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Department of History and Philosophy of Science


The Part IB course in History and Philosophy of Science offers a wide-ranging overview of the nature of science and its place in society. The course explores the historical, philosophical and social dimensions of the sciences, the ways in which the sciences are shaped by other aspects of social and economic life, and the role of scientists in public debate.

Examples are drawn from many different disciplines, over a period extending from the Renaissance to the present day: from early astronomy, alchemy and natural philosophy, to the atomic bomb and the discovery of DNA. We examine questions about how theories are tested and change, and about the nature of causation, laws and scientific explanation. The course also considers whether science provides an increasingly accurate account of a largely unobservable world.

No previous experience in history or philosophy is expected; the lectures and basic reading provide the necessary background.

In addition to encouraging a broad perspective on the sciences, the course develops skills of writing, reading and critical thinking. These skills are essential if you are to make effective use of your other Tripos options.

HPS Part IB is also available as an option for students taking Part IIA of the Human, Social and Political Sciences Tripos (HSPS) or Part IB of the Psychological and Behavioural Sciences Tripos (PBS). These students choose only one paper: History of Science (shown on CamSIS as HPS1) or Philosophy of Science (HPS2). Natural Sciences Tripos students take both papers.

When I heard about HPS IB I knew that it had the potential to satisfy my interest in 'the big questions'. It has certainly delivered.