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Level 6

6AANA026 Philosophy of Science


Credit value: 15
Module tutor: Professor Alexander Bird 


  • Summative assessment: 1 x 2-hour examination (100%) 
  • Formative assessment: 1 x 2,500-word essay


  • Summative assessment: 1 x 2-hour examination (100%) 
  • Formative assessment: 1 x 2,500-word essay

Students are reassessed in the failed elements of assessment and by the same methods as the first attempt.

Teaching pattern: one one-hour weekly lecture and one one-hour weekly seminar over ten weeks.
Pre-requisites: none

This module aims to give students an understanding of central topics in contemporary philosophy of science, in particular as they relate to contemporary epistemology. 

The topics and questions to be covered include: 

  • What is the aim of science?
  • What is scientific evidence?
  • How do scientists reason?
  • Scientific revolutions and Kuhnian philosophy of science
  • Inference to the Best explanation and Bayesianism
  • What is scientific progress?
  • The pessimistic meta-induction and the no-miracles argument

Further information

Module Aims
Learning Outcomes
Indicative Reading List
Past Syllabi
Module aims

An understanding of debates on the following topics:

  • Logical empiricism, its motivations and difficulties.
  • Induction, confirmation and falsification.
  • The relationship between observation and theory.
  • Kuhn’s views on theory change and scientific rationality.
  • Laws of nature and the unity of science.
  • Scientific explanation.
  • Relationships between theories: reduction and emergence.
  • The debate between realism and anti-realism.
  • Forms of realism and anti-realism.
Learning outcomes

Key learning outcomes are:

  • An understanding of certain central topics in contemporary philosophy of science
  • An understanding of the place of these topics in wider philosophy
  • An ability to use the techniques of philosophical argument to analyse and discuss questions arising from the study of these topics
  • Transferable skills:
    • analysing arguments
    • constructing a coherent and effective argument

writing a clear and well-structured essay around an argument

Indicative reading list

Introductory Textbook

James Ladyman, (2002): Understanding Philosophy of Science, Routledge. 

Classic Text

T. Kuhn (1998), The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 3rd Ed., University of Chicago Press.


D. Papineau (1996), The Philosophy of Science, OUP.

Online resource

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy; articles on: Bayes’s Theorem; Confirmation; Evidence; Kuhn, Thomas; Science, theory and observation in; Scientific progress; Scientific realism; Scientific revolutions


Bird, A. (2007). What is scientific progress? Noûs, 41:64–89.

Bogen, J. and Woodward, J. (1988). Saving the phenomena. Philosophical Review, 97:302–52.

Clark Glymour(1980) , “Why I am Not a Bayesian” in his Theory and Evidence, Princeton, PUP , pp. 63–93; also in Papineau (1996), pp. 290–313.

Michael Huemer (2009)  Explanationist aid for the theory of inductive logic. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 60: 345–75.

Fahrbach, L. (2011). Theory change and degrees of success. Philosophy of Science, 78:1283– 92.

Magnus, P. D. and Callender, C. (2004). Realist ennui and the base rate fallacy. Philosophy of Science, 71:320–38.

Hardwig, J. (1991). The role of trust in knowledge. Journal of Philosophy, 88: 693–708.

Past syllabi

Please note that module syllabus and topics covered may vary from year to year.

Blank space

The modules run in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand so there is no guarantee every module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary between years.

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