Philosophy of the Social Sciences 1

Module titlePhilosophy of the Social Sciences 1
Module codeSOCM002A
Academic year2018/9
Module staff

Dr Nigel Pleasants (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

This module introduces you to key philosophical concepts that aid reflection on the foundations of social science inquiry and research. It examines questions of ontology (What does society consist of? How is it created and maintained/changed? Is a social entity more than the sum of the individuals that constitute it?), epistemology (Which aspects of society, social organisation and structure can we know, and how?), and value (What normative stance and attitude should social scientists adopt towards their objects and subjects of inquiry?). The topics discussed will also address the basic question of the relation of the social sciences to the natural sciences (What kind of discipline is social science? Does the subject matter of the social sciences differ fundamentally from that of the natural sciences?). The module is suited to students from across the range of social sciences and cognate disciplines

Module aims - intentions of the module

The module aims to promote a reflective attitude to the nature and foundations of social scientific and related forms of social inquiry in general, and to your own domain of inquiry and research interests in particular. It introduces and familiarises you to with a range of central philosophical concepts and ideas that will aid this endeavour. Through learning how to think philosophically and to pose philosophical questions on the nature and possibility of social inquiry the module aims to enable you to come to see more clearly the theoretical and philosophical foundations and presuppositions of your discipline and to facilitate reflection and clarity on the nature, limits and possibilities of social scientific knowledge and understanding.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. demonstrate comprehensive knowledge and understanding of central philosophical concepts pertaining to the ontological, epistemological and normative foundations of social inquiry.
  • 2. show how philosophical analysis offers insight into the fundamental nature of the social world and identifies explanatory and interpretive issues in seeking to know and understand it
  • 3. illustrate how philosophical analysis can aid the assessment and evaluation of the findings and claims of, and theoretical and methodological disputes within, social scientific inquiry.
  • 4. draw on philosophical concepts and ideas in to illuminate explanatory and interpretive issues in student’s own domain of inquiry

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 5. recognise and debate the contested and provisional nature of knowledge and understanding
  • 6. identify and evaluate approaches to problem-solving
  • 7. think philosophically and theoretically and to apply this ability to the student’s own research questions.

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 8. undertake independent/self-directed learning (including time management) to achieve consistent, proficient and sustained attainment
  • 9. work as a participant or leader of a group and contribute effectively to the achievement of objectives.
  • 10. reflect on the process of learning and evaluate personal strengths and weaknesses. Apply ideas to new situations.

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

Whilst the module’s precise content may vary from year to year, it is envisaged that the syllabus will cover some or all of the following topics:

What is philosophy of social science?

Social and institutional ontology: the nature and conditions of the social and cultural world

Holism and individualism: the nature of collective action and collective responsibility

Structure and agency: social determinism and individual agency

Realism and social constructionism: the debate over reality and social construction (race, class, gender, sexuality, scientific knowledge)

The Idea of a social science: the Wittgensteinian critique and its critics

Social science, ethics and the fact-value distinction

Learning and teaching

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching Activites2211 x 2 hour seminars
Guided Independent Study10Time preparing for 750 word summary
Guided Independent Study68Time doing weekly readings
Guided Independent Study40Time preparing summative essay(s)
Guided Independent Study10Independent study


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Literature summary and critical response750 words1-10Written

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
EITHER Essay1004,000 words1-10Written feedback
OR 2 Essays0Each of 2,000 words1-10Written feedback


Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EITHER 1 EssayEITHER Essay (4,000 words)1-10August/September re-assessment period
OR 2 EssaysOR 2 Essays (2,000 words each)1-10August/September re-assessment period


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

I. Hacking, The Social Construction of What?, Harvard University Press, 1999.
M Hollis The philosophy of social science: an introduction, Cambridge University Press, 1994.
J Searle, The Construction of Social Reality Penguin, 1995.
P Winch, The Idea of a Social Science and its Relation to Philosophy, Routledge, 1990

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Philosophy Social Sciences

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


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Last revision date