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Department of History and Philosophy of Science


Minor Subject 107 in Part II Biological and Biomedical Sciences (BBS)

Part II students' guide: BBS options

Paper manager: Stephen John

Lectures are held in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science.

Michaelmas Term
Ethics and Politics of Science and Medicine
Stephen John (4), Michael Diamond-Hunter (4)
Mon 4pm (weeks 1–8)
Philosophy of the Biomedical Sciences: Concepts and Evidence
Tom McClelland (4), Michael Diamond-Hunter (4)
Tue 4pm (weeks 1–8)
Lent Term
Ethics and Politics of Science and Medicine (continued)
Stephen John (4)
Mon 4pm (weeks 1–4)
Philosophy of Psychiatry
Matt Farr (4)
Tue 4pm (weeks 1–4)

Do we have a human right to health? What is it to be healthy anyway, and can good health be measured? How can we know that smoking causes lung cancer, rather than that they are merely correlated? Is it ethical to experiment on humans to gain that knowledge? Is the foetus a person, and does this affect the morality of abortion? How should we decide between funding basic science and applied studies? Medical practice raises significant philosophical, ethical and political questions. This course studies these questions and shows how different answers may influence practice.


Aims and learning outcomes

  • to introduce students to core issues in the ethics of medical practice and the politics of health policy;
  • to provide students with conceptual tools for understanding the ethics and politics of medicine more generally;
  • to introduce students to core debates over the epistemology and metaphysics of biomedical and health-related research and practice;
  • to provide students with resources for thinking through emerging paradigms in medical research;
  • to help students to understand how 'ethical' and 'scientific' concerns inter-relate in core areas of medical research, such as the measurement of health or the value-ladenness of inference;
  • to enable students to take on roles as engaged citizens and practitioners.



Ethics and Politics of Science and Medicine

Stephen John, Michael Diamond-Hunter (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.

Philosophy of the Biomedical Sciences: Concepts and Evidence

Tom McClelland, Michael Diamond-Hunter (8 lectures, Michaelmas Term)

Medicine is among our most important institutions. Though its aim is practical, medicine is shot through with conceptual commitments and theoretical assumptions, its basic tools rely on causal hypotheses supported to varying degrees by inductive inferences, and medical research is developed in a complex political and economic nexus. Thus medicine is a prime subject for philosophical analysis. This eight-week sequence of lectures will examine conceptual, normative, epistemological, methodological, metaphysical and political questions underlying medicine and medical science.

Philosophy of Psychiatry

Matt Farr (4 lectures, Lent Term)

Philosophy of psychiatry stands at the intersection of philosophy of medicine, philosophy of psychology/cognitive science, and philosophy of mind. This course considers various topics within philosophy of psychiatry, focusing on how the study of psychopathology interacts with the study of mind and brain. We will consider several key questions, including: What are mental disorders? Are they disorders of mind, brain or society? How are conceptualizations of mental disorder influenced by culture? How are they influenced by developments in neuroscience? Is there such a thing as a 'normal' mind? What can psychopathology tell us about 'normal' mental functioning?


Preliminary reading


Resources for Philosophy and Ethics of Medicine on Moodle