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Philosophy and Science

Course Code: PHIL 1190
Faculty: Humanities & Social Sciences
Department: Philosophy
Credits: 3.0
Semester: 15 weeks
Learning Format: Lecture, Seminar
Typically Offered: TBD. Contact Department Chair for more info.
course overview

This course introduces students to the philosophy of the natural and social sciences. The course examines methodology, explanation, and the nature of the world revealed by scientific study. Students will explore how science differs from other forms of inquiry, and consider whether science operates with one method or many, whether method(s) in the natural sciences are appropriate for study in the social sciences, and the relationships between observation, evidence, hypotheses, and theories in the natural and social sciences.

Course Content

1. Methodology in the Natural and Social Sciences – is there a scientific method, demarcation of science from non-science, should method differ between nat and soc sciences, observation and theory-ladenness, experiment, induction, falsification, underdetermination, confirmation, naturalism, hermeneutics, reductionism, probability, theory change and progress in science.

2. Explanation in the Natural and Social Sciences – functional and structural explanation, rational choice explanation, social explanation and methodological individualism, causation, relationship between evidence and theory, justification, prediction, incommensurability, explanation of human behaviour and social structures, practices, institutions.

3.Objectivity in the Natural and Social Sciences – is objectivity possible? Is objectivity a desirable goal in the natural and social sciences?  How do conceptions of objectivity affect conceptions of fact and  value in the natural and social sciences?

4. Ontology in the Natural and Social Sciences- realism and antirealism, relationship between models and reality, existence of unobservables, social construction, metaphysical status of social structures.

5. Controversies in the Natural and Social Sciences – looking at e.g. anthropology, economics, evolutionary psychology, physics, biology, ecology, neuroscience.

Methods of Instruction

The course will employ a combination of instructional methods, which may include lecture and discussion, student presentations, videos, or breakout activities.

Means of Assessment

Evaluation will be based on course objectives and will be carried out in accordance with Douglas College policy. The instructor will provide a written course outline with specific criteria during the first week of classes.
Any possible combination of the following which equals 100%:

Tests, quizzes, short written assignments    20% - 50%
Written class presentations, essays, essay exams  30% - 60%
Instructor's general evaluation 0% - 20%
(may include attendance, class participation,
group work, homework, etc.)


Three 10% tests: 30% 

Two 30% essays: 60%

Participation: 10%

Total: 100%

Learning Outcomes

The general objectives of the course are:

  1. To introduce students to a philosophical approach to scientific knowledge and the methodology of science.
  2. To encourage students to reflect critically about the epistemic basis and ontological consequences of claims made in the physical and social sciences.
  3. To enable students to develop more effective methods for making up their own minds about the interpretation of scientific claims in the wider philosophical contexts of epistemology and methaphysics.
  4. To encourage students to attempt a demarcation between science and other intellentual undertakings that appear scientific but are not scientific in nature.

Specific learning outcomes: by the end of the course, successful students should be able to:

  1. Demonstrate a clear understanding of the various philosopical approches to science, including but not limited to scientific realism, empiricism, instrumentalism etc.
  2. Explain and analyze the role of philosophical arguments in the development of various scientific disciplines.
  3. Apply the philosophical analyses developed to the knowledge-claims made by various "pseudo-sciences".
  4. Demonstrate an ability to develop their own arguments and reasoned defence of a position with regard to some of the controversies discussed

curriculum guidelines

Course Guidelines for previous years are viewable by selecting the version desired. If you took this course and do not see a listing for the starting semester/year of the course, consider the previous version as the applicable version.

course schedule and availability
course transferability

Below shows how this course and its credits transfer within the BC transfer system. 

A course is considered university-transferable (UT) if it transfers to at least one of the five research universities in British Columbia: University of British Columbia; University of British Columbia-Okanagan; Simon Fraser University; University of Victoria; and the University of Northern British Columbia.

For more information on transfer visit the BC Transfer Guide and BCCAT websites.


If your course prerequisites indicate that you need an assessment, please see our Assessment page for more information.