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History and Philosophy of Science

Programme Specification: Part II History & Philosophy of Science

This course is taught by the Department of History and Philosophy of Science.


  1. to provide a challenging course in the history, philosophy and sociology of science and medicine;
  2. to develop, in students from a range of backgrounds, including the natural sciences, medicine, history and classics, a broad understanding of central themes in the development of science and medicine;
  3. to recognize the wide range of backgrounds of students taking Part II HPS by providing an appropriate range of courses, none of which require prior knowledge of the field;
  4. to encourage the development of critical and synthetic skills in relation to the claims, arguments and development of the sciences, technology and medicine, and of the disciplines that make up HPS;
  5. to maintain a close relationship between teaching and research so that students gain familiarity with the principal current issues in a large and fluid field;
  6. to help students acquire the skills of research, analysis and communication necessary to producing supervision essays and coursework using traditional and electronic library and other resources, and to foster skill in oral communication through participation in seminars;
  7. to encourage students through supervised work on a research project leading to the writing of a dissertation, to analyse in greater depth a topic in HPS that they find interesting and important;
  8. to introduce students to historical, philosophical and sociological methods;
  9. to encourage critical analysis of texts, objects and visual images.

Learning outcomes

At the end of the course students should:

  1. have increased confidence in their ability to think for themselves;
  2. possess a thorough knowledge of selected areas in history, philosophy and sociology of science and medicine;
  3. be capable of researching unfamiliar subject areas quickly and efficiently;
  4. possess substantially improved skills in written and verbal communication;
  5. be capable of pursuing an in-depth project.

Teaching and Learning Methods

These include lectures, supervisions, research work, group discussions, class presentations, and extensive reading.


Assessment for this course is through:

  • three unseen written examinations chosen from a list of papers (for aims 2, 4, 5 and 9 and learning outcomes 1, 2 and 4);
  • two primary source essays of 3,000 words each (for aims 5, 6, 8 and 9 and learning outcomes 3-4);
  • a dissertation of between 5,000 and 12,000 words (for aims 7-9 and learning outcomes 3-5).

Courses of Preparation

Essential: None.

Recommended: The course presupposes no knowledge of the more elementary material covered by NST Part IB History and Philosophy of Science, but students who have not taken this course are advised, before the start of the Part II course, to read as many as possible of the texts listed in the leaflet 'History and Philosophy of Science Part IB'. All intending Part II students are urged to tackle the preliminary reading for the papers they plan to take during the Long Vacation and to discuss possible paper and dissertation topics with their HPS Director of Studies as soon as possible. The HPS Part III course will allow students to study HPS at an even greater depth, and develop a variety of research and writing skills at an advanced level.

Additional Information

Further information on each subject is available in the Subject summary and on the Course Websites pages.