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Subject Summary: Part II History & Philosophy of Science

This course aims to give insight into the development of science and medicine within Western society, and into their philosophical structure and presuppositions. Students from a variety of backgrounds are encouraged to consider the course; those from the humanities and social sciences find that the insights they bring from their previous training compensate for any lack of knowledge of science. Students who have not read the subject in Part IB are welcome to attend the Part IB lectures in addition to those given specifically for Part II.


The Part II course is arranged in three sections as follows: 

Papers: There are six groups of courses corresponding to six unseen examination papers from which Option A students choose any three from the following list and Option B students choose any four from the following list:

 Paper 1: Early Science and Medicine

 Paper 2: Sciences and Empires (1780–present)

 Paper 3: Modern Medicine and Life Sciences (1780–present)

 Paper 4: Philosophy and Scientific Practice

 Paper 5: Epistemology and Metaphysics of Science

 Paper 6: Ethics and Politics of Science, Technology and Medicine 

Primary sources: students are required to submit one essay, of not more than 5,000 words in length, prepared on the basis of attending two series of HPS Primary Sources Seminars, of which there are seven series to choose from. A list of texts to be covered in the seminars will be published in the academical year preceding that of the course and the examination. The essays are to be submitted at the start of Lent term.


Dissertation: Option A students are required to submit a dissertation of up to 8,000 words. This is expected to embody a substantial piece of study on a topic of the student's own choosing, subject to approval by the HPS Board, that falls anywhere within the History and Philosophy of Science; it must be submitted early in the third term. Potential topics should be discussed with any of the teaching officers, preferably before the preceding Long Vacation but otherwise as early as possible in the academical year.



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 coursework (up to 40%) and unseen examinations, See Programme Structure for details of Option A and Option B.

Programme structure

There are two alternative options for students taking the Part II in History and Philosophy of Science. Option A is normally the choice of students who intend to graduate after taking Part II; option B is aimed at those who plan to proceed to Part III but all Part ll students are free to choose either option.

Option A consists of:

  • three unseen written examinations chosen from a list of papers (for aims 2, 4, 5 and 9 and learning outcomes 1, 2 and 4);
  • a dissertation of up to 8,000 words (for aims 7-9 and learning outcomes 3-5).
  • one primary source essay of up to 5,000 words in length (for aims 5, 6, 8 and 9 and learning outcomes 3-4);

Option B consists of:

  • four unseen written examinations chosen from a list of papers (for aims 2, 4, 5 and 9 and learning outcomes 1, 2 and 4);
  • one primary source essay of up to 5,000 words in length (for aims 5, 6, 8 and 9 and learning outcomes 3-4);

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 is available on the Course Websites pages.