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The question of what drives scientific change has been central to the history and philosophy of science ever since Thomas Kuhn’s landmark work The Structure of Scientific Revolutions in 1962. In this subject, we examine recent work by historians, philosophers and sociologists of science on the dynamics of scientific change.
In doing so, we address a series of further questions such as:
- Is there any general historical pattern to the way that science unfolds?
- How do scientific theories, concepts and practices change over time?
- Is scientific change determined by its own ‘internal logic’, or is it shaped by political, social and cultural factors?
- To what extent does technology drive scientific change?
- Are our current scientific theories the product of historically contingent conditions, or are they in some sense inevitable?
To address these questions, we examine a series of historical case studies, including the emergence of statistical reasoning in the social and natural sciences, changing conceptions of the gene, and changing theories in archaeology and evolutionary anthropology in response to feminist critiques. Through these case studies we examine the means by which, and the historical conditions under which, new forms of knowledge come into being.
Intended learning outcomes
Students who successfully complete this subject will:
- possess a critical understanding of some of the major themes in HPS;
- become familiar with a range of different historiographical and philosophical approaches to the understanding of the dynamics of scientific change;
- develop the ability to engage in critical analysis of important texts;
- develop a critical perspective on recent attempts to develop a 'big picture' of the sciences;
- gain the necessary critical acumen and relevant knowledge to be able to engage in contemporary debates in the history and philosophy of science;
- develop an ability to conduct independent critical research at fourth year Honours level.
Students who successfully complete this subject will
- develop skills in written communication;
- conduct independent research;
- make appropriate use of primary and secondary sources in mounting an argument;
- develop skills in synthesizing and analysing literature relevant to a specific discipline or topic;
- form defensible judgements based on a critical evaluation of conflicting arguments.
Last updated: 1 June 2020