BI2EH4-Intro to the History and Philosophy of Science

Module Provider: School of Biological Sciences
Number of credits: 10 [5 ECTS credits]
Terms in which taught: Autumn term module
Non-modular pre-requisites:
Modules excluded:
Module version for: 2014/5

Module Convenor: Prof Nick Battey


Summary module description:
An introduction to the development of science over the last 500 years, with an introduction to the major philosophical debates concerning what is special about it as a way of thinking and why it appears to work.


  • To provide students with a basic historical framework within which to interpret scientific knowledge, and an introductory understanding of the philosophical issues associated
  • To improve humanities-based students' appreciation of science as a mode of thought and knowledge of scientific development
  • To improve science-based students' ability to reflect on and contextualise their practice
  • To improve ability to reason verbally

Assessable learning outcomes:
Assessable outcomes

  • Basic knowledge of dates and sequence of landmark developments in major sciences
  • Ability to analyse and synthesise abstract arguments in written form
  • Basic knowledge of major philosophical arguments about the nature of science
  • Ability to relate philosophical concepts to historical events and sequences

Additional outcomes:

  • Familiarity with alternative styles of scholarship
  • Better independent and self-directed learning

Outline content:
History of science, 1500 - 2000, by reference to major areas of study and achievements, set in an outline context of technical and economic development. Philosophical investigations into scientific method: inductivism and its problems, falsification as a way to demarcate science, instrumentalism and realism, the idea of scientific revolutions, and subsequent attempts to resolve problems in these descriptions.

Brief description of teaching and learning methods:
Primary tool is students' reading, supplemented by lectures to provide overview and orientation, and seminars to extend thinking and guide students in the less familiar aspects of the course.

Primary texts are J Gribbin (2001). 'Science - a history, 1543 - 2001', Penguin, and A Chalmers 'What is this thing called science?' OR S Okasha, 'Philosophy of Science: a very short introduction', with supplementary reading and sources suggested at each lecture.

An introductory session, an electronic forum, and two seminars will be held, based on assigned reading and discussion topics. Students will be expected to prepare a short written piece of work based on the first two seminars, which will be formatively assessed during the term. The electronic forum will be summatively assessed. Students will prepare an essay on a topic from a list provided, for summative assessment.

A revision class (one hour) takes place in th Summer Term.

Contact hours:
  Autumn Spring Summer
Lectures 16
Seminars 3
Tutorials 2 1
Guided independent study 60 18
Total hours by term 81.00 19.00
Total hours for module 100.00

Summative Assessment Methods:
Method Percentage
Written exam 70
Written assignment including essay 20
Class test administered by School 10

Other information on summative assessment:
One essay of approx 2000 words, properly referenced and argued, on one of the titles specified during the term, to be submitted via Turnitin, by Friday of the first week of Spring Term, no later than 4 pm. (20%)
Two contributions to the electronic forum, during the two-week period that it is open. (10%)

Formative assessment methods:

Penalties for late submission:
The Module Convener will apply the following penalties for work submitted late, in accordance with the University policy.

  • where the piece of work is submitted up to one calendar week after the original deadline (or any formally agreed extension to the deadline): 10% of the total marks available for the piece of work will be deducted from the mark for each working day (or part thereof) following the deadline up to a total of five working days;
  • where the piece of work is submitted more than five working days after the original deadline (or any formally agreed extension to the deadline): a mark of zero will be recorded.

  • The University policy statement on penalties for late submission can be found at:
    You are strongly advised to ensure that coursework is submitted by the relevant deadline. You should note that it is advisable to submit work in an unfinished state rather than to fail to submit any work.

    Length of examination:
    1.5 hour examination in May/June, essay questions. 2 answers required: 1 compulsory plus one other from a choice of 3 questions

    Requirements for a pass:
    A mark of 40% overall.

    Reassessment arrangements:
    Re-examination in August/September

    Last updated: 8 October 2014

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