This course is discontinued

UV9001 – Philosophy of Science

Schedule, syllabus and examination date

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Course content

The course is intended to
1) Enhance the individual student’s capacity for working with his or her own dissertation, and
2) Provide a broad orientation concerning central issues in the philosophy and ethics of science.

The two objectives are closely connected. Inter alia, a certain orientation in breadth will be important for providing the individual student with the best possible foundation for reflection on and discussion of a philosophy of science approach in his or her own dissertation.
Room is provided for a high degree of flexibility and opportunities for choice with respect to reading material and problematic issues for the documentation (essay). At the same time the course has a core that encompasses central problematic questions in the philosophy of science.

Place of the course in the Doctoral Programme
To enhance the possibility of making use of the content of the course in dissertations, it is recommended that the course should not be taken at the very beginning of the research training, but after the candidate has been working for some time on his or her own project/dissertation. In some cases it may be an advantage to have completed one or two thematically oriented topical courses. It must nevertheless be up to the individual student, in consultation with the supervisor(s), to judge when in the course of one’s training it will be most appropriate or fruitful to take the philosophy of science course.

Learning outcome

Some characteristics of the field of education
The philosophy of science cannot be treated independently of scientific research and activities. The field of education is multifaceted, and it is neither appropriate nor possible to delineate it in an unambiguous manner. Nevertheless there are some characteristics that may be considered sufficiently central to the field that they ought to be reflected in the philosophy of science component of the Doctoral Programme.

A fundamental phenomenon in the science of education is of course education, first and foremost education as a formal, organised activity. We are speaking here of education as one of society’s central institutions, and education as a cultural, social and political phenomenon. Although organised education constitutes a centre of gravity in the science of education, other forms of education and related activities are important fields within educational science. Thus in general pedagogical theory, upbringing, teaching and Bildung are core fields. In special education, relationships between the individual and society that are often given such designations as “disability”, “special needs” etc. are central concerns. In subject didactics, the legitimacy of the subjects in which education is provided, their societal relevance, their organisation of knowledge and significance for the design of teaching and training are important topics of study.

Education presupposes learning and has learning as its objective. In other words this is another core concept within the science of education. A third may be said to be teaching, and in a wider sense communication. Learning and teaching presupposes communication between actors and different types of representations. Societal and technological development creates new forms of representations. The relationship between education, learning and information and communication technology is thereby an important field.

It lies beyond the scope of this outline to probe further into the characteristics of educational science. In conclusion we shall content ourselves with pointing to a dimension of great relevance in the context of philosophy of science: the relationship between theory and practice. In a more delimited sense it is here; inter alia, a matter of the relationship between different types of academic-scientific activity, in particular the relationship between research and the exercise of a profession. Some philosophers of science will draw a distinction here between what are called science-internal and science-external processes. It is in our view important in any schooling in philosophy of science at doctoral level within the science of education to treat both internal and external processes – and the presumed connections between them.

Content of the course
The course is divided into a common part and a topical specialisation of choice. The common component is intended to constitute roughly half of the total work effort.

a) Common compulsory part

The common component is organised thematically, not in “isms”. The proposed themes are important in the philosophy of science and in epistemology and different –isms may be invoked to shed light on them. Such a structure facilitates both a problem-oriented approach and the relating of material to one’s own projects, methodological deliberations etc.

This part contains the following main themes:

• Representation (knowledge, theories, models)
• Observation, interpretation, language
• Justification

b) Topical specialisation of choice

There are currently two options:
1) Selected topics from the philosophy of social science (e.g. actors, observers, actions, systems), with Professor Tone Kvernbekk
2) Ontological and epistemological perspectives in socio-cultural learning theory, with Professor Leif Lahn


Target groups for training.
The course will be compulsory for those taking the PhD programme in the Faculty of Education. (Concerning possibilities for exemption reference is made to current regulations.) In content and forms of work the training will take account of the participants’ academic backgrounds and – in particular – their dissertation work.

PhD candidates on our own doctoral programme are given priority in admission to the doctoral courses, but the courses are normally also open to applicants from other institutions.

PhD candidates from the University of Oslo should apply through Studentweb

Others my apply using this application form (Norwegian), application form (English).

Registration deadline: January 10, 2017.


Formal prerequisite knowledge

PhD candidates at the Faculty of Educational Sciences will be given priority, but it is also possible for other PhD candidates to apply.


The basic structure of the course is as follows: There are three meetings; between the meetings the participants work in smaller groups in addition to their individual work. The opportunity should also be provided to use other forms of organisation where this is appropriate and the course-work and documentation requirements are satisfied.

The course comprises roughly 20 hours of organised teaching in the form of lectures and seminars. In addition, the smaller topical groups provide space for presentations and discussions.

The problematic issues of the philosophy of science require time for in-depth study, reflection and discussion. The course should therefore extend over a certain period of time. In the description below it is suggested that the course should be organised over a period of roughly three months, in the following way.

Time and Activity, spring semester 2014: Look at the course menu.

In General:
First meeting. The course starts with joint lectures (2 days). Establishment of smaller working groups.

If nothing else is informed, each participant produces a memorandum (draft) (4-5 pp) in reasonable time before the second meeting. This is to be distributed to the members of the group on email.

Second meeting: Topical lectures, and group discussions of the drafts (each participant comments on another participant’s draft). 2 days.

There will come more information about when the first version of the full philosophy of science paper (10-12 pp) to be produced and distributed to the group. Prepare comment on assigned draft.

Third meeting. Topical lectures, discussions and presentation of essays. 2 days.

The deadline for submission of paper is 20 Desember . Extensions are granted if judged legitimate and are applied for to the Faculty secretary Anne Evandt. All papers should be submitted by email to Anne Evandt (, Tone Kvernbekk ( and Leif Lahn ( – please note: submit paper to all 3!


Documentation and assessment

A system is being introduced with 1) work requirements, which must be satisfied during the period of the course, and 2) documentation with formal assessment.

Work requirement. It is proposed that the participants produce a brief memorandum (draft of 4-5 pp) during the first half of the course. This draft is to get a head start on the full paper. It is to be presented orally during the 2nd meeting, and each of the participants will in addition be given the task of commenting on a draft. This work will provide functional training in central research tasks. The theme may be linked to the participants’ own dissertations and/or it may build on central problematic questions in the common component of the course. A revision of the draft is discussed during the 3rd meeting.

1) Documentation with formal evaluation: The participants produce a philosophy of science paper. This may well be designed with a view to its inclusion in the student’s own dissertation, but need not be so.
In the work on this paper supervision is provided by the academic staff (see below).

The paper is assessed in terms of Pass/Fail. If it is failed, an opportunity is provided to revise the paper and resubmit it. Before revising, the candidate shall be given feedback concerning the evaluation of the paper.

Philosophy of science paper – genre description

It is a requirement that the participants in the course write an essay that is related to one or more of the problematic issues in philosophy of science. An essay or paper is in itself a loose genre, so we wish to describe some genre requirements that will be emphasised in the evaluation of submitted papers.
The paper shall have a holistic problematic issue (or, as the case may be, several problematic questions that are closely connected), and there must be coherent discussion of the problematic issue(s) dealt with. The question(s) should be of such a kind that there is a need for its/their clarification. The issue(s) may well be linked to the doctoral student’s own project. The author should demonstrate awareness of counter-arguments against his or her own positions and conclusions. Analytical discussion and academic argumentation are a requirement. A loose combination of arguments is not acceptable. The choice of theme is subject to the approval of one of the topical specialisation teachers. Examples of papers that have passed are the following:
• Equating of knowledge forms? A discussion of the status of forms of knowledge as a contribution to the development of learning provision in the case of chronic illness
• Radical constructivism
• Cognitive and situated perspectives on learning in the light of epistemological and ontological perspectives
• The significance of pre-understanding
• The computer as a metaphor for cognition. Explanatory model or investigative tool?
• The discourse analytical method of CA – positivism or social constructivism?
• Three positions on the past: history from observed phenomenon to constructed self-understanding or chosen interpretation of reality
• Consequences of theory-ladenness. The significance of theories for observation
• Didactic theory construction about outdoor schools – a hermeneutical project
• A critical discussion of the meeting of preschool and school traditions in classroom research
• Pragmatic epistemology and different conceptions of democracy.
• A look at the realism-antirealism debate in the methodological theory of neo-pragmatism and discourse analysis

The problematic issue(s) should be sufficiently delimited to allow treatment within the confines of a philosophy of science essay. The paper may consist of a purely philosophical discussion, but it may also take up substantial academic issues and methodological problems as long as the discussion of these is set in a philosophy of science perspective. Literature from the course syllabus or other relevant literature should be used where appropriate.
A paper should be 10-12 pages (1.5 line spacing, 12 point Times Roman). Submitted papers are assessed by two examiners who provide feedback to the author. The paper must be judged good enough if it is to pass.

Examination support material

During the work on the memorandum (the work requirement) the participants shall work together in smaller groups and in this way provide one another with a form of colleague supervision.

During the production of the documentation (the paper) that provides the basis for the formal evaluation, there is provision for supervision by academic staff.


A list has been produced specifying the syllabus for the common component of the course, and suggestions for in-depth study within the obligatory themes. The participants are both encouraged and expected to find relevant literature themselves.

I Syllabus literature for the common component

The reading list has been arranged thematically, according to the three main themes into which the common component is organised:

• Representation (knowledge, theories, models)
• Observation, interpretation, language
• Justification

The reading list is in alphabetical order. The literature is made available in the UVVIT9000 Course Reader, which can be bought in Akademika. It should be noted that not all listed literature is reproduced in the Course Reader (e.g. Ricoeur). Furthermore, not all listed literature may be used during the course.

Dancy, J. (1994): Chap. 2 Knowledge, Chap. 4 Foundationalism, in Dancy
Introduction to contemporary epistemology. Oxford: Blackwell
Respectively 13 and 12 pages

Dewey, J. (1990): Ideas at work, in Dewey The quest for certainty. Carbondale:
Southern Illinois UP
24 pages

Gadamer, H.-G. (2003). Forståelsens filosofi. Utvalgte hermeneutiske skrifter. Oslo:
Cappelen. Chaps. 4-6 and Epilogue.
74 pages

Giere, R. N. (1979, 3rd ed): Theoretical hypotheses, in Giere Understanding
scientific reasoning. Fort Worth: Holt, Rinehart & Winston
37 pages

Glasersfeld, E. von (1984): An introduction to radical constructivism. I P.
Watzlawick (red), The invented reality. New York: W.W. Norton
21 pages

Hacking, I. (1993): Evidence, in Hacking The emergence of probability.
Cambridge: Cambridge UP
7 pages

Hacking, I. (1995): What is scientific realism? and Reals and representations, in
Hacking Representing and intervening, Cambridge: Cambridge UP
respectively 10 and 18 pages

Hanson, N. R. (1958): Chap. 1 Observation, in Hanson Patterns of discovery.
Cambridge: Cambridge UP
26 pages

Hempel, C.G. (1966): Chap. 2 Scientific inquiry: invention and test, in Hempel Philosophy of
Natural Science. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall

Kvernbekk, T. (2011): The concept of evidence in evidence-based practice. Educational
Theory, 61, 5, 515-532 (download from the web)

Philips, M. (2008): Chap. 8 Deciding what to believe, in Philips The undercover philosopher:
A guide to detecting shams, lies and deceptions. Oxford: Oneworld

Popper, K. R. (1992): Chap. 5 The problem of the empirical basis, in Popper The
logic of scientific discovery. London: Routledge
18 pages

Ricoeur, P. (1998): Part 2 (Chaps. 4, 5, 6 and 7) Studies in the theory of
interpretation, and Chap. 8 The model of the text, in Ricoeur
Hermeneutics and the human sciences. Cambridge: Cambridge UP
90 pages

Suppe, F. (1989): Chap. 2.III The received view vs the semantic conception and
Chap.3.I Theories, in Suppe The semantic conception of theories and scientific realism. Urbana: University of Illinois Press
Respectively 9 and 4 pages

Woolgar, S. (1993): Chap. 2 Representation and the methodological horrors and
Chap. 5 Arguing science: discourse and explanation, in Woolgar Science:
the very idea. London: Routledge
Respectively 8 and 14 pages

Where read more about these topics?

First and foremost in the books from which the extracts have been taken.
Otherwise the following amplificatory literature is suggested:

Gadamer, H.-G. (1994): Truth and method. New York: Continuum Publishing

Here it is in particular Part II “The extension of the question of truth to
understanding in the human sciences” that is relevant.

Harré, R. & Krausz, M. (1996): Varieties of relativism. Oxford: Blackwell

Discusses relativism in relation to meaning, knowledge, truth, morals

James, W. (1991): Pragmatism. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus

Kirkham, R. L. (1997): Theories of truth. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press

Provides an overview of correspondence theory, coherence theory and pragmatic truth theory. Complements and problematises James

Kjørup, S. (1996). Menneskevidenskaberne: problemer og traditioner i humanioras
vidensskabsteori . Fredriksberg: Roskilde Universitetsforlag

Lakatos, I. & Musgrave, A. (1989) (red): Criticism and the growth of
knowledge. Cambridge: Cambridge UP

The whole book is a discussion of the concept of paradigm, with a response from Kuhn

Laudan, L. (1990): Science and relativism. Some key controversies in the
philosophy of science. Chicago: University of Chicago Press

Discusses inter alia theory-ladenness (on Hanson), under-determination and holism (on Quine), incommensurability (on Kuhn)

Newton-Smith, W. H. (1981): The rationality of science. London: Routledge

Commentary book – chapters on observation and truth, on Popper,
Kuhn and Bloor (as a representative of “the strong programme”)

Putnam, H. (1992): Representation and reality. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press

Critical writing on meaning, reference, truth and functionalism

Scheffler, I. (1985): Science and subjectivity. Indianapolis: Hackett

Deals with the problem of objectivity in science. To be recommended

Suppe, F. (1977): The structure of scientific theories. Urbana: University of
Illinois Press
Parts I – V, pp. 3-233

This work deals with logical positivism’s conception of theory, and the general (opinion of the weaknesses of this view of theory) criticisms of this conception. In addition there is a good critical discussion of the central theorists within the Weltanschauung approaches, including Thomas Kuhn and Norwood Hanson, as well as a general critique of such approaches.

Taylor, C. (1990): Philosophy and the human sciences. Philosophical papers 2.
Cambridge: Cambridge UP

Part I Philosophy and social sciences will be relevant. It contains inter alia the article “Interpretation and the sciences of man”

Syllabi for the topical specialisations vary and will therefore be presented by the course teachers

Language of examination

English or Norwegian. If you want to use other languages, you need to apply to the Faculty of Educational Sciences.

Grading scale

Grades are awarded on a pass/fail scale. Read more about the grading system.

Facts about this course






This course is substituted with the course UV9002 (5 credits).

Teaching language

The course is offered every spring semester and is taught in English every other spring semester. The course is taught in Norwegian spring 2018.

In addition, the course is offered in the autumn semester every other year and is taught in English. The next time the course is offered in the autumn semester, is in 2019.