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BBS options

Medicine is constantly in the headlines. The news raises deep issues about how medicine should be practised and challenging questions about how we got where we are today. Medical ethics and history of medicine are the academic disciplines that address these issues and answer these questions.

The Department of History and Philosophy of Science offers a choice of three courses on the history, philosophy and ethics of medicine as minor subjects within Biological and Biomedical Sciences (BBS) Part II:

  • Subject 107: Philosophy and Ethics of Medicine
    • Course organiser: Stephen John
  • Subject 113: Early Medicine
    (also offered as an optional paper in Part II of the History Tripos)
    • Course organisers: Lauren Kassell and Emma Spary
  • Subject 114: Modern Medicine and Biomedical Sciences
    (also offered as optional paper in Part IIB of the Psychological and Behavioural Sciences Tripos)
    • Course organiser: Nick Hopwood


Each course comprises 24–26 lectures. Full details of the lectures are given on the timetable.

Philosophy and Ethics of Medicine timetable

Early Medicine timetable

Modern Medicine and Biomedical Sciences timetable


We recommend that you seek 4–6 supervisions on your course. Names of recommended supervisors will be given out by the lecturers.

Most students taking these courses will not have written discursive, humanities-style essays for some time. Do not be nervous – the supervisors will help you master this skill – but do seek the recommended number of supervisions.

Recommended readings

Reading lists for specific elements of each course will be made available on Moodle. Lecture handouts and slides will also be put on Moodle, as will scans of some book chapters and journal articles. All students registered to take one of these courses will become members of the relevant Moodle site.

Introductory readings for each course are listed on the timetable.


The Whipple Library – the HPS departmental library – has an excellent collection of literature in both medical ethics and the history of medicine. You will need to use it regularly. College libraries should have some of the introductory texts. Please recommend that they acquire the others and as many of the other key readings as they can afford.

For students taking Philosophy and Ethics of Medicine there are also good collections of medical ethics materials at the Squire Law Library and the Casimir Lewy Library (Philosophy).


Students may choose to write their BBS dissertation in an HPS option. Because of limited availability of supervisors, we will restrict the number of students who can write a dissertation to six per course. If you think you might want to write a dissertation, you should discuss this with the appropriate course organiser at the earliest opportunity – right at the beginning of Michaelmas Term.

BBS dissertations

Dissertation seminars will be held in Lent Term. Students who have chosen to write their BBS dissertation on an HPS subject will be asked to give a 5 minute presentation on the topic of their dissertation, after which there will be a discussion.


The University, and this department, take plagiarism very seriously. Please read our advice about what plagiarism is and how to avoid it.

Plagiarism guidelines


Each course will be assessed by means of a single three-hour examination.

You will need to answer four questions in total. All questions carry equal marks.

The HPS Department

Students taking these options should feel at home in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science. Feel free to use the Department's coffee room. You are welcome to attend any HPS Part IB or Part II lectures that are of interest to you, not just the lectures that are part of your course. You may also attend the Part II primary source seminars even though you will not be submitting primary source essays.

HPS Part II timetable


There are three main routes for students to give feedback on their course. First, a student representative will be appointed, who will sit on the HPS Department's monitoring committee. Second, feedback questionnaires will be distributed in Lent Term. Finally, you can discuss any specific issues with the course organiser.

Student representation

Further information

For general information about the course, including assessment and course structure, contact the appropriate course organiser.

Students will be added to an email list to receive email notices specific to their course. You may also want to join HPS Discussion to receive more general information and notices about the Department.