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Philosophy of Science



All scientific research is conducted against a background conception of science: what it is and what it should be like. Frequently, however, this conception remains implicit – but this does not mean that it is incapable of guiding the inquiry. This course discusses and analyses the most important presuppositions of current conceptions of social science. Attention will be paid to a number of core questions pertaining to social scientific research and its epistemology. Related to this, we will also discuss ethical aspects of conducting social scientific research.

Objective: The objective of this course is to make students familiar with classic works and fundamental debates in the tradition of thinking on social science research and ethics and to enable them to critically assess their own research projects. In addition, they should be able to construe and communicate philosophical arguments about the strengths and weaknesses of various kinds of social science research.

Methods of Instruction

Seminar sessions with presentation and discussions.

Study Material

  • Max Weber, ‘Science as a Vocation’ (orig. Wissenschaft als Beruf), any complete version

  • Alfred J. Ayer, Language, Truth, and Logic

  • Philip Selznick, A Humanist Science: Values and Ideals in Social Inquiry

  • Karl R. Popper, The Poverty of Historicism

  • Peter Winch, The Idea of Social Science and its Relation to Philosophy

  • Bent Flyvbjerg, Making Social Science Matter: Why Social Inquiry Fails And How it Can Succeed again

  • Jon Elster, Explaining Social Behavior: More Nuts and Bolts for the Social Sciences
    (a handout on BlackBoard will provide details)


Written assignments (three reviews).


Tuesday 3 February until 17March, 11.00-13.00 hrs in SA35 (except 10 February 1.00-12.00 hrs in SA35)
Tuesday 24 March, 11.00-14.00 hrs in SA15