Science and Society: Advanced issues

Course Level: 
Course Open to: 
Students on-site
Remote students
Academic Year: 
US Credits: 
ECTS Credits: 
Course Description: 

Science matters: science influences societies, and vice versa. Which influences exist and whether they should be as they are is contested in many ways as part of history and philosophy of science (HPS), science and technology studies (STS), as well as science policy. This course will address advanced issues about how science and societies connect. After a short recap of basics in history, sociology and philosophy of science and technology and science policy, we will focus on one specific issue related to science and society, and then broaden our horizon again by applying what we learned to concrete issues or cases, depending on research interests of students. Each academic year, in which the course will be offered, a new topical focus will be set.  

In the academic year 2020/21 the focus will be on values in sciences. We will discuss different ways of how science can be value-laden. To do so, we will discuss in depth the philosophical implications regarding different choices that scientists make before, during, or after research, e.g. the choice of the topic, the choice of the methods, the choice of the samples, the response to uncertainty and errors, the language employed to study and to interpret the results, etc. We will also discuss how to philosophically distinguish between appropriate and non-appropriate influences of values, and what value-ladenness means for scientific practice in terms of the difference between natural sciences and social sciences and with respect to objectivity. We will also ask how science should be organized with respect to its diversity and its autonomy given that values play multiple roles in scientific knowledge production. Since these are normative questions, the discussion style will mainly be philosophical, i.e. argumentative, despite the interdisciplinary orientation of the course.  

In terms of readings, we will start with a contemporary philosophy book that reviews the state of the art in the field. We will then study some classic and influential contemporary accounts in detail. To live up to the interdisciplinarity of the course, we will include readings from history of science, science policy and STS. From the start, we will gradually integrate more and more of the research interests of students and thus also deal with the questions that arise for students in their own PhD research regarding science and values.  


Part I:

  • 1 and 2) Introduction (Readings and discussions from introductory book on: Choice of Topic, Methods, and Aims of Research; Uncertainty and Language used) 
  • 3) Research and Book Review Workshop: How to search for more material and how to apply the philosophical issues to your field and your research interest; How to write a book review.  

Part II:

  • 4) Classic Readings 1 
  • 5) Classic Readings 2 
  • 6) Classic Readings 3
  • 7) Contemporary Influential Readings 1 
  • 8) Contemporary Influential Readings 2 
  • 9) Contemporary Influential Readings 3

Part III:

  • 10) First Presentation of Research Ideas  
  • 11) Fishbowl Discussion: Bring a Problem!  
  • 12) Triadic Feedback Groups of Term Paper Drafts


We will start with Elliott, Kevin C. 2017. A Tapestry of Values: An Introduction to Values in Science. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press.  

Further readings will depend on interests of students and will be decided in wk 4, to work towards the research interests of students.   

All readings, except chapters 2-8 from Elliott 2017, will be made available on the e-learning platform of the course.  

Learning Outcomes: 

Students will learn how to ask philosophical questions at an advanced level about a crucial topic for anyone engaged in contemporary natural and social sciences or politics (incl. science policy and public policy). They will learn and practice how to find further material on their research focus and how to write a book review. As part of that they will also learn that some problems are interdisciplinary and how to deal with such a situation. 


The final grade is based on 

  • the book review (30%),  

  • the presentations (20%), 

  • the final term paper (50%).  

Excellent class participation can contribute up to plus one grade to the final grade (e.g. from B to B+ etc).  

Reaction papers should include a brief summary of the main points of a reading, and some research engagement. More specific guidelines for class activities and for the term papers will be made explicit during the course. The assessment criteria will be integrated in the structured discussions in the last two weeks of the course to facilitate reflective engagement with these criteria.   


Some background in philosophy of science. 

File attachments: