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Foundations of Social Science and Public Administration



This course examines some of the central debates in the philosophy of social science and links these debates to the historical origins and developments of the discipline of public administration. We will pay close attention to what philosophers usually call the problem of demarcation. This problem sets philosophers with the task of finding a principle on the basis of which one can distinguish science from non-science. The demarcation problem has occupied both philosophers of science in general and philosophers of public administration in particular. We will look at the different ways in which different authors have either tried to solve or contest the demarcation problem, and at the bearing this had on the social sciences and the discipline of public administration. In doing so, our aim is twofold. First, we will discuss the knowledge ideal of social science and public administration. Second, we will discuss how these questions help us define the knowledge object of public administration. What, in other words, belongs to the domain of public administration, and what do PA scholars study? Fundamental debates revolve around the question whether PA is actually a science or rather a purely practical endeavor and what – if anything – actually separates public administration from other related and often incorporated disciplines such as economics, politics or law. During the course, students will investigate where the study of public administration comes from and how and why it has developed over time and has come to be what it is today. Students will also gain knowledge of general philosophy of science to help them define and understand their chosen field of academic inquiry as well as the specific topics they will investigate and/or work with during their studies and later careers.

Course objectives

  • Students will acquire knowledge of the historical origins and development of the study of public administration and gain a critical view of the way in which public administration scholars in past and present view public administration and government;

  • Students will acquire skills of critical analysis and writing to link their knowledge and insight gained in this course to current cases and problems of governance.

  • Students will become familiar with the philosophy of social science, the main debates in the discipline and the main approaches to the philosophy of social science.

  • Students will acquire a close understanding of key debates and concepts relevant to the study of the philosophy of the social sciences.

  • Students will acquire the analytical skills to understand, summarize and convey the main arguments in the literature, and approach them with a critical eye.

  • Students should be able to articulate the ways in which the epistemological questions about the social sciences matter practically.


On the Public Administration front page of the E-guide you will find links to the website and timetables, uSis and Blackboard.

Mode of instruction

Lectures (attendance highly recommended)

Working groups/seminars (attendance compulsory)

Course Load

According to established norms, a 5 ECTS course requires (5x28=) 140 hours of study.
For this course the study load is roughly divided as follows:
Lectures (7x2) 14 hours
Seminars (7x2) 14 hours
Exam 3 hours
Readings (compulsory readings) 80 hours
Paper research / writing 29 hours +

                                                                        140 hours

Assessment method

  • Paper assignment: Literature review and mandatory non-graded peer review of someone else’s literature review: 30% (no compensation possible)

  • 2 out of 3 quizzes for the seminars: 20% (participation mandatory, compensation allowed).

  • Final exam: 50% (no compensation possible).

Students will be permitted to resit an examination if they have taken the first sit and earned a mark between 3 and 5.5 or with permission of the Board of Examiners.

Resit written exam
Students that want to take part in a resit for a written exam, are required to register via uSis. Use the activity number that can be found on the ‘timetable exams’.


Blackboard will be used for communicating with students and for sharing the necessary documents (syllabus, paper assignment description, etc.).

Reading list

  • Dooremalen, H., H. De Regt, and M. Schouten. Exploring Humans: An Introduction to the Philosophy of the Social Sciences. 4 or 5 ed. Amsterdam: Boom, 2013.

  • Additional articles (see course hand-out and Blackboard)


Use both uSis and Blackboard to register for every course.
Register for every course and workgroup via uSis. Some courses and workgroups have a limited number of participants, so register on time (before the course starts). In uSis you can access your personal schedule and view your results. Registration in uSis is possible from four weeks before the start of the course.
Also register for every course in Blackboard. Important information about the course is posted here.


dr. A.D.N. Kerkhoff


This course provides an opportunity for students to participate in a discussion of ideas. It is important that students independently seek a grasp on these ideas and, therefore, must take the time to read and think about the readings assigned. Ideally, each reading should therefore be read at least twice for students to get as much out of the course as possible. Students are encouraged to ask questions, to be involved and to remain critical!