Home | Contacts | FAQ | Organisational Development

This Login is for users of the Research Student Log


This login is for students without access to Research Log (e.g. New Users). Do not use if you have activated your Research Log.


Forgotten your password?

  New Users: Register

Philosophy of Science Workshop Programme

Course Description

These workshops are open to students from all disciplines, but they are especially designed for those engaged in scientific research who would like to have an opportunity to reflect on the aims and methods of science more systematically than they can in the course of their usual work.

Philosophy of science addresses fundamental questions such as the following:

  • What is science? 
  • Is there a valid scientific method?
  • Are scientific theories true? Or do they simply save the phenomena?
  • How do scientists choose between competing scientific theories?

These questions raise serious challenges to our normal understanding of science and scientific practice. The main objective of this introductory course is to cultivate your ability to think through these issues in a clear, novel, and critical way.

The full programme comprises (click on the heading for more details):

Workshop 1 - What Does it Mean to be "Scientific"? Critique vs. Orthodoxy

Course tutor: Dr Emma Tobin and Dr Chiara Ambrosio

Science is often upheld as an ideal form of knowledge in modern Western and global cultures. Why do we think science is so valuable — and why do some people disagree? What exactly does it mean to be "scientific" anyway? We will explore these questions through a critical examination of the views expressed by some leading philosophers of science. Popper saw the essence of science as the critical spirit that challenges orthodoxy; in direct opposition, Kuhn argued that what enables "normal science" to function was the community's adherence to a paradigm, reinforced by a rather dogmatic style of education and training. Feyerabend sided with Popper in arguing that openness was beneficial for science, but denied that science should be given any special authority over other systems of thought. This workshop will explore these philosophical positions on science, and discuss issues arising from their opposition to each other. We will also discuss the practical implications of how we "demarcate" science from non-science: for example, on the assessment of grant applications and publications, and on our attitude towards various controversial systems of thought ranging from homeopathy to intelligent design.

Workshop 2 - Truth and its Discontents: Scientific Realism and Anti-Realism

Course tutor: Dr Chiara Ambrosio

This workshop will address one of the most fundamental questions about science: are we justified in considering our scientific theories “true” or at least “approximately true”? What are the dangers, and what would be the alternatives? We will explore the long legacy of realism in philosophy of science and connect it to the various attitudes that scientists have displayed toward the theoretical and empirical aspects of scientific research. The topic of scientific realism will allow us to venture into two foundational areas of philosophy: metaphysics and epistemology. Rather than abstractly speculating about these foundational issues, we will invite you to think about how particular metaphysical and epistemological attitudes and commitments might be implicitly built into your practice as a researcher, and discuss the conceptual and practical implications of adopting a realist or an anti-realist position in science.

Workshop 3 – Ethics and Science

Course tutor: Dr Phyllis Illari

This workshop will explore the ethical challenges arising from scientific research. Some challenges will focus on the results of research and the ways in which it is disseminated. Others will concern the process of research itself, and science and society’s effort at self-regulation. We will focus on specific case studies, which will be discussed in detail and connected to various conceptual approaches to ethics. The workshop will also allow you to share problems encountered in your own research as well as examples of good practice, and will provide you with useful conceptual tools to explore ethical issues systematically in the future. By the end of the workshop you will be able to express and defend ethical views and apply them to your own practice as a researcher.

Workshop 4 – Data and Classification

Course tutor: Dr Emma Tobin

This session will cover the topic of classification in science with particular reference to data. Data are the mobile pieces of information, which are collected, stored and disseminated in order to be used as evidence for claims about specific processes or entities (i.e. the phenomena) How can data be properly classified? We will look at the problems faced by scientists in classifying data in large datasets, problems with both the quantity and quality of data. We will also look at the use of incompatible classificatory systems for different purposes and discuss the philosophical implications of these pragmatic problems in scientific practice.

Workshop 5 – Are Scientific Theories Underdetermined by Evidence?

Course tutor: Dr Phyllis Illari and Dr Chiara Ambrosio

Underdetermination is amongst philosophers’ (and scientists’!) most loved and feared concepts. The idea itself was developed by the physicist and philosopher Pierre Duhem at the beginning of the twentieth century and was expanded by the philosopher V.V.O Quine in the 1950s. In this workshop we will revisit Quine’s foundational paper “Two Dogmas of Empiricism” (1951), a classic in philosophy of science, which is still much debated today. Both Duhem and Quine addressed a foundational issue in science: the realisation that the scientific evidence available a particular time is insufficient, in itself, to determine our belief or commitment to a particular theory. Philosophers now refer to underdetermination in pointing out that scientific claims and predictions are never tested in isolation, and in reaching broader conclusions about the limitations of evidence in our acceptance of scientific theories. This session will explore these themes in detail. Is underdetermination a threat to scientific objectivity and scientific progress? What role and credibility is left to experimental testing, if we adopt a strong version of underdetermination? How does this affect your practice as a researcher?

We strongly recommend attending all five workshops, which are specifically planned as a series. However, each session is sufficiently independent to be attended on its own.

Booking preference will be given to those who sign up for all sessions. Please book your place below.

Preparation work:

Before attending, please check the course Moodle page to access required reading. Full access instructions can be found here.

"This course really helps to keep you fresh and actively thinking about your research. You end up uncovering assumptions that may be critical in later years, and have an enjoyable time being educated."

"Great course, another point of view of what does it mean being a scientist, maybe the only course that gives the meaning of why we are studying a Doctorate in Philosophy."

"These were the best series of lectures I've ever attended. Please pass my thanks to Hasok, and organise more similar courses!"

Researcher Development Framework Categories

A1) Knowledge base
A2) Cognitive abilities
A3) Creativity

Course Recommended for

This course is particularly relevant to the following groups:

  • Students in Social & Historical Sciences
  • Students in Built Environment
  • Students in Mathematical & Physical Sciences
  • Students in Engineering Sciences
  • Students in Life Sciences
  • Students in Medical Sciences

Course Organisers

  • Course Tutor - Dr Emma Tobin - (Science & Technology Studies)
  • Course Tutor - Dr Chiara Ambrosio - (Science & Technology Studies)
  • Course Tutor - Dr Brendan Clarke - (Science & Technology Studies)
  • Administrator - Ms Kasia Bronk - (Organisational Development)

Course Links

Further Web Resources


25 Apr 2016: W1 - What Does it Mean to be Scientific? expand

28 Apr 2016: W2 - Truth and its Discontents expand


5 May 2016: W3 – Ethics and Science

Description:Please see the session description above.
Places Available:7
Sessions:10:00am - 1:00pm on Thu 5 May 2016
Room G40, UCL Medical Sciences Building, Malet Place WC1E 6BT (Map)
Preparatory Work:Required pre-course reading is available on the Moodle course website (enrolment key: philsci). For joining instructions please check the course description above.


12 May 2016: W4 - Data and Classification

Description:Please see the session description above.
Places Available:This course is now full.
Sessions:2:00pm - 5:00pm on Thu 12 May 2016
Room 101, 16-18 Gordon Square, UCL, WC1H 0AG (Map)
Preparatory Work:Required pre-course reading is available on the Moodle course website (enrolment key: philsci). For joining instructions please check the course description above.


20 May 2016: W5 – Are Scientific Theories Underdetermined?

Description:Please see the session description above.
Places Available:This course is now full.
Sessions:10:00am - 1:00pm on Fri 20 May 2016
Drayton B06, 30 Gordon Street, UCL, WC1H 0AX (Map)
Preparatory Work:Required pre-course reading is available on the Moodle course website (enrolment key: philsci). For joining instructions please check the course description above.

Page last updated: 23rd April 2015