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Department of History and Philosophy of Science


This paper is part of the BBS Major Subject History and Philosophy of Science and Medicine

Michaelmas Term
Science and Activism
Helen Anne Curry (4)
Mill Lane Lecture Room 2
Thu 2pm (weeks 1–4)
Ethics and Politics of Science and Medicine
Stephen John (4), Tim Lewens (4)
Arts School Lecture Theatre A
Mon 4pm (weeks 1–8)
Lent Term
Ethics and Politics of Science and Medicine (continued)
Stephen John (4)
Hopkinson Lecture Theatre
Week 4 (14 Feb): Pre-recorded lecture on Moodle
Mon 4pm (weeks 1–4)
Science and Communism
Mary Brazelton (4)
Arts School Lecture Theatre A
Weeks 5 & 6 (21 & 28 Feb): Lectures cancelled
Mon 4pm (weeks 5–8)
Ethics and Politics of Technology
Marta Halina (4)
Week 5 (23 February): Pre-recorded lecture on Moodle
Week 6 (2 March): Cancelled
Week 7 (9 March): Pre-recorded lecture on Moodle
Week 8 (16 March): Hopkinson Lecture Theatre
Wed 12noon (weeks 5–8)

This course provides students with the opportunity to explore core concepts in medical ethics and bio-ethics, ranging from the ethics of reproduction to resource allocation. It also provides an introduction to some of the broader social and political forces which shape the provision of care, and provides tools for thinking about how these forces might influence not only the use but the production of medical knowledge. This course provides students for thinking critically about the challenges medicine raises for society, and the ways in which society structures medicine.


Aims and learning outcomes

  • to acquaint students with debates around the ethical implications of new technologies, and the role of ethical concerns in shaping new technologies;
  • to provide students with an understanding of the ways in which medical and scientific knowledge more generally is, can be and should be shaped by broader social and political concern;
  • to encourage students to place contemporary debates about the ethics and politics of medicine within broader historical and sociological contexts;
  • to facilitate students' critical understanding of developments and uses of medicine.



Science and Activism

Helen Anne Curry (4 lectures, Michaelmas Term)

This course explores the relationship between science and activism through the study of social and political movements that have engaged science, technology and medicine (rhetorically and in practice) as means of achieving social and political change. Drawing on historical examples, we will consider what it means for scientists to declare themselves activists and for activists to declare themselves scientists. We will also use these historical cases as a route to understanding what is at stake in recent mobilizations to defend science and to decolonize it.

Ethics and Politics of Science and Medicine

Stephen John, Tim Lewens (12 lectures, Michaelmas & Lent Terms)

This course considers two important sets of questions. In the first four lectures, we look at some of the central questions of bio-medical ethics, focusing in particular on issues of autonomy and consent in clinical and research settings. In the second group of lectures, we turn to consider the broader political and institutional settings which influence population health, paying particular attention to questions of the allocation of scarce resources, and the proper ends of – and limits to – public health policy.

Science and Communism

Mary Brazelton (4 lectures, Lent Term)

The rise of governments that used the term 'Communist' to describe themselves in the 20th century involved a variety of new understandings and practices of science and technology. During the Cold War, science took on a variety of forms and meanings across the Eastern Bloc and its sphere of influence, from the emergence of Lysenkoist genetics in the Soviet Union to promotions of mass science in the People's Republic of China. These lectures discuss the meanings that Marxist and related political theories attributed to science, as well as science and technology in policy and practice in the Soviet Union, People's Republic of China, Cuba and other Communist-aligned states. Topics covered include the roles of technical expertise and the place of techno-science in global Cold War politics.

Ethics and Politics of Technology

Marta Halina (4 lectures, Lent Term)

In a talk at the University of Cambridge in 2016, Stephen Hawking said, 'The rise of powerful AI will be either the best, or the worst thing, ever to happen to humanity. We do not yet know which.' The increasing power and pervasiveness of artificially intelligent systems raises numerous important philosophical questions: Is technology value neutral? Do artefacts have politics? Is automated decision-making fair? When developing AI, should we aim for transparency over accuracy? This course will cover core topics in the ethics and politics of technology through the lens of questions raised by contemporary advances in AI.


Preliminary reading