MSc Philosophy of Science
Building on the tradition of Karl Popper and Imre Lakatos, the Department of Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method stands for a type of philosophy and in particular philosophy of science that is continuous with the sciences, that is resolutely interdisciplinary and that is socially relevant.
The MSc is introduced in the video by Dr Charlotte Werndl. You can find out more below, and email MSc Coordinator Professor Miklós Redei with your questions about the degree.
Continuity with the sciences means that in both our general and specialist courses the philosophical analysis in inscrutably intertwined with science; so much that it sometimes does not make sense to ask "is this philosophy or science"? The issues selected for discussion and the analysis itself are directly motivated by problems in the sciences. Also, the reasoning is scientific, i.e., critical, analytic and frequently using formalisms of the sciences such as logic and probability theory.
The Department offers a wide range of courses taught by internationally leading philosophers. Courses include: "Scientific Method and Policy", "Genes, Brains and Society: Philosophical Issues in the Biomedical Sciences", "Scientific Revolutions: Philosophical and Historical Issues", "Chaos and Spacetime: Introduction to the Philosophy of Physics I", "Quanta and Entropy: Introduction to the Philosophy of Physics II", "Philosophy of Science", "Emotion, Cognition and Behaviour: Science and Policy", "Set Theory and Further Logic" and "Rationality and Choice". The MSc Philosophy of Science has proven particularly attractive to two types of students: students with degrees in philosophy who would like to specialize in the philosophy of science; and students with scientific backgrounds who would like to analyze philosophically the methods, practice and foundations of science.
The Department is ranked joint 2nd in the world for Philosophy of Science by the Philosophical Gourmet Report 2011.
You can learn about both general philosophical problems raised by the sciences and particular philosophical-foundational problems that emerge in specific sciences. Questions and topics addressed include:
General Philosophical Questions
What, if anything, makes science and the methods of science special?
Can we maintain realism in the sciences in view of the fact that many entities once thought to be real have been abandoned in the course of the history of science?
What is probability?
How do scientists confirm their theories? How exactly does, and should, evidence relate to theoretical claims in science?
What constitutes a scientific explanation?
Questions related to Mathematics
What is infinity?
Do infinities come in different sizes, and if so, is there a largest or smallest infinity?
What is the axiomatic method?
In what sense is mathematics incomplete?
How can we describe the logic of modalities such as possibility and necessity?
Questions related to Biology and Cognitive Sciences
Does genuine evolutionary altruism exist, and if so, how is this possible?
Do stem cells have a moral status?
How can we evaluate medical evidence? In what ways is medical evidence almost inevitably problematic?
What is the relationship between mind and body?
What is the nature of consciousness and what is its relationship to the brain?
Questions related to Physics
What is chaos?
What is quantum teleportation?
Is space a substance or a relation?
Is the theory of special relativity compatible with quantum theory?
Does statistical mechanics explain the irreversibility of physical processes?
Policy and social science questions
Are economic theories testable?
Is Rational Choice Theory a plausible account of human decision making?
How do we establish causes in the social sciences?
Can we give a game-theoretic account of justice?
How should policy-makers and decision-makers use and evaluate scientific evidence? What about in policy areas such as climate, conservation, international development, poverty, education, medicine and health?
Students benefit from a wealth of resources at the Department and at the LSE generally. These include the LSE's Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Sciences - a major international research centre, which attracts many eminent visitors and is housed alongside the Department in the Lakatos Building.
As well as further developing the virtues of clear thinking, analytical argument and appreciation of the rules of evidence that are so useful in a range of high-level occupations, the course provides a solid foundation for doctoral work in the philosophy of science and related fields, and for employment in fields such as science journalism and science administration. This is a full-year, four-unit degree. Students take three taught units and write a dissertation over the summer.
Below are testimonials from former MSc Philosophy of Science students.
How my studies went?
I came to the LSE after studying a degree in Political Economy, although my background wasn't of the sciences, I didn't feel at a disadvantage at all.
I felt the programme was excellent. I was always tested and felt challenged. From philosophy of science to the philosophy of choice, the detail and the breadth of the work I did was intellectually stimulating and based on the research of a world-class faculty. The learning curve was steep but the help and support I got from my lecturers was always generous and welcoming. The twelve months went really quick and I felt I had learnt and achieved a lot.
What you're doing now and plans for the future?
I was lucky enough to join a graduate scheme in the Civil Service and I am currently working in a commercial role at the Ministry of Defence. I feel the programme gave me the lateral skills to bring something different to the table and I often employ the philosophical and reflective skills I learnt at LSE to my work. My plans for the future is to progress in the Civil Service and become a senior civil servant.
The master's program in Philosophy of Science at the LSE provided the philosophical training for me to pivot my academic career from the natural sciences to philosophy of science. After completing a master’s in biochemistry and structural biology, I arrived at the LSE hoping to transition from laboratory research to scientifically-engaged philosophical research. Although I lacked any formal training in philosophy of science, I found my coursework and the program as a whole to be both stimulating and rewarding.
When I accepted a place in the 2012-3 class at the LSE, I already knew that earning my master’s from this world-class philosophy department would make me a competitive candidate for selective doctoral programs in philosophy of science. But I only learned after arriving in London how the faculty, staff, and postgraduate students formed a collegial and supportive philosophical community. The quality of teaching and the availability of my professors belied the fact these professors are renowned scholars in their fields. Meeting with Prof. MiklosRedei over tea or for a post-lecture breakfast at the 4th Floor Restaurant was a common occurrence, with our discussions ranging from possible paper and dissertation topics to the merits of various doctoral programs. Similarly, Prof. Roman Frigg gladly scheduled countless additional office hours to help me understand the intricacies of quantum mechanics and its philosophical underpinnings. The relatively small number of postgraduates in the program fostered a congenial environment among my fellow students that supplemented the support we received from the faculty. The friendship and feedback of my professors and colleagues both enhanced my abilities as a philosopher and boosted my quality of life in London.
Now, with multiple offers of admission to doctoral programs, I can say without reservation that the MSc in Philosophy of Science at the LSE played a vital role in my development as a philosopher of science whilst providing me with one of the most enjoyable and memorable years of my life. I shall always look back upon my year at the LSE with the utmost fondness.
Having read philosophy at the undergraduate level despite my overt scientific inclinations, a Master's in philosophy of science seemed to be the logical confluence of my two streams of interest. LSE's MSc Philosophy of Science, with its lofty reputation and long list of eminent faculty members, promised to embody precisely what I was looking for. After arriving at LSE, I was delighted to find my expectations fulfilled—the programme stimulated both the philosopher and the scientist in me.
During my time in the programme, I thoroughly enjoyed both lectures and seminars across all the courses I had chosen. The lectures were well structured with succinct summaries of the relevant topic. Seminars presented the perfect fora to discuss nuances of the same. While knowledgeable and articulate lecturers made the former engaging and informative, an incredibly diverse peer group made the latter lively and challenging. Outside the classroom, I thoroughly enjoyed bonding with my classmates over numerous coffees at the Garrick and pints at George IV. Performances of the department's rock-n-roll band—The Critique of Pure Rhythm—were definitely the highlight of each term.
It is my belief that the MSc has provided me with a grounding in philosophy of science that would enable me to contend for top PhD programmes should I decide to do so in the future. At the same time, I feel it has equipped me with the kind of analytical thinking that is key to succeeding even outside the academic world. After a stint as a business consultant with Ernst & Young, I now work within my family business.
I came to LSE with a background in theoretical physics. My hope was to get the philosophical background needed to do research on the philosophical foundations of physics. The courses I took in the MSc programme in Philosophy of Science were simply excellent and prepared me well for my current studies as a PhD Fellow at the Munich Center for Mathematical Philosophy.
The fellow students with a range of diverse backgrounds, the faculty and visitors made the intellectual as well as social atmosphere at the university remarkable and simply a fun place to be. In addition to the several seminars and events organized by the department there are many more interesting events going on at the LSE.
To sum up, the MSc programme was a very valuable experience for me from which I am still benefitting both from an academic as well as personal point of view.
Tiffanie Lein Lau
I joined LSE having read Philosophy, Politics and Economics at the undergraduate level. I was attracted by the clear focus of the course content, which would allow me to obtain a good depth of understanding of the subject within a short space of time. One also could not deny the opportunity to stand on the shoulders of giants belonging to the LSE tradition.
The small intake size and low student-to-teacher ratio gave me many opportunities to meaningfully engage the faculty within and outside of the classroom. The faculty and students were genuinely passionate about inquiry and learning. The excellent learning environment in the department was a wonderful incubator for the development of my research interest on the topic of scientific progress.
I am currently working in the Singapore Civil Service, and find the training from my stint in LSE beneficial in many ways: the sharp, logical analysis is just one of the skills that I have found extremely applicable to policy work. The MSc program is not just for those who intend to pursue a career in academia -- I would wholeheartedly encourage anyone to see for themselves what the degree program has to offer.
Even before starting the MSc in Philosophy of Science I knew I wanted to do a PhD in Philosophy at LSE. The master programme offered me the right environment to develop the necessary skills for making a successful application to a PhD programme and the intellectual background and confidence for embarking on such a project. The programme offers a wide variety of options and I combined courses in philosophy of science with courses in policy and rational choice theory. All courses I took were designed to suit students at all levels: I was just as satisfied of my philosophy of science course - which covered topics which were already familiar to me - as I was of my policy course - which was the first of its kind I was taking. All in all, the MSc in Philosophy of Science was a very enjoyable experience in my academic and personal life and I strongly recommend it.
Greg Grzegorz Lewicki
Shortly after returning to Poland, I started a journalist internship in a big Polish weekly (circulation approx 130,000). I am writing mostly about the impact of science and technology on our interconnected society. This is very much related to my studies at LSE (MSc Philosophy of Science).
Marina Baldissera Pacchetti
My choice to embark on the MSc program in History and Philosophy of Science at LSE came from a strong tendency toward investigating my field of interest at a deeper and more thorough level; before starting the MSc, in fact, I had graduated in Mathematics and Physics at UCL. I chose the LSE because it offered what I was looking for: a rigorous yet stimulating range of courses I could choose from.
Being relatively new to Philosophy, I felt that this MSc could be a good introduction to the field and it could also simultaneously advance my knowledge in the subjects I had studied as an undergraduate. The courses I took (Set Theory and Logic, Philosophy of Physics and History of Science) proved to be what I expected: I could profit from my existing skills to improve them and develop new ones, more philosophy-‐related. This was also due to the structure of the lectures and seminars, all of which did not have more than 6/7 students. Lectures could in fact follow individual students quite carefully, allowing students to progress rapidly and fruitfully.
A part from the rich academic environment the Philosophy Department at LSE has to offer, it is not unimportant to mention the social environment, which I consider important if not essential to one’s permanence in the department. The general friendliness and openness of staff and students made my year at the LSE much more pleasant and interesting. I experienced a completely different student-‐professor relationship which undoubtably enouraged my introduction to Philosophy of Science. Actually, I was so enthusiastic about what I found doing this MSc, that I am now starting a Ph.D. in Philosophy of Science at PITT.
I did the MSc in Philosophy of Science at LSE because I wanted to change my field of work: coming from the life sciences, I wanted to leave the bench and do research on the more general questions addressed in philosophy of (life) science. The MSc at LSE offered me exactly what I was looking for: an intensive one-year course that would give me a strong background in philosophy of science and that would thereby allow me to enter my own research in philosophy of life sciences.
One of the biggest advantages of this MSc, I think, is the great range of courses that students can select from; this allows you to shape your studies according to your own interests. Another great aspect of this MSc is the support and the guidance offered by the faculty staff, who are all experts in their fields. Especially the comments on essays and the input on the dissertation taught me a great deal about thinking and writing in philosophy. It is an intensive year at LSE, but also a rewarding one. You not only learn to be efficient in reading and taking up new information, but you also train your skills in writing and independent thinking. In the end, the MSc in Philosophy of Science and my background in the life sciences allowed me to obtain a fellowship for a project dealing with the conceptual foundations of synthetic biology, which I am now pursuing at the BIOS centre at LSE.
I was attracted to the LSE program by the large range of subjects covered, and I wasn't disappointed, having benefitted from intercollegiate teaching at KCL. Both lectures and seminars are given by experts in the field, and class sizes are generally small, allowing personal interaction. I also profited from attending events organised through LSE's Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science and the University of London's nearby Institute of Philosophy. These provided access to cutting edge research, and were particularly valuable for provoking ideas for my dissertation, but were also useful through enabling me to put faces to the names I was reading, making it easier to get a feel for the fields I was studying.
Students and faculty often socialise together at departmental parties that are held throughout the year, and in the George IV pub directly opposite the department. In the summer students flock to the neighbouring Lincoln's Inn Fields, a large public park.
As with any MSc in the UK, the full-time course runs for 12 months and is demanding, however at the LSE all exams take place near the end of the academic year, allowing students a chance to catch up on any work missed, though I don't recommend falling behind! I have found that the program is highly regarded both nationally and internationally, and it has been a perfect stepping stone between my undergraduate degree in philosophy and my current graduate studies in cognitive and decision science at UCL.
I arrived at the LSE with a degree in mathematics but no formal training in philosophy. The tight curriculum of the MSc in Philosophy and History of Science enabled me to learn in a very short time about the current debates in the philosophy of science and put me in an excellent starting position for PhD work in philosophy. In addition, the ability to choose my courses allowed me to focus on the topics of my personal interest right from the start.
What makes the LSE philosophy department special is not only that all lecturers are experts in their diverse fields but that they all pursue their research via the methodology of analytic philosophy. This creates a sense of an academic community that makes the department a great place for study and research.
As an LSE philosophy student you are also part of a wider philosophy community in London. So you not only benefit from the many guest lectures taking place in the LSE philosophy department, but you can also take advantage of the large number of philosophy events all over London.
My positive experience during the MSc led to my decision to continue with graduate work in philosophy. The philosophy department's expertise in the philosophy of science made me choose the LSE for my PhD.
In 2005-6, I was a MSc student in the Philosophy & History of Science track. In the intensive one-year course, I studied the philosophy of science and physics at LSE and took an intercollegiate course at UCL in the philosophy of mathematics. Now a doctorate student in UC Berkeley's Logic Group, I look back at my time at LSE fondly, appreciative of the excellent instruction that prepared me for my current studies, the diverse friends and colleagues I met, and the opportunity to live in one of the greatest cities in the world.
LSE's MSc programme in the Philosophy & History of Science was a breath of fresh air after three years of undergraduate mathematics. The class came together from a remarkably diverse range of backgrounds -- academically, socially and culturally -- which made for some fascinating and at times passionate discussions. Ever wondered what you get if you put a Canadian physicist, a German economist and an Indian computer scientist in the same room? At the Department of Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method, you have a good chance of finding out.
The faculty staff, many of whom are highly renowned in their fields, were without exception friendly, approachable and enthusiastic. The courses that I chose were well taught, and I especially enjoyed delving further into probability and confirmation theory for my dissertation.
Although I have decided to pursue a career outside of academia, the skills and knowledge that I gained during the MSc have proved genuinely valuable. I have a better grasp of the conceptual issues behind topics ranging from creationism to global warming, the latter bearing particular relevance to my current work as a management consultant in energy and the environment.
Currently, I am a PhD student at the European School of Molecular Medicine in Milan. I consider the experience I had at the Department of Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method as the building block of my personality and of my philosophical formation.
Studying philosophy at LSE was an exciting experience. As a Master student you are involved in an engaging philosophical environment to which you are expected to actively contribute. What makes LSE different from other universities is that at LSE you are not simply supposed to learn things. Rather, you are encouraged to do things with what you learn. Friendly tutors who are experts in their field guide you through the departmental activities, from lectures to seminars, and help you to take advantage of them.
The year I spent at LSE as a MSc student in Philosophy and History of Science was very important for my development. In particular, I consider the seminars as the best opportunity I had to improve my philosophical skills as well as my personal attitudes. Thanks to my tutors and to the discussions we had in class, I have acquired not only a sound knowledge of the general issues in the philosophy of science, but also, and most importantly, the ability to handle debates, to analyze papers and to make consistent arguments. These experiences have greatly supported me and my career.
I took the MSc programme in Philosophy and History of Science because I wanted to make a radical change of direction in my career. After working in a business environment for many years, I hoped to realise a latent ambition to become a professional philosopher. It turned out, without me knowing it at first, that the programme at LSE was the best decision I could have made. It prepared me as well as could be for the hurdles that lay ahead.
I felt welcomed by the faculty and at home in the department from the very beginning. It's a very friendly place to be. The lecturers are on-hand and dedicated to their students. There has been a lot of effort to make the course what it is: well-structured, flexible, stimulating, well-taught and challenging. And there is an on-going conscious effort made to listen and respond to students' demands.
There's plenty of chance to improve your philosophical skills by debating with fellow students or by taking part in the many seminars and workshops that are held in addition to classes. The intellectual atmosphere is warm and lively. Most importantly, the department is recognised as being one of the best of its kind worldwide, which enables LSE students to compete for doctorate funding at the very best schools. I've moved on to a Ph.D in philosophy at Columbia University in New York City - I've no doubt that I couldn't have done this without the preparation I gained at LSE. It was a vital step that transformed me from a management consultant to a philosopher. And I'm glad I did it, not just because of where I am now as a result, but because the year in London was a stimulating and enjoyable year it its own right.
My time studying at the LSE was undoubtedly the most rewarding academic experience I've had. The courses were well structured and the lecturers had a contagious enthusiasm for the subjects they taught that transferred onto their students. It was both a joy and a privilege to study and learn under the guidance of faculty members who were actively engaged in making contributions to the research fields being taught. The staff always had time for the students. Engaging in stimulating debates on contemporary issues and attending talks by well known experts in my field of interest contributed to that rare feeling of being in an exciting academic environment, saturated with intellectual stimulation, whilst maintaining a collegial and friendly atmosphere. The knowledge I gained, the people I met and the skills I've acquired through my experience studying at the LSE have all contributed immeasurably to my academic development.
The knowledge I gained, the people I met and the skills I've acquired through my experience studying for the MSc in the History and Philosophy of Science at the LSE have all contributed immeasurably to my academic development and provided the ideal entry ticket to embark on the PhD I'm doing now. The MSc is the perfect stepping stone into a myriad of diverse opportunities. Many of my friends who took the course with me have gone on to undertake a wide variety of different jobs, both in and outside academia. The teachers encouraged me to pursue research areas that interested me most, and without their continual academic support, intellectual input and the knowledge and skills gained during the course, I simply wouldn't be doing a PhD now.
Christian W. Bach
Studying towards a MSc degree in the Department of Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method is a highly rewarding experience in terms of academic and personal development. The courses offered are excellent and very well taught by the faculty, whose members are all cutting-edge researchers in their respective fields. Having been interested in the foundations of decision and game theory I have so much benefited from the unique activities of the Choice Group as well as the high expertise in philosophy of science and probability taught in the respective courses. Furthermore, I have very much appreciated the flexibility with regards to outside options in other departments or non-standard choices which has really enabled an absolutely tailored program of study that completely fitted my interdisciplinary needs. The availability, motivation and great help of my teachers and tutor have really impressed me - It has always been possible to pop by to discuss some ideas or to ask further questions. Having started my PhD studies in the foundations of game theory and interactive epistemology after the MSc, I have benefited a lot from what I have learned during this intensive and insightful year at the Department of Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method and can now build on the knowledge gained there.
Isabel Guerra Bobo
I had just graduated in Theoretical Physics when I went to LSE for the MSc. in Philosophy of History of Science. This program gave me a very good point of entry to the study of philosophical issues concerning physics, in particular, and science, in general. Having never followed an academic training in philosophy the year program gave me a very good opportunity of surveying the terrain in some depth in a relatively short amount of time. It helped me a lot in deciding whether or not I wanted to pursue an academic career in the philosophy of physics, which I ended up doing (I am now doing a PhD in the philosophy of quantum mechanics at Complutense University in Madrid).
The program has both taught courses and a research project, where there is a fair amount of time devoted to the latter. There is also a good divison of lecture and seminar hours in the taught courses. We were asked to write a good number of essays throughout the year but exams were not until June, which as a newcomer to philosophy I really appreciated. I also liked the fact that the faculty members at LSE were very much accessible and were willing to discuss essay topics, arguments, etc.
I originally came to London to do a Masters in theoretical physics, but from the very beginning I hoped I would also be able to take one or two courses in Philosophy of Science at the place I knew some of the all-time heroes of philosophy of science had worked: LSE's Department of Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method. In the end, I enjoyed it so much that having finished my Physics Masters I asked whether I could remain at LSE as a visiting student to attend the MSc courses in Philosophy and History of Science. In doing so, I benefited enormously from the course's unique diversity: its high-quality lectures and students from various backgrounds meant that I studied philosophy of science sitting next to a former particle physicist, a sociologist, and a journalist who had worked for New Scientist and Scientific American.
Whilst at LSE, I visited some of the research seminars in philosophy of physics at the University of Oxford. Whenever people asked me where I was based I received a knowing and appreciative nod on telling them that I was studying philosophy of science at LSE. Indeed, this appreciation has been long-lived, for when I later applied for a DPhil in Philosophy at Oxford, I was one of few applicants who began the DPhil immediately rather than first having to take the Philosophy BPhil (a 2 year Masters course). Looking back, I am sure that having been at LSE significantly benefited my application - and indeed, significantly benefited me.
The MSc in Philosophy and History of Science course provided me with an excellent grounding in many key areas of philosophy of science. The core course, Philosophy of Science and Scientific Method, gave an overview of central topics in the field, while the paper in the Philosophical Foundations of Physics began with an introduction to this area before addressing current debates on Quantum Information Theory and Quantum Field Theory. A third paper, Special Topics in the Philosophy of Science, allowed me to take a more in-depth look at a particular area of philosophy of science, scientific modelling. I was able to pursue this topic in greater depth in my dissertation for the MSc and this later became the basis for my PhD research at Cambridge. Throughout the MSc course, the lectures provided a clear structure for study. Just as important, however, were the accompanying seminars, which allow you to develop your skills in philosophical analysis through debating questions raised in the lectures with fellow students, and staff 'office hours', which provided regular opportunities to discuss work with members of the department.
The LSE was my first exposure to philosophy of science, and the courses were challenging but fascinating. Professors did an excellent job of presenting the material so that those of us unfamiliar with the issues could participate as well as those who already had studied some of it. The other students in the Master's program came from a variety of backgrounds, which made for a stimulating discussion atmosphere in classes. After evening courses, a number of us went out afterwards for drinks and conversation. These were some of the highlights of my stay in London, in which I learned a great deal of philosophy and science from others, and made wonderful friendships.
After completing the MSc, I moved to the Ph.D. program in History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Pittsburgh. The background I already had from my courses at the LSE was extremely useful for starting this new program at a more advanced level. Since each graduate department has its atmosphere and approaches, having experienced a different one besides my current department gives me a valuable sense of perspective. In addition to the solid foundation in philosophy of science with which I started, I found at conferences that I already knew a circle of colleagues that I had met as fellow students at the LSE, or at one of the various talks in the London philosophical community. It is always enjoyable to catch up with them and see where fellow students have gone in the years meantime.
The program at the LSE was the decisive factor in my choosing to become a professional philosopher of science. And of course, the chance to live in London for a year is not to be missed.