Philosophy of the Social Sciences

This information is for the 2015/16 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Jason Alexander LAK. T501b


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 two essays per term and may be asked to give seminar presentations.

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 (Francesco Guala and Daniel Steel, eds); D Little, Varieties of Social Explanation; A Rosenberg, Philosophy of Social Science; M Hollis, The Philosophy of Social Science; B Skyrms, Evolution of the Social Contract. A useful anthology is M Martin & L McIntyre (Eds), Readings in the Philosophy of Social Science.


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

Student performance results

(2011/12 - 2013/14 combined)

Classification % of students
Distinction 22.9
Merit 60.4
Pass 14.6
Fail 2.1

Key facts

Department: Philosophy

Total students 2014/15: 18

Average class size 2014/15: 8

Controlled access 2014/15: No

Lecture capture used 2014/15: Yes (LT)

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

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