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Philosophy of Natural Sciences: What's Wrong in Science?


Admission requirements

Prerequisites for MA or MSc students from other departments: introductory course in Philosophy of Science.


What’s wrong in science? Towards a conceptualisation of error in the natural sciences.

Philosophers and historians have long acknowledged the importance of studying errors for our understanding of science. One of the most eminent among them, Sir Karl Popper, once stated that: “All our knowledge grows only through the correcting of our mistakes.” In this course we will follow how philosophers have conceptualized the notion of error and in doing so we seek answers to intriguing questions such as: how do errors emerge? What types of errors are there in the first place? How are errors detected? To what extent can knowledge claims be tested for error? According to what (disciplinary) standards do judgements of error and truth come about? Do these standards change over time? If so, how and why? At what point do we gain a full understanding of what is wrong? How do we and how should we react upon the discovery of error? How does science learn from its mistakes?

We will study these questions by examining case studies from the natural sciences. Special attention will thereby be devoted to experimental error. In the recent literature new ways to conceptualise the notion of error in terms of uncertainty and in terms of possible fertility are explored. These explorations open fascinating new light on our conception of the process of science and our accounts of scientific rationality and reliability of knowledge.

Course objectives

Course objectives will be posted on Blackboard by the start of the course.


See Collegeroosters Wijsbegeerte 2012-2013, MA Philosophy.
See Timetables Philosophy 2012-2013, MA Philosophy.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminars

Assessment method

  • Active participation in the seminars, including seminar-assignments and oral presentations (20%)

  • Final paper (80%)


Blackboard will be used for posting of messages, texts, and assigments.

Reading list

Study material is taken from:

  • Giora Hon, Jutta Schickore and Friedrich Steinle eds., Going Amiss in Experimental Research (2009).

  • Jed Z. Buchwald and Allan Franklin eds., Wrong for the Right Reasons (2005).

  • Deborah G. Mayo, Error and the Growth of Experimental Knowledge (1996).

This and further literature will be made available during the course.


Please register for this course on uSis.
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Study Abroad students, please see the Study in Leiden website for information on how to apply. See also Registration for courses and examinations

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Contractstudenten hebben uitsluitend toegang tot deze cursus met toestemming van de docent.
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Na aanmelding ook inschrijven voor cursus en tentamen via uSis

Contact information

Drs. B. Karstens