A Sharp Eye on Science: A Philosophical Investigation

A Philosophical investigation into the nature of science


Course outline

In our present age scientific inquiry is prized very highly. But its findings and practices are often controversial, and sometimes for political, moral, or religious reasons. So philosophical questions about science are very topical and relevant. These include: “What is science?”, “What are its methods?”, “How does science differ from pseudoscience?”, and “How can scientists justify their claims to knowledge?”.

This course aims to introduce philosophical debates about the nature of science through lively interactive discussion.

Session 1: Philosophy and Science

What questions about science might philosophy help us to answer, and why are they important? Our first session will attempt to clear the ground for further discussion of these issues; in particular, by looking at why we might not wish to just ‘leave science alone’ without examining it philosophically

Session 2: Defining Science

Often those inquiries called ‘scientific’ are revered as objective, reliable, and rigorous. And yet established scientific orthodoxies are often cast aside in favour of new theories corroborated by innovative hypotheses. How, then, can we defensibly distinguish scientific methods and traditions from mere pseudo-science, or magic, while remaining open to radical revision of our current understanding of the natural world?

Session 3: The Theories of Science

Scientific knowledge takes its shape progressively, through a series of hypotheses and experiments by which new ideas are corroborated and others refuted. How, if at all, is the scientific method to be characterised or defined? We will consider and compare a ‘falsificationist’ account (which takes falsifiability to be the central defining feature of a scientific theory) with accounts on which the role played by an inherited intellectual framework against which a scientific inquiry is pursued is pivotal.

Session 4: Science and Our Picture of the World

The fundamental sciences, prima facie, make claims about what kinds of entities exist. But many of the ‘entities’ that are postulated — like quarks and mesons — are not observable in a way amenable to normal scientific investigation. And scientific theories often seem to be accepted to an extent not entirely justified by available data. We will discuss the consequent debate between ‘scientific realists’, who take the postulates of the sciences to have real objective existence, and ‘anti-realists’, who do not.

Session 5: Ethical and Institutional Critiques of Science

Science, its methods, and its practice are frequently extolled as bringing about enlightenment and the advancement of society. Yet the deliverances of science and technology are sometimes regarded with considerable suspicion. Radical political critiques of the institutional context in which many scientific practices take place and the power relations

Learning outcomes

On completion of this course participants will be able to:

  • Identify the key philosophical questions about science and some standard answers to them
  • Evaluate competing theories of scientific method and apply these to some real-life scientific (or allegedly scientific) practices
  • Understand the role of philosophy in helping to deal with questions relating to vital dimensions of human intellectual and social life
  • Assess ethical objections to some scientific practices and the place of science in modern institutional and political life.

Who should attend?

Anyone with a personal or professional interest in any science, those interested in philosophy, or intellectual history.


  • 5 x sessions, Tuesday 9 October - 6 November, 6:30 - 8:30 pm
  • $150.00 incl. GST
  • The University of Auckland, City Campus
  • Presented by Thomas Harvey

Seminar presenter

Thomas Harvey

Thomas Harvey

BA PGDipArts MA PhD Auck

Thomas Harvey recently completed his PhD in Philosophy in the School of Humanities at The University of Auckland. He has been a Graduate Teaching Assistant for a range of courses at the University through his time as a graduate student. He has research interests in Philosophy of Religion, Metaphysics, Philosophy of Science and the History of Philosophy, and is currently working on a book on the Argument from Evil against the existence of God.

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