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One of the central insights to emerge from Thomas Kuhn’s landmark work, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, was the importance of attending to what scientists do, rather than simply what scientists believe. A new generation of scholars after Kuhn increasingly tuned their attention to scientific practice, and in the process, transformed our image of the dynamics of scientific research. This subject explores many of the new perspectives to have emerged from the ‘practice turn’ in the history and philosophy of science over the past two decades, and the new insights this has brought to the understanding of how knowledge is generated. Drawing on historical case studies and philosophical analysis, we focus on questions such as: How do scientists become convinced of the existence of a new entity? To what extent are the epistemic aims and practices of field sciences (like ecology and palaeontology) different from those of the laboratory sciences? How did the introduction of new forms of visual representation, such as diagrams, tables and maps, lead to theoretical advances in chemistry, evolutionary biology and physics? What can the study of laboratory notebooks reveal about the hidden dynamics of experimental research? Do computer simulations constitute a new form of inquiry?
Intended learning outcomes
Students who successfully complete this subject will:
- become familiar with a range of different historical, philosophical, and sociological approaches to understanding the process of scientific inquiry;
- develop an appreciation of the social, historical and cultural contexts which shape the construction of scientific knowledge;
- develop the ability to engage in critical analysis of texts, through synthesizing and distinguishing between, a variety of arguments and ideas;
- gain the necessary critical acumen and relevant knowledge to be able to engage confidently and intelligently in contemporary debates in the history and philosophy of science;
- develop an ability to conduct independent critical research at third year level.
Last updated: 30 July 2023