Science and Society: Advanced issues on classification and social construction

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

Science and society are connected. Which influences (should) exist is contested, be it as part of history and philosophy of science, science and technology studies, or science policy. This course addresses advanced issues about how sciences and societies relate. Each year in which the course will be offered, a new topical focus will be set. After a short recap of basics in history, sociology, and philosophy of science as well as science policy, we will focus on one specific issue, and then broaden our horizon again by applying what we learned to concrete problems or cases, depending on research interests of students.

In the academic year 2022/23, the focus will be on issues surrounding classification and the notion of social construction. We will discuss the different ways of how science and society contribute to the social construction of what philosophers call “kinds”, and what follows from that ontologically and epistemologically. We will start with a recent philosophical monograph in the field – to have a secure and in-depth common background for the course. Students will also have to write a book review on the monograph, thereby having the opportunity to practice a crucial academic skill. We will then select together a set of special issues, cases, and shorter readings to be discussed. That way the research interests of students (including the questions that arise for students in their own research regarding social construction and classification) can be integrated. The focus in the course will be on the social construction of human kinds (groups of humans), but that does not exclude that other examples of kinds (e.g. chemical kinds) can serve heuristic purposes (e.g., for illustrating the specificity of constructing human kinds).  

The monograph we will read in the academic year 2022/23 is M. Godman's The Epistemology and Morality of Human Kinds, Routledge 2021.

The author will join us on Jan 25.

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 combined grade for the book review and the presentation (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.

General rules about participation are attached here.


Some background in philosophy of science