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Philosophy of Science


Or: What it meant and means to become an academic scholar

Mandatory Course for Ph.D. students, faculty of communication sciences, USI


As a starting point, human self-reflection is understood as precondition to the emergence of science. Pre-classing thinker and sophist Protagoras can be seen as a foundation father when stating: "Man is the measure of all things; of what is, that it is; of what is not, that it is not". Based on the ability to think about thinking and to reflect upon different approaches the course turns towards classical antiquity and here most of all to Aristotle and his distinction of Episteme, Techne and Doxa; terms used in different concepts until today. The concept of science was further developed by scholastic teachers, out of which William von Ockham contributed the principle of simple and economic science known as Ockham’s razor. Another philosophical milestone in the development of science and the scientific method can be seen in Descartes foundation of ‘rationalism’ based on ‘methodological skepticism’, which he developed in his “Discourse on the Method”. As Descartes was thinking of a principal method based on reason, Thomas Kuhn in the last century arrived at the sequential notion of scientific revolutions. Following Kuhn science happens in paradigms and a paradigm shift is characterized by the incommensurability of the old and the new paradigm. This approach explains why different scientific findings are perceived as ‘right’ or ‘valid’ although they are in logical opposition to the previous and/or the following paradigm. Furthermore and also in the last century, Karl Popper introduced the idea of falsification and the value of failing theories in the context of deduction and induction as means to arrive at scientific conclusions. Based on the different philosophical viewpoints and core questions of philosophy of science, the course opens space for discussion about the responsibility of science in general and the scientist in particular. This question also imposes the question of communication in science and between scientists.

Lastly, we look at what is known as ‘positivistic turn’. Here Ludwig Wittgenstein’s contribution about the ability to “think what cannot be thought” can be seen as ongoing yet also controversial invitation to focus on a positivistic paradigm. Wittgenstein’s postulation to remain ‘silent’ on what cannot be said clearly opens debate about the role of communication as medium of science. A outlook for recent debates in the philosophy of science (Schurz 2013) translating into social sciences is presented on the ‘power of methods’ and ‘social epistemology’. The closing discussion is on the responsibility of science and the scientist.

Successful students will receive 1.5 ECTS for Philosophy of Science I.

Readings part I

  • Aristotele: Nicomachean Ethics
  • Ockham, W. Summa logicae
  • Descartes, R. Discourse on the Method for Rightly Directing One’s Reason and Searching for Truth in the Sciences
  • Kuhn, T.S. (1970), The nature and necessity of scientific revolution, The Structure of Scientific Revolution,
  • Wittenstein; Ludwig (1918), Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus
  • Okasha, S. (2002), Philosophy of Science, Chapter 1: What is Science, Oxford University Press
  • Feynman, R.P. (1998), The Meaning of It All, The Uncertainty of Science, 1-28
  • Schurz, G. (2013): Philosophy of Science: A unified approach. Routledge. 16-37



Seele P.

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