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What can we learn about the nature of science from studying the history of science? The historical record provides a rich resource for developing theories about how science works. However, historians complain that philosophers often invoke a distorted image of history and selectively choose historical examples that conveniently serve their own agendas. Conversely, many philosophers feel historians place too much emphasis on the social, cultural and political context in which science is situated. For example, while changing economic conditions in England may well have provided a source of inspiration for Darwin's theory of evolution, it is argued this fact has no bearing on whether his conclusions were well supported by empirical evidence.
In this subject we critically examine three major issues that have plagued efforts to forge a constructive relationship between history and philosophy of science:
- the problem of using carefully selected historical case studies to draw general philosophical conclusions about science;
- the problem of using the present as a lens to understand past science;
- the divergent aims and forms of explanation pursued by historians and philosophers
We will also look at some of the recent promising approaches to integrate history and philosophy of science.
Intended learning outcomes
Students completing this subject will:
- demonstrate ability to engage in critical argumentation both in the context of discussion and in self-directed written research ;
- develop in-depth understanding of contemporary developments in philosophy of science;
- acquire written and oral communication skills, effective collaboration in small and large groups.
- possess an awareness of the relationship between philosophy of science and other disciplines, such as epistemology, political theory, sociology, ethics, and gender studies;
- apply philosophical perspectives to real-world scientific practice through the treatment of case studies, and
- Critical thinking
- Analysis and assessment of arguments
- Oral and written communication skills
- Constructive collaboration and measured disagreement
- Confidence in voicing an informed opinion
Last updated: 21 February 2020