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Natural Sciences degrees

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History, Philosophy and Social Studies of Science

Stream Representative

Dr Tiago Mata, t.mata@ucl.ac.uk

Aims

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.

Objectives

By the end of the Natural Sciences programme, students with History, Philosophy and Social Studies 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

Further information on the History, Philosophy and Social Studies of Science stream can be found here