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Wheres best for Philosophy of science in the UK

  1. Aug 4, 2010 #1
    I am part way through a BSc in natural sciences with open university,its going well and im enjoying the course (in my second year)
    I had for a long time wanted to carry straight on with physics into an MSc or PHD,but over the last year i've become increasingly interested with the philosophy side of physics and sciences.

    Ive recently thought of changing my path towards a philosophy of physics or science,but cant find a good source of information concerning PHILSCI courses,obvious the best universitys here in the uk for philosophy are places like oxford cambridge etc,but i have a feeling i wont get into these unis because of the calibre of students they expect.

    does anyone have an idea where it would be best to study Philosophy of science here in the uk,and maybe have an idea of what im in for if i do take on a course like this?
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 4, 2010 #2
    I would strongly advise *against* Cambridge HPS if you're coming from a strong science background. Look carefully at the course that's on offer as certain parts of HPS are really beyond ridiculous - and I say this as someone who is *very* interested and sympathetic to the philosophical aspects of maths and science.

    Oxford is by far and away the best for philosophy of physics - one of the best places in the world - I don't know how strong you are, but you should think of applying as the subject is a niche one, and so the numbers applying are probably not as high as you think. After that, Bristol and LSE have strong philosophy of science components.
  4. Aug 6, 2010 #3
    On a related note, how useful is doing a course in Philosophy of Science for an Physics undergrad? I know Feynman wasn't too fond of it, but I just wanted to hear some opinions on whether it opens up a whole new way of thinking you can apply to doing research or just approaching things that are related to physics in general.
  5. Aug 7, 2010 #4
    Why not take a few philosophy courses with your OU degree? Then you will get a feel for what doing philosophy might involve. For instance:

    Doing Philosophy (AXR271 ) - a residential school course

    Try and chat to as many tutors as possible while you are there, about course possibilities, they are likely to be able to give you good advice on all kinds of practical matters over lunch or in the bar.
  6. Aug 11, 2010 #5
    well ive taken some philosophy courses already,have an A-level in it,and have read a fair amount on my own,but from what ive read philosophy of science has a different feel to it,more along the lines of formative logic and epistemology than say ethics.

    im not sure if its particularly useful,but its nice to get a feel of how the whole of science works,which is what im looking for,im sure feynman wasnt fond of it,hes a very pragmatic man,but then theres people such as bohr who really touched on the philosophy in a real way.
  7. Aug 12, 2010 #6
    If you are doing philosophy in the analytic tradition then I don't really see that ethics, in that tradition, is that much different from philosophy of science, in that tradition. I remember glancing at the A level syllabus once and it had Sartre's Existentialism and Marxism on the syllabus - that's Continental philosophical ethics which has a very different feel from, say, Popperian philosophy of science. But Popper also wrote about ethics, and that has a similar feel (as you might expect...)

    P.S. I don't like Sartre's work, if you did that, I wouldn't be surprised if that put you off ethics... there are much better works out there, even by Frenchmen :), like Hadot's "What is Ancient Philosophy?"

    P.P.S I used to be into philosophy of science, now I'm much more into ethics...
  8. Aug 12, 2010 #7
    Although Feynman seemed to hate philosophy, and the phrase shut up and calculate is often associated with him, actually he's very, very good and careful on the conceptual explanations and foundations of science. Moreover, `shut up and calculate' is itself suggestive of a kind of philosophy, a kind of instrumentalism.
  9. Aug 12, 2010 #8
    Even if feynman was opposed to it I dont see why that should stop anyone,Gellman and him were vehemently opposed on alot of ideas and yet still both managed to make big strides in physics,i know sciences has a collective crush on feynman for a number of reasons(mainly because he managed to demonstrate how pompouse the rest of academia was at that time),but even he had contempt for any false authority,even himself being idolised(i am not saying he is a false authority on physics,he obviously isnt,but hes not the only authority,and i dont see why i should take the same route as he did just because he has done well himself even he mentioned in one of his letters how important it was to nurture each persons learning style individually) and as physics and technology take a firmer and firmer grasp on our lives,it seems like a growing responsibility of scientist to understand the way their work affects the people who end up using it.

    Plus,i cant see why knowing this stuff wouldnt help,especially as the feild is so dense,understanding its underpinnings seems like an extra notch in the belt. Certainly philosophy has the ha bit of getting overly abstract and useless at a point,but that can be fun in its own right sometimes,and anyway,feynman was a pragmatist himself(shut up and calculate) he just knew that once you got deep enough into the subject,the maths was your best bet of understanding,not words,which philosophy tends to work in (but hell,he must have had a very deep understanding of number theory too,so i cant see why he would actually opposed knowing how the systems we use work,and what their limitations are!)
  10. Aug 12, 2010 #9
    I think you have me wrong - I'm not trying to stop anyone doing philosophy. On the contrary. Indeed, I'm saying that I don't think Feynman is such a big poster boy for the SUAC campaign as people say. He was often eager to find qualitative explanations where possible instead of long mathematical calculations, and was good and clear on foundational issues.
  11. Aug 12, 2010 #10
    BkBkBk, don't get me wrong, either. Although I respect the man immensely, I don't really care that much about what Feynman thought about philosophy of science, I was just using his words as an example to test if perhaps others shared the same opinion, as well.
  12. Aug 12, 2010 #11
    maybe the way i write seems slightly aggressive,i think i might need to attend to that,sorry,i wasnt picking at you,just expressing myself,its seems quite badly!
  13. Aug 15, 2010 #12
  14. Aug 15, 2010 #13
    If you haven't seen it... http://www.philosophicalgourmet.com/ & http://www.philosophicalgourmet.com/breakdown/breakdown16.asp [Broken]

    Oxford is really by far the best for philosophy of physics in the UK. I highly suggest you thoroughly investigate philosophy as a career choice before getting yourself into anything.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
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