UCL Department of Science and Technology Studies


History and Philosophy of Science Core Stream

Science covers everything from the origin of the universe to the innermost workings of our brains. Scientists are consulted by world leaders and law courts, advertisers and athletes. Yet, while science itself tries to understand everything, how do we understand science itself? How secure are the methods of science? When, where and how did science originate as a distinct type of knowledge? What accounts for the extraordinary success and diversity of science in the modern world?

History and Philosophy of Science (HPS) explores the history of science and philosophical issues arising from science, and so ranges from Ancient Greek conceptions of religion and natural law, to exploring how we gain empirical knowledge through experimentation, including the ethics of experimentation. It also involves developing skills in critical and reflective thinking and independent research.


Science is much more than a bundle of facts that we patiently collect; it also has a long history of conflicts and questions about how we understand and make sense of the world. In the history dimension of this stream, we explore the history of science from Antiquity to the present and around the globe. We want students to know that current scientific disputes all have a history, and understand how science has developed in a social context. Students will learn to disentangle key themes. For example, what is the history of experimentation, and how was it shaped by crucial experimental apparatus such Boyle’s air pump? How has our concept of disease changed since antiquity? Is there any important relationship between science and religion?

The philosophy dimension of this stream investigates science as a way of knowing. The goal is to better understand science’s many methods, fundamental concepts, logic, and ethics. Students will study influential thinkers, such as Popper and Kuhn, and also come to understand crucial methodological problems, such as the problems of induction (how do we know the world will continue to conform to our previous observations?) and scientific models (what is a scientific model, and how do we really learn about the world using computer simulations?)

The history and philosophy of science relate to each other, and ‘Integrated History and Philosophy of Science’ is a discipline that this department helped to create. Its goal is to build a broad perspective on the origins of science and its role in our modern world. The understanding this generates can be brought to bear to yield a critical understanding of current science. The richness of this overlap is a unique selling point of the History and Philosophy of Science core stream.


By the end of the Natural Sciences programme, students with History and Philosophy of Science as a core stream should be able to:

History dimension

  • critically discuss and key episodes in the history of science, including a basic understanding of the science
  • recognise and analyse themes that arise in many places in science, such as people’s place in the cosmos, and the relation between science and political arrangements such as empire
  • understand how current science has been shaped by that history, including science policy and governance
  • analyse histories of science, and provide their own reflective interpretations of the history

Philosophy dimension

  • explain some of the key philosophical and methodological problems of science
  • explain and criticise some of the key arguments and theories concerning those problems
  • apply these problems, arguments and theories to case studies in current science, including novel case studies
  • offer their own developed arguments concerning some key problems, applied to current science
  • demonstrate high levels of critical ability, particularly the ability to write extended coherent arguments, and evaluate the arguments of others

Integrated History and Philosophy dimension

  • understand how historical episodes, such as the birth of the experimental philosophy, have shaped philosophical understanding of science, such as the question of how we get empirical knowledge – and of course vice versa
  • demonstrate critical thinking about current science based on an understanding of its history, and the enduring philosophical challenges of scientific knowledge

Programme structure

History and Philosophy of Science core stream follows the programme defined for the Natural Sciences programme (link). Students are welcome to discuss their preferences with the STS stream representative (link).

  • HPSC. This is the prefix used by UCL for modules offered by the Department of Science and Technology Studies
  • HPS. This is used to identify modules suitable for students on this stream within Natural Sciences. This code is included in the module description (e.g., in Portico)

This lists compulsory modules for the History and Philosophy of Science stream (minor). It does not list the modules required for all Natural Sciences students or for your major stream.

Year 1

HPSC1010 Revealing Science (this is the HPS foundation course)

and choose two optional modules from the HPSC 1000-level catalogue Term 2 options

Year 2

HPSC2006 Science and Ethics

and choose two HPS optional modules from the HPSC 2000-level catalogue

Year 3
Choose three HPS optional modules from the HPSC 3000-level catalogue


HPS optional modules can be found in the Natural Sciences Handbook, and in the STS module catalogue. This is modified by the STS Department Teaching Committee every year. Not all modules are offered in every session. Timetable constraints from your major stream may limit your option, but STS strives to maximize your flexibility.

Students may apply to substitute one alternative PCE module for one optional HPS module, providing the resulting plan forms a coherent programme of study within the objectives of the stream. All substitutions must be approved by the STS stream representative, and they are subject to review by the STS undergraduate tutor.

For more information, contact the STS stream representative (link).

Quick links

  • UCL natural sciences (link)
  • UCL natural sciences current students (link)