Timetable information in the Course Catalogue may be subject to change.

University Homepage
DRPS Homepage
DRPS Search
DRPS Contact
DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences : Philosophy

Undergraduate Course: Philosophy of Social Science (PHIL10201)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 10 (Year 4 Undergraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryPhilosophy of Science has historically been shaped by questions arising from the natural sciences, and in particular the physical sciences. By contrast, this course addresses philosophical questions arising from the distinctive methods and subject matter of the social sciences. How do social scientists go about finding out about the social world? What particular epistemological challenges do they have to confront? What is the ontological status of this social world? Do social entities simply reduce to natural entities? How do the values embedded in our social world shape social science? How should social science aim to shape this social world? This course provides the opportunity to engage with some of the diverse and controversial answers philosophers have given to these questions. Suitable case studies from different social sciences will be used to illustrate and motivate the philosophical questions.
Course description The course will be divided into three main parts, each of which will be addressed, although the exact distribution of topics and the emphasis may vary in any given year.

1. Methods and Epistemology of Social Science
This part of the course addresses the distinctive epistemological challenges arising from scientific research in the social sciences. The following is a representative list of topics, at least two of which will usually be covered:

a) Experimentation: What are Randomized Controlled Trials and are they really the gold standard of evidence in social science? Can social experiments in the laboratory tell us much about human interactions in the wild?
b) Measurement: We all know how to use a yard stick, but how do you measure intelligence, political freedom, or poverty, and what does it mean to do so?
c) Replication: Is there a replication crisis in the social sciences? What might be the reasons?
d) Modelling: How do social scientists build and reason with models?
e) Data: How does the 'data revolution' affect the social sciences?

2. Subject Matter and Metaphysics of Social Science
This part of the course addresses the distinctive epistemological challenges arising from scientific research in the social sciences. The following is a representative list of topics, at least two of which will usually be covered:
a) Holism/Individualism: Are social groups and institutions just collections of individuals?
b) Reductionism: Can the social sciences ultimately be reduced to the natural sciences? Are there even genuinely 'social' sciences?
c) Classification: Are social kinds social constructs?
d) Causation: What makes a correlation between two factors causal as opposed to spurious?
e) Laws: Are there economic or psychological laws like there are laws in physics?

3. Values and Ethics of Social Science
This part of the course addresses the distinctive epistemological challenges arising from scientific research in the social sciences. The following is a representative list of topics, at least two of which will usually be covered:
a) Value neutrality: Can social science be value neutral? Should it be?
b) Responsibility: Do social scientists have particular ethical obligations when choosing what research questions to pursue?
c) Public Policy: How should social science inform public policies?
d) Expertise: How does the expertise of social scientists relate to the self-knowledge of their subjects?
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Students MUST have passed: Mind, Matter and Language (PHIL08014) AND Knowledge and Reality (PHIL08017)
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements Students studying on MA Cognitive Science (Humanities) are permitted to take this course without having met the pre-requisites of Mind, Matter and Language (PHIL08014) and Knowledge and Reality (PHIL08014). However, it is advisable that students discuss the suitability of the course with their PT and the course organiser before enrolling.
Information for Visiting Students
Pre-requisitesVisiting students should have completed at least 3 Philosophy courses at grade B or above. We will only consider University/College level courses. Applicants should note that, as with other popular courses, meeting the minimum does NOT guarantee admission. These enrolments are managed strictly by the Visiting Student Office, in line with the quotas allocated by the department, and all enquiries to enrol in these courses must be made through the CAHSS Visiting Student Office. It is not appropriate for students to contact the department directly to request additional spaces.
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2022/23, Available to all students (SV1) Quota:  24
Course Start Semester 2
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Seminar/Tutorial Hours 22, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 174 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 0 %, Coursework 100 %, Practical Exam 0 %
Additional Information (Assessment) Take home test (40%) 1500 words
Final essay (60%) 2500 words
Feedback Guidance will be given in advance of each assignment. This may be in the form of an in-class discussion, a handout, or discussion of a component of the assessed work. Instructor feedback on essay outline and peer feedback provides further formative opportunities ahead of final essay.
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Understand the differences between philosophical issues arising in the natural and social sciences.
  2. Apply abstract philosophical reasoning skills to concrete problems arising in the social sciences
  3. Draw attention to metaphysical and value-laden presuppositions of social science research
  4. Identify and clearly articulate concerns about social science research and its wider implications.
  5. Improve core skills in philosophy, including ability to interpret and engage with philosophical texts, evaluate arguments, and develop critical ideas in response.
Reading List
To keep the readings up to date and to allow different course organisers to emphasise different topics, the following list of readings is merely indicative. Due to time constraints, only selections from the full books listed below would be covered and only articles relevant to the particular topics covered in a year would be assigned:

Alexandrova, Anna, 2017, A Philosophy for the Science of Well-Being, Oxford.
Berenstain, Nora, 2018, Implicit Bias and the Idealized Rational Self. Ergo: An open access journal of philosophy, 5:445-486.
Boumans, Marcel, 2015, Science outside the laboratory, Oxford.
Cartwright, Nancy, 2007, Hunting Causes and Using Them: Approaches in Philosophy and Economics. Cambridge.
Douglas, Heather, 2003, The moral responsibilities of scientists, American Philosphical Quarterly 40(1).
Epstein, Brian, 2015, The Ant-Trap: Rebuilding the foundations of the social sciences. Oxford.
Hausman, Daniel, Evaluating Social Policy, Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Social Science.
Khalidi, Muhammad Ali, 2013, Natural Categories and Human Kinds, Cambridge.
Khosrowi, D. & Reiss, J., Evidence-Based Policy: The tension between the epistemic and the normative. Critical Review 31(2), 2019.
Kincaid, Harold, 2016, Debating the reality of social classes, Philosophy of the Social Sciences 46 (2):189-209.
Kourany, Janet A., 2010, Philosophy of Science after Feminism. Oxford.
Longino, Helen, The Social Life of Scientific Theories: A case study from the Behavioural Sciences. Biological Theory, 7, 390-400. 2013.
Mallon, Ron, 2016, The construction of Human Kinds, Oxford.
Morgan, Mary S., 2012, The World in the Model: How economists work and think, Cambridge.
Reiss, Julian, 2007, Do We Need Mechanisms in the Social Sciences? Philosophy of the Social Sciences 37 (2):163-184.
Worrall (2002) What Evidence in Evidence Based Medicine? Philosophy of Science
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills This course will enable students to approach research coming from the social sciences with a critical mindset. They will be aware of important differences in the methods used by social scientists compared to natural sciences, which will allow them to evaluate information and results provided by social science research effectively and to communicate potential concerns clearly, both orally and in writing. Students will be able to engage critically with the contemporary philosophical literature on social science, and to connect it to particular examples of scientific research. They will be able to apply abstract philosophical reasoning skills to concrete problems arising in the social sciences.
KeywordsNot entered
Course organiserDr Jo Wolff
Tel: (0131 6)50 3649
Course secretaryMs Veronica Vivi
Help & Information
Search DPTs and Courses
Degree Programmes
Browse DPTs
Humanities and Social Science
Science and Engineering
Medicine and Veterinary Medicine
Other Information
Combined Course Timetable
Important Information