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Unit information: Philosophy of Natural and Social Science in 2015/16

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Unit name Philosophy of Natural and Social Science
Unit code PHIL20037
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Grose
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of Philosophy
Faculty Faculty of Arts

Description including Unit Aims

The chief question discussed in this course is whether the methods determined by philosophers of science in relation to the natural sciences ought to be considered a good model for the methods of the social sciences (e.g. anthropology, economics, sociology, psychology etc.). We will look at theories of scientific explanation, prediction, causation and laws; discussing them in relation to both the natural and social sciences. We will also examine some general topics in the philosophy of the social sciences including the explanation and interpretation of action, reductionism and methodological individualism, rational choice theory and relativism. Finally, we will examine some recent work in social science draws upon theory and tools from the natural sciences.

Intended Learning Outcomes

By the end of the unit, students will be expected to be able to:

  • Identify and discuss key debates within the philosophy of natural and social science. These include debates on values and neutrality, causation and explanation, interpretation and understanding, individualism and holism, rationality and recent “naturalistic” approaches to social science.
  • Critically assess arguments made in the relevant philosophical literature.
  • Explain, in a written argument, the strengths and weaknesses of positions taken within these debates.
  • Communicate these arguments with clear, fluent writing.
  • Develop and demonstrate research skills.

Teaching Information

1 hour lecture and 1 hour seminar per week.

Assessment Information

Formative: two 2,000-2500 word essays designed to test the intended learning outcomes.

Summative: one 3-hour unseen exam designed to test the intended learning outcomes.

Reading and References

Key Reading:

Daniel Steel and Francesco Guala (eds) The Philosophy of Social Science Reader