Philosophy of the Social Sciences

This information is for the 2016/17 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Jason Alexander LAK 5.01


This course is available on the BSc in Environmental Policy with Economics, BSc in International Relations, BSc in Philosophy and Economics, BSc in Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method, BSc in Philosophy, Politics and Economics and BSc in Politics and Philosophy. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit. This course is available to General Course students.


No formal pre-requisites, but PH103 Reason Knowledge and Values: An Introduction to Philosophy or equivalent is recommended.

Course content

Philosophical issues concerning the nature of social scientific theory and its applications.

Topics to be covered will include some or all of the following: the explanation and interpretation of action; naturalist and hermeneutic social theory; the nature of social facts; reductionism and methodological individualism; functional and structural explanations; rationality and relativism; the role of values in social science; social norms; the construction of social reality; methods of evolutionary explanation in the social sciences; philosophical and methodological critiques of evolutionary psychology. In additional, philosophical problems of particular social sciences such as anthropology, sociology, and economics will also be addressed.


10 hours of lectures and 10 hours of classes in the MT. 10 hours of lectures and 10 hours of classes in the LT.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to write three formative essays, two in Michaelmas term and one in Lent term. A mock exam will be given near the end of Lent term, with feedback provided.  Class presentations may also be required depending on the pedagogical approach adopted by the class teacher. 

Indicative reading

A detailed reading list may be found on the Moodle page for the course. Useful preliminary background readings include: The Philosophy of Social Science Reader, edited by Francesco Guala and Daniel Steel; Daniel Little, Varieties of Social Explanation; Alex Rosenberg, Philosophy of Social Science; Martin Hollis, The Philosophy of Social Science; Brian Skyrms, Evolution of the Social Contract. A useful anthology is Readings in the Philosophy of Social Science, edited by Michael Martin and Lee McIntyre.


Exam (67%, duration: 2 hours) in the main exam period.
Essay (33%, 2000 words) in the LT.

Student performance results

(2013/14 - 2015/16 combined)

Classification % of students
First 21.9
2:1 59.4
2:2 14.1
Third 3.1
Fail 1.6

Key facts

Department: Philosophy

Total students 2015/16: 25

Average class size 2015/16: 13

Capped 2015/16: No

Lecture capture used 2015/16: Yes (LT)

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

PDAM skills

  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Communication
  • Specialist skills