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Subject Summary: Part IB History and Philosophy of Science

This course offers an historical and philosophical perspective on the nature of scientific knowledge and the place of the sciences in society. Examples are drawn from a range of disciplines, over a period extending from classical natural philosophies to the present day. Historical examples discussed include early astronomy, alchemy, medicine and natural philosophy, as well as more recent physical, life and social sciences up to the nuclear age and the emergence of molecular medicine. The course also examines how models and theories are tested and changed; the nature of causation, laws and explanations; whether science provides an increasingly accurate account of reality, and problems in scientific and biomedical ethics. The examination consists of two papers, one historical in character, the other on philosophical topics.

Programme Specification: Part IB History and Philosophy of Science

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


  1. to give students an insight into the historical foundations of modern science and medicine within Western society, and into their philosophical structure and presuppositions;
  2. to encourage critical and analytical thought;
  3. to help students develop a broader understanding and appreciation of their scientific work;
  4. to develop skills in written communication.

Learning outcomes

At the end of the course students should:

  1. have an understanding of major themes in the development of science and medicine;
  2. have a more critical appreciation of the place of science and medicine in contemporary society;
  3. be able to draw together different parts of the course material;
  4. have an introductory knowledge of historical, philosophical and sociological methods for analysing science and medicine;
  5. have improved their writing skills.

Teaching and Learning Methods

These include lectures, supervisions and assigned reading.


Assessment for this course is through:

  • two unseen written examinations (for aims 1-4 and learning outcomes 1-5).

Courses of Preparation

Essential: None.

Additional Information

Further information  is available on the Course Websites pages.