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School of History and Philosophy of Science

Placing science in its historical and social context
At the crossroads of arts and science, we examine past and current developments in all areas of science, technology and medicine from a range of humanistic perspectives.

History and philosophy of science (HPS) is an ideal way to critically engage with science and its social and cultural significance. Any student with a genuine interest in science will derive benefit from the study of this discipline.

Teaching at the School of History and Philosophy of Science

Teaching staff in the School of History and Philosophy of Science have published widely in their fields of expertise and have gained international recognition for their research. This makes them fantastic educators, sharing their knowledge and experiences in the classroom so students can be at the forefront of innovations in the field.

The University of Sydney is ranked first in Australia and fifth in the world for graduate employability.* This stems from our immersive, research-led teaching which prepares students for the real-world and a successful career.

*QS Graduate Employability Rankings, 2019.

News bites

Congratulations to Hans Pols now a Fellow of the Royal Society of NSW. Hans will present a public lecture " Physicians as Public Intellectuals: Indonesian Physicians in the Dutch East Indies" September 4th 2019. Details Here 

Assistant Professor Sara Langston

Asst. Professor, Spaceflight Operations, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

University of Sydney, Ph.D History and Philosophy of Science; Awarded the Science Faculty Postgraduate Research Prize for Outstanding Academic Achievement.

As NASA celebrates the 50th anniversary of the historic Moon landing with a live TV broadcast and events, there is a focus on recognizing the contributions of the thousands of men and women who made the Apollo 11 mission possible. This year is particularly significant for the legacy of the Apollo program because of the president’s Space Policy Directive 1, which tasks NASA with returning to the Moon by 2024. This time, the mandate requires establishing a permanent lunar base and advancing space exploration to Mars and across the solar system. Read More

Professor Johannes Pols;with Professor Catharine Coleborne; Associate Professor Paul Rhodes; and Professor Anthony Harris

The development of Australian community psychiatry. 

HPS Research Seminar Series 2019

Dr David Glick - Dept Philosophy and School of HPS

University of Sydney

QBism (formerly “Quantum Bayesianism") is an agent-centered interpretation of quantum theory. It rejects the notion that quantum theory provides a God's eye description of reality and claims instead that it imposes constraints on agents' subjective degrees of belief. QBism's emphasis on subjective belief has led critics to dismiss it as antirealism or instrumentalism, or even, idealism or solipsism. The aim of this talk is to consider the relation of QBism to scientific realism. I argue that while QBism is an unhappy fit with a standard way of thinking about realism, an alternative conception I call "perspectival normative realism" may allow for a reconciliation.

Monday 12th August 2019
Level 5 Function Room,
Administration Building (F23)


Dr Adrian Currie

History is Peculiar

The mid-Cretaceous Terrestrial Revolution was a critical event shaping the modern world, seeing radiations in mammals, squamate lizards, snakes, birds and (maybe) dinosaurs, as well as the emergence of flowering plants (angiosperms) and their accompanying menagerie of pollinating insects. The revolution is at least in part thought to be related to the contemporaneous final breakup of Pangea into smaller continents, and the new angiosperm-insect alliance is also cited as driving radiations in other lineages.

It is often thought that historical explanation is in some sense narrative explanation, or at least that history is particularly suited to narrative forms. For instance: perhaps shifting from the relatively homogenous Pangea to the more heterogeneous modern continents led to a wider variety of habitats with more haphazardly distributed taxa, thus opening the door to diversification in the mid-Cretaceous. This connection between narrative and history has led some to ask whether there is some logic or essential property to narratives, others to draw links between the literary and the historical, and others to question whether narrative structures are discovered or constructed.

I have a hunch about what makes narratives powerful answers to historical questions, which emerges from a hunch I have about why history matters for knowledge. I’ll draw on recent philosophical work on contingency to construct a notion of peculiarity. I’ll suggest that narratives are particularly well suited to understanding peculiarity. Because history is often peculiar, historians often adopt narrative strategies to explain it.

Monday 19th August 2019

Level 5 Function Room,

Administration Building (F23)


Professor Giora Hon

University of Haifa 

James Clerk Maxwell’s Methodological Odyssey in Electromagnetism: A Philosophical Perspective  

  Einstein (1931): “The greatest alteration in the axiomatic basis of physics—in our conception of the structure of reality—since the foundation of theoretical physics by Newton, originated in the researches of Faraday and Maxwell on electromagnetic phenomena.... Since Maxwell’s time Physical Reality has been thought of as represented by continuous fields, governed by partial differential equations, and not capable of any mechanical interpretation. This change in the conception of Reality is the most profound and fruitful that physics has experienced since the time of Newton.” We ask, then, What was Maxwell’s key to this fundamental change in the conception of Physical Reality? By following closely the trajectory of Maxwell’s several contributions to electromagnetism, which we characterize as an odyssey, we uncover one fundamental aspect of this success—innovative methodologies.    

Dr Joel Katzav

University of Queensland


Monday16th September 2019
Level 5 Function Room,
Administration Building (F23)

Head of School

Professor Hans Pols
View academic profile

School of History and Philosophy of Science

  • Room 389 Carslaw F07

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