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Philosophy of Natural Sciences: Scientific Revolutions


Admission requirements

Admission to this course is restricted to MA students in Philosophy 120 EC, specialisation Philosophy of Natural Sciences.


Scientific revolution is associated with all that is best about science and human progress: creativity, breakthroughs, radical shifts of perspective, intellectual drama. In this course we make a critical study of concepts and models of scientific revolution, their connotations and uses, and what they entail for our views of science. We will draw on the approaches of both philosophy and history of science. Starting with a reading of Thomas S. Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962/1970), we will consider the reception and impact of this book. We will then follow the subsequent debates in philosophy of science on such themes as incommensurability, relativism, and the role of aesthetic factors in scientific practice. We will also study episodes called revolution in history of science, including the archetypal “scientific revolution” of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and the revolution in physics in the early twentieth century: students will be free to choose further episodes in branches of science that match their interests.

Course objectives

This course aims to give students an understanding of concepts and models of scientific revolution, and thereby an understanding of conceptual change and scientific progress and of how philosophy and history of science analyse these phenomena.

Students who successfully complete the course will have a good understanding of:

  • theories and models of scientific revolution put forward in philosophy and history of science;

  • specific examples of scientific revolution, including the “Scientific Revolution” of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the revolution in physics in the early twentieth century, and (depending on the individual student’s interests) a further historical episode;

  • how philosophy and history of science analyse conceptual change and scientific progress.

Students who successfully complete the course will be able to:

  • analyse critically literature and theories in philosophy and history of science on the topics of conceptual change and scientific progress;

  • put forward, critically evaluate, and justify well-reasoned positions on the questions covered in the course in discussion and in writing;

  • design, formulate, present, and discuss a research proposal on a topic connected to the course.


The timetable is available on the MA Philosophy 120 EC website

Mode of instruction

  • Seminars

  • Excursion

Course Load

Total course load 10 EC x 28 hours = 280 hours

  • Contact hours: 13 weeks x 3 hours = 39 hours

  • Lecture preparation/assignments: 12 weeks x 3 hours = 36 hours

  • Preparation of class presentation: 27 hours

  • Preparation of research proposal: 40 hours

  • Writing of final paper: 68 hours

  • Literature study: 500 pages = 70 hours

Assessment method


  • Class presentation (20% of the final grade)

  • Research proposal (30%)

  • Final paper (50%)

Class attendance is required – without sufficient attendance students will be excluded from submitting a final paper.


The final mark for the course is established by determination of the weighted average of several subtests. A subtest can be graded as unsatisfactory.


The resit will consist of a final paper (100%). The mark for the resit will replace all previously earned marks for subtests.No separate resits will be offered for mid-term tests.
Class attendance and participation is a mandatory requirement for taking the resit.
Students who have obtained a satisfactory grade for the first examination(s) cannot take the resit.

Exam review

By appointment after publication of the final grade.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • Further literature and assignments

Reading list

  • Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press. Any edition from the second (1970) onwards.

  • Further specialised literature will be specified at the beginning of the course.


Enrolment for courses and exams through uSis is mandatory.

Students are strongly advised to register in uSis through the activity number which can be found in the timetables for courses and exams.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Dr. J. W. McAllister