Hist and Phil of the Physical Sciences (HPSC3108)


This unit of study deals with a selection of contemporary debates in the history and philosophy of physical science. It involves four components: (1) the question of how evidence is gathered in the physical sciences and how it is (and/or other factors) go into confirming theories-we also consider what confirmation consists in (including an examination of Bayesianism). (2) Issues of modelling, representation, and measurement, including an analysis of the ways idealisation, approximation, and simulation are to be understood. (3) Models of scientific explanation, including recent work on laws, prediction, and causality. We also discuss whether so-called anthropic explanations constitute genuine explanations. (4) issues of emergence and reduction, including the problems associated with defining such concepts - we also study the impact of the sciences of complexity on the question of whether there are 'fundamental theories'. The unit of study involves case studies from the physical sciences that allow students to apply their knowledge and test their understanding, including climate modelling, the anthropic principle in cosmology, and data gathering at the LHC. Upon completion of the unit, students will have developed a range of skills that will allow them to explore the physical sciences with more critical attitude.

Further unit of study information


One 2-hour lecture and two 1-hour tutorials per week.


Four 1500-word essays (4x25%).


Course reader

Faculty/department permission required?


Unit of study rules

Prerequisites and assumed knowledge

HPSC2101 or HPSC2901

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.