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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 three core questions in particular: a) Should values and normativity have a place in social science? b) Should we work with the idea of hidden structures (mechanisms, laws) behind social life? And c) what should be the practical relevance (applicability) of social scientific knowledge? Related to this, we will also discuss ethical aspects of conducting social scientific research. The objective of this course is to make students acquainted 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.

Methods of Instruction

Seminar sessions with presentation and discussions.

Study Material

Max Weber, ‘Science as a Vocation’, Deadalus 87(1), 111-34
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
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
(see BlackBoard for details)


Written assignments (three reviews) and a presentation

You can register for an exam or retake through USIS until 10 days before the exam or retake.


Tuesday 4 February until 25 March, 11.00-13.00 hrs in 1A03