What Is This Thing Called Science? (HPSC2101)


Philosophers of science aim to define what distinguishes creationism from evolutionary theory, or astrology from astronomy. They give reasons why we can believe that today's theories are improvements over those that preceded them and how we know that what we see and do in scientific practice reflects the nature of reality. This course critically examines the most important attempts to define the scientific method, to draw a line dividing science from non-science, and to justify the high status generally accorded to scientific knowledge. The philosophies of science studied include Karl Popper's idea that truly scientific theories are falsifiable, Thomas Kuhn's proposal that science consists of a series of paradigms separated by scientific revolutions; and Feyerabend's anarchist claim that there are no objective criteria by which science can be distinguished from pseudo-science. This unit of study also explores contemporary theories about the nature of science and explores ideas about the nature of the experimental method and concepts such as underdetermination, the nature of scientific explanation, theory confirmation, realism, the role of social values in science, sociological approaches to understanding science, and the nature of scientific change.

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Further unit of study information


Three 1 hour lectures and one 1 hour tutorial per week.


2x1500 wd essays (50%) and 1x3000 wd essay (50%)


Godfrey-Smith, P (2003). Theory and Reality. The University of Chicago Press. USA/ Curd, Cover and Pincock (2013). Philosophy of Science: The Central Issues (2nd edition). W. W. Norton & Company.

Faculty/department permission required?


Unit of study rules


24 credit points of Junior units of study



Study this unit outside a degree

Non-award/non-degree study

If you wish to undertake one or more units of study (subjects) for your own interest but not towards a degree, you may enrol in single units as a non-award student.

Cross-institutional study

If you are from another Australian tertiary institution you may be permitted to underake cross-institutional study in one or more units of study at the University of Sydney.