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Department of History and Philosophy of Science


The Postgraduate Seminars offer a sustained and systematic introduction to specific cutting-edge areas of research, led by leading experts in those areas.


Aims and Methods of Histories of the Sciences

Michaelmas Term 2023: Thu 12noon, weeks 1–4 (4 one-hour seminars) in Seminar Room 2
Nick Jardine (leader)

These seminars will consider aspects of the history, aims, methods and current problems of the history of science. The opening session will give an overview of the formation of history of science as a discipline and of the range of recent approaches. Subsequent sessions will discuss uses of histories of the sciences by scientists, the pioneering work of Hélène Metzger on the purposes of history of science, and the relations between history and philosophy of science.

5 October

Nick Jardine: Formation and transformations of history of science
This opening session will sketch the ways in which history of science became established as a discipline. There will then be an overview of some of the main approaches that have dominated the field over the past century: positivist narratives of scientific progress, social histories of the sciences, cultural histories, and global histories.  

12 October

Jeff Skopek and Nick Jardine: Scientists' uses of history
This session will consider the ways in which scientists have used the histories of their sciences for purposes of teaching, promotion of their disciplines, and defence of their views.

19 October

Cristina Chimisso and Nick Jardine: Hélène Metzger on the methods and aims of history of science
Can the historian understand past texts just as readers who lived at the time when the texts were written did? Should this be the historian's aim? Is history of science relevant to current philosophy and science? These are some of the questions that the historian of chemistry Hélène Metzger (Chatou, France, 1889 – Auschwitz, 1944) aimed to answer. This session will discuss her innovative historiography of science.

26 October

Hasok Chang and Nick Jardine: Philosophers' uses of history of science
This session will consider ways in which philosophers of science can profit from close study of historical episodes and developments in the sciences.

 Aims and Methods of Histories of the Sciences on Moodle


Jokes in the Sciences

Lent Term 2024: Fri 2pm, weeks 1–8 (8 one-hour seminars) in Seminar Room 2
Edwin Rose, Mika Hyman and Nick Jardine (leaders)

Seriousness is a word we tend to connect with the sciences. But over the ages many have interpreted playfulness as crucial for scientific advancement, while still more have viewed scientists and their activities as humorous. These sessions explore humour in the history and philosophy of science from the sixteenth century to the present, covering a broad range of physical and life sciences ranging from astronomy, natural philosophy and natural history in the early modern period through to early twentieth century geophysics. Understanding humour and 'jokes' in the sciences gives a new perspective on knowledge production in its social context, casting light on a whole range of motivations, interests and influences.

 Jokes in the Sciences on Moodle


Ideologies of Science

Lent Term 2024: Thu 12noon, from week 6 (4 one-hour seminars) in Seminar Room 1
Nick Jardine (leader), with Anna Alexandrova, Stephen John, Sam Phoenix Clarke, Peter Rees

These seminars will explore rival conceptions of the nature of science and of its social and political roles. Ideological conflicts to be considered include: Philip Kitcher and his critics on science, feminism and democracy; the Society for Freedom in Science vs socialist visions of the functions of science; radical agnostic John Stuart Mill vs conservative Anglican William Whewell on the methods of natural science and its proper place in education; liberal Ernst Mach vs conservative Catholic Pierre Duhem on the history and prospects of the sciences; and the 'two cultures' controversy sparked off by C.P. Snow, champion of science education, and F.R. Leavis, champion of literary education.

22 February

Nick Jardine
Science, Policy and Education: Whewell vs Mill; Mach vs Duhem

Following some remarks on the various senses in which histories, philosophies and sociologies of science may be considered as ideological, the seminar will discuss the rival views of  'founding fathers' of HPS concerning the nature of science and its proper roles in social improvement and education:

  • The empiricist philosophy of science of John Stuart Mill (1806–1873), liberal individualist, protagonist of utilitarian ethics, promoter of women's rights, educational and social reformer
    The idealist history and philosophy of science of William Whewell (1794–1866), Tory pillar of the Anglican establishment and fierce opponent of such radicals as Mill.
  • The critical empiricism of the Austrian social-democrat Ernst Mach (1838–1916)
    The conventionalism of the French Catholic, nationalist and conservative Pierre Duhem (1861–1916)

29 February

Nick Jardine
The Two Cultures: Huxley vs. Arnold and Snow vs. Leavis

We shall look at two debates about the roles of science and the humanities in our culture, both focussed on educational policy. In the first, 'Darwin's bulldog', T.H. Huxley, and the Schools Inspector and Professor of Poetry at Oxford, Matthew Arnold, politely disagree over the extents to which classical and scientific education are conducive to 'a critical and discerning approach to life'. In the second, the scientific administrator and novelist C.P. Snow and the literary critic F.R. Leavis clash intemperately over the cultural status of literary intellectuals ('effete' and 'reactionary' according to Snow) and scientists ('robustly heterosexual' and 'with the future in their bones', again according to Snow).

7 March

Sam Phoenix Clarke and Peter Rees
Freedom and Planning in Science

Mid-twentieth century Britain saw heated confrontation between advocates of governmental control and planning of science and defendants of the freedom and autonomy of the sciences. This seminar will consider the advocacy of planning by the socialists of the Visible College and the defence of autonomy by the Society for Freedom in Science.

14 March

Anna Alexandrova and Stephen John
Science, Democracy and Feminism in Contemporary Analytic Philosophy of Science

In the last twenty years, there has been a resurgence of interest within analytical philosophy in the intersections within politics and science. In this session, we trace two important lines of concern. First, Philip Kitcher's Science, Truth and Democracy, which introduced the influential concept of 'well-ordered science', prompted a reappraisal of the ways in which scientific research should be under social control. Second, insights from feminist epistemology and philosophy have increasingly been used to rethink the ways in which science is gendered. Both of these trends intersect with a third, sprawling literature questioning the (allegedly) once mighty 'value-free ideal' for science. In discussion, we will consider how well Kitcher's proposals stand up in light of the fragility of liberal democracy, and discuss the bold claim put forward by Elizabeth Anderson that scientific research guided by feminist principles may be not just politically but scientifically responsible.

 Ideologies of Science on Moodle


Images of Science

Easter Term 2024: Fri 12noon, weeks 1–4 (4 one-hour seminars) in Seminar Room 2
Sachiko Kusukawa and Dániel Margócsy (leaders)

These seminars will focus on the role of images in the history of science. Images have been central to observational practices, fieldwork, professional identities and scientific arguments. They contribute to our historical understanding of the sciences within visual culture, material culture, collecting and making, and the history of the book. In each session, we will read and discuss together some particularly important secondary sources that discuss both early modern and modern histories of science.

More about Images of Science