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 MSc in Economics and Philosophy, MSc in European Studies: Ideas, Ideologies and Identities, MSc in Philosophy and Public Policy, MSc in Philosophy of Science, MSc in Philosophy of the Social Sciences and MSc in Social Research Methods. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

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 15 hours of seminars in the MT. 10 hours of lectures and 15 hours of seminars in the LT.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to write three essays: two in Michaelmas term and one in Lent term.  

Indicative reading

A detailed reading list will be provided at the beginning of the course. Useful background readings are: 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

(2012/13 - 2014/15 combined)

Classification % of students
Distinction 25
Merit 50
Pass 19.2
Fail 5.8

Key facts

Department: Philosophy

Total students 2015/16: 20

Average class size 2015/16: 10

Controlled access 2015/16: No

Lecture capture used 2015/16: Yes (MT)

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

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