Objectivity and Truth

Undergraduate Program Status

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Students on-site
Academic Year: 
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Course Description: 

The course aims at an introduction to philosophical discussions about objectivity and truth in scientific knowledge production, with a focus on social sciences and humanities. We will discuss issues such as what objectivity is, how objectivity relates to truth, and how society, politics and sciences can and should connect in relation to objectivity and truth. We will also study how different conceptions of objectivity evolved historically, how specific forms of objectivity relate to biases, values, evidence and assumptions, and whether forms of objectivity can be established procedurally, e.g. through certain methods, social diversity, or quantification.


After an introductory lecture in the first week, meetings will normally start with a short input from the lecturer and then continue with input from students (short presentations in the form of critical reaction papers), and a structured discussion. Mandatory readings will be specified for each week, but in case we need more than one week to discuss a specific contribution, we will take advantage of the built-in flexibility of the course. This way, students are actively involved in the decisions about the later parts of the course.

Class attendance is mandatory. Mandatory readings will be rather short, but in-depth contributions to the debates around objectivity (rather than introductory material). Students need not read a lot, but they need to read and analyze the mandatory material very carefully, exercising the analytic and critical skills that they trained in previous years of their BA program. As part of this, students will have to react in writing to the mandatory readings and to start working on their term papers early in the course. It is the responsibility of the student to determine the topic of their term paper, but the course will guide students through the necessary steps of developing a term paper. The course will end with triadic feedback group work, a peer-to-peer interaction technique for developing written work, in this case students’ term paper drafts.

Learning Outcomes: 

Students will be able to develop their own critical argumentation skills regarding objectivity and truth and will be encouraged to apply these skills to a concrete context from their own chosen specialization (e.g. regarding public policy, science advocacy, science journalism, science regulation, the economy of sciences, etc.).

  • The final grade is based on the final term paper.
  • Excellent presentation and class participation can contribute up to plus one grade (e.g. from A- to A) to the final grade.
  • Presentations should include a brief summary of the main points of a reading, and some critical engagement that can be and should be reused in the final term paper. More specific guidelines will be shared at the beginning of the course.
  • The final term paper should give evidence that the student is familiar with the relevant literature, able to exercise the relevant critical thinking abilities, and able to apply philosophical knowledge in context. Format and more specific requirements for the term paper will be specified in detail as part of a respective handout at the beginning of the course.


Participation in the Philosophy of Science Core Topics Course, or similar background.