Philosophy of Science

This information is for the 2015/16 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Roman Frigg


This course is available on the MSc in Economics and Philosophy, 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 not available as an outside option.


No pre-requisites.

Course content

Science is chock full of miraculous predictions, shocking revolutions, and unexpected results that few science fiction writers could have ever dreamed of. What makes science so special? This course is a tour of the philosophical underpinnings of modern science. No background in any science is needed for this course; everything you need to know will be covered.

The issues we will tackle are the following. Theory and Observation: Hume’s problem of induction and Goodman’s new riddle of induction, Popper’s falsificationism, underdetermination of theory by evidence, the positive instance account, Bayesianism. Theories and laws: the received view of theories, the semantic view of theories, the regularity view of laws, law idealism, laws as universals, the best systems account, instrumentalism. Explanation: the DN model of explanation, statistical explanation, causal explanation, unification. Intertheory relations: reductionism and pluralism. Realism versus Antirealism: Scientific realism and the no miracles argument, inference to the best explanation, antirealism and the pessimistic meta-induction, reductive empiricism, constructive empiricism, the natural ontological attitude, entity realism, structural realism, Kuhn and scientific revolutions. Sociological approaches to science: Social constructivism, feminism. Causation: Hume’s, Mill’s, Mackie’s accounts of causation, counterfactual theories, probabilistic causality and manipulability accounts, transference accounts.  Philosophy of a special science: Space and Time in Newton’s physics.


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 two essays (two in MT and two in LT), submit a few short answers before each seminar, and participate in discussion in seminars.

Indicative reading

T S Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions; K R Popper, Conjectures and Refutations; B van Fraassen, The Scientific Image; N Cartwright, How the Laws of Physics Lie.


Exam (100%, duration: 3 hours) in the main exam period.

Student performance results

(2011/12 - 2013/14 combined)

Classification % of students
Distinction 29.8
Merit 46.8
Pass 21.3
Fail 2.1

Key facts

Department: Philosophy

Total students 2014/15: 16

Average class size 2014/15: 7

Controlled access 2014/15: No

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information