Philosophy of Science WEA Sydney

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The birth of Western Philosophy and the ‘scientific’ study of Nature begin together in the Pre-Socratic Greek world. In this course we will take a philosophical trip from the beginnings of Western science, through the Renaissance and Modern philosophy to the present. We will uncover the principles behind the discoveries of figures such as Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Carl Popper, and many contemporary philosophers of science. The interrelation between science and society will be woven together throughout the course.


  • Face-to-Face / Online


  • Introduction to the Philosophy of Science - We will begin the course with a general introduction to the theory of Philosophy of Science as a discipline. A core tenant of the course is that the prevailing science of a culture affects their broader set of ideologies, political theories and social arrangements.
  • Ancient Greece - The ancient Greeks were the first mathematicians and scientists of the West. Thinkers such as, Anaximander, Pythagoras, Empedocles and Democritus attempted to make sense of the world by studying the evidence they found in it. Leucippus and Democritus proposed a fundamental Atomism (from Greek ἄτομον, atomon,) of indivisible particles composing all matter.
  • Aristotle's theory of Reality - Aristotle insisted that scientific knowledge (Ancient Greek: ἐπιστήμη, Latin: scientia) is knowledge of necessary causes. He and his followers would not accept mere description or prediction as science. Most characteristic of Aristotle's causes is his final cause, the purpose for which a thing is made. He came to this insight through his biological researches, such as those of marine animals at Lesbos.
  • Nicolaus Copernicus (1473–1543); Francis Bacon (1561-1626); Galileo (1564-1642) - Copernicus not only transformed Astronomy, but began a ‘revolution’ which eventually changed the way in which humans understood their place and role in the universe. Whilst there was no split between science and philosophy during this Early Modern period, Bacon laid the foundation stone for the divergence of the two disciplines. As a side effect, his work also planted the seed of the divisions between science and theology. Galileo took the Baconian views of science to another level, further emphasizing the need for both empiricism and rationalist thinking.
  • Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1726) to Albert Einstein (1879-1955) - Newton formulated the laws of motion and universal gravitation that formed the dominant scientific viewpoint for centuries until it was superseded by the Einstein’s theory of relativity.
  • Karl Popper - Karl Popper is generally regarded as one of the greatest philosophers of science of the twentieth century. He was also a social and political philosopher of considerable stature, a self-professed critical-rationalist, best know for his theory of Falsification in science.
  • Contemporary Philosophy of Science - In the second half of the course we will consider a range of different views from the philosophy of physics, biology and environmental theory. Two theorists I have chosen are: the Italian theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli ( Reality Is Not What It Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity) and Swedish-American cosmologist Max Tegmark (Our Mathematical Universe: My Quest for the Ultimate Nature of Reality). Both are respected in their field but also write for a broader audience. Both have the ability to write in an accessible way for a non-specialist audience.
  • Methodologies in Science - Throughout the course we will have been considering issues of methodology. Methodology concerns how evidence is collected; what counts as evidence; how data is organized and how it is represented. Professor of Philosophy of science Angela Potochnick is a new voice in this area. Her book Idealization and the Aims of Science, has been widely discussed. Potochnick argues that idealization is a necessary element of all science, she offers case studies from a number of branches of science to demonstrate the ubiquity of idealization.


By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  1. Have gained insight into the relationship between the history of science and the beginnings of philosophy.
  2. Have read extracts from the key theorists both ancient, modern and contemporary on the ideas behind the exploration of the natural world.
  3. Relate their ideas to some of our contemporary debates about the role of the sciences in our world.
  4. Have discussed many of the ideas on the relationship between philosophy of science and its relation to broader issue of politics and society.
  5. Research further on issues relating to new ideas in biology, ecology and physics.

Kerry Sanders

BA (Hons), PhD
Dr Kerry Sanders gained her PhD in Philosophy at the University of Sydney. Her specialist areas are: Aesthetics, Phenomenology, Postmodernism and Political Philosophy. She has formerly taught at...