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2008/09 Undergraduate Module Catalogue

HPSC3201 Realism and Truth in Science

20 creditsClass Size: 100

In light of the effect of COVID-19 and lockdown restrictions on students' learning experiences, the School of PRHS have made the decision to modify assessment in Semester 2 modules in the 2020-21 academic year. Changes may involve reducing the number of assessment points (e.g. assessing one essay rather than two) or reducing word counts where it is possible to do so whilst protecting the integrity of the module's Learning Outcomes. Information on any changes to assessment is available to enrolled students in the Minerva module area, and can also be sought from the module leader or the PRHS SES team.

Module manager: Dr Joseph Melia

Taught: Semester 2 (Jan to Jun) View Timetable

Year running 2008/09

Pre-requisite qualifications

20 credits of Level 2 HPSC modules or equivalent

This module is mutually exclusive with

HPSC3800Realism & The Metaphysics Of S

Module replaces

HPSC3800 Realism and Metaphysics in Science

This module is approved as an Elective

Module summary

We believe that the objects around us, tables, chairs, trees and houses exist independently of our thoughts concerning them; and we believe that we can come to know many humble, but familiar facts about them. But what happens when we face domains where we are concerned with things that aren't directly present to the senses: domains of the unobservably small, large, or otherwise inaccessible, that we can only approach given the interface of theory? Do we believe in the same way that entities such as these exist independently us; and that we can come to know about them? This is the issue of realism in the philosophy of science.In this module we will enquire whether the aim of science is to provide a true description of the world (realism) or merely to predict the observable phenomena, facing the main sceptical challenges presented to realists' claims and assessing the more nuanced realist positions that have emerged in response. Teaching is by weekly seminar. Pre-requisites are either Level 2 HPSC 2202 Theories and Observation in Science, or HPSC 2201 Progress and Revolutions in Science; Or any Level 2 PHIL module and HPSC 1200 How Science Works. Contact


On completion of this module, students should be able to describe and critically assess:

a) a variety of views presented in the realism-antirealism debate, such as 'standard' realism, 'entity' realism, 'structural' realism, 'patchwork' realism, instrumentalism and 'constructive empiricism';
b) a variety of arguments deployed in this debate, such as the 'Pessimistic Meta-Induction', 'The Underdetermination of Theories by Evidence', and 'The No-Miracles Argument';
c) recent developments in this area.


Topics covered may include:

i) 'Standard' Realism and its Problems
'Standard' realism; truth and reference in science; the 'No-Miracles Argument'; Inference to the Best Explanation; The Underdetermination of Theories by Evidence; The Pessimistic Meta-Induction.

ii) Anti-realist Alternatives
Instrumentalism; Constructive Empiricism; empirical adequacy; belief and acceptance.

iii) Further Developments
Entity realism; patchwork realism; structural realism; pragmatic realism.

Teaching methods

Due to COVID-19, teaching and assessment activities are being kept under review - see module enrolment pages for information

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Private study hours178.00
Total Contact hours22.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)200.00

Private study

9 hours reading and preparing per seminar: 99 hours;
Essay preparation: 79 hours.

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

1 x 3000 word coursework essay, submitted mid-semester.

Methods of assessment

Due to COVID-19, teaching and assessment activities are being kept under review - see module enrolment pages for information

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
Essay2,000 words50.00
Essay2,000 words50.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)100.00

Normally resits will be assessed by the same methodology as the first attempt, unless otherwise stated

Reading list

The reading list is available from the Library website

Last updated: 08/06/2009


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