true, or should we merely accept that they 'work'? And what should our attitudes towards unobservable entities be? Finally, can science be a wholly neutral and objective mode of investigating reality? Or is it distorted by the values and interests of individual scientists and the societies they live in? And does that mean that its results must be understood in relation to the social, historical and ideological context in which it is carried out? The aim of this module is to introduce you to some of the basic problems, concepts and positions in the philosophy of science, and to encourage reflection on the power, and also the limitations, of scientific methods of thinking.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • some of the central problems, concepts and positions in the philosophy of science.
  • how to apply this understanding to questions concerning the nature and status of scientific knowledge.
  • how to relate the issues you explore in this module to those in other modules and course (e.g. epistemology, philosophy of mind, or a natural science degree).
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • interpret, synthesise and criticise complex texts and positions.
  • present and debate ideas, both orally and in writing, in an open minded and rigorous way.
  • articulate and defend your own views regarding the issues the module concerns.
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • undertake independent work, including identifying and using appropriate resources.
  • work effectively to deadlines.
  • take notes from talks and written materials.
  • contribute to discussion in a critical but dispassionate way.
  • express views clearly and concisely.


The syllabus may vary from year to year. Topics may include: - The nature of scientific authority - The difference between science and pseudo-science - The nature of the scientific method - The relationship between theory and evidence - Whether we should think of our best scientific theories as true - The status of unobservable entities - The role of values in science

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include - Lectures - In-class discussion - One-on-one consultation with module co-ordinator Learning activities include - Attending lectures - Contributing to class discussion - Doing independent research for and writing assessed essays and exams

Follow-up work24
Wider reading or practice24
Completion of assessment task22
Preparation for scheduled sessions24
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

K Popper (1959). The Logic of Scientific Discovery. 

M Curd & J S Cover (1998). Philosophy of Science: the central issues. 

T S Kuhn (1962). The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. 

N Cartwright (1999). The Dappled World: a study of the boundaries of science. 

A F Chalmers (1999). What is this Thing called Science?. 

S Okasha (2002). Philosophy of Science: a Very Short Introduction. 

A Rosenberg (2005). Philosophy of Science. 





MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (1500 words) 60%
Examination  (60 minutes) 40%


MethodPercentage contribution
Examination  (120 minutes) 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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