Universität Wien
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180186 SE Philosophy of the Historical Sciences (2023W)

5.00 ECTS (2.00 SWS), SPL 18 - Philosophie
Prüfungsimmanente Lehrveranstaltung

Hinweis der SPL Philosophie:

Das Abgeben von ganz oder teilweise von einem KI-tool (z.B. ChatGPT) verfassten Texten als Leistungsnachweis (z.B. Seminararbeit) ist nur dann erlaubt, wenn dies von der Lehrveranstaltungsleitung ausdrücklich als mögliche Arbeitsweise genehmigt wurde. Auch hierbei müssen direkt oder indirekt zitierte Textstellen wie immer klar mit Quellenangabe ausgewiesen werden.

Die Lehrveranstaltungsleitung kann zur Überprüfung der Autorenschaft einer abgegebenen schriftlichen Arbeit ein notenrelevantes Gespräch (Plausibilitätsprüfung) vorsehen, das erfolgreich zu absolvieren ist.


Hinweis: Ihr Anmeldezeitpunkt innerhalb der Frist hat keine Auswirkungen auf die Platzvergabe (kein "first come, first served").


max. 25 Teilnehmer*innen
Sprache: Englisch


Termine (iCal) - nächster Termin ist mit N markiert

This course takes place in English. However, assignments (final presentation, Bachelor Thesis etc.) can be done in German as well.

For a successful participation in this course, you should already have completed the VO ‘Introduction to Philosophy of Science’ (Einführung in die Wissenschaftsphilosophie) in a previous semester.

  • Mittwoch 11.10. 15:00 - 16:30 Hörsaal 2i NIG 2.Stock C0228
  • Mittwoch 18.10. 15:00 - 16:30 Hörsaal 2i NIG 2.Stock C0228
  • Mittwoch 25.10. 15:00 - 16:30 Hörsaal 2i NIG 2.Stock C0228
  • Mittwoch 08.11. 15:00 - 16:30 Hörsaal 2i NIG 2.Stock C0228
  • Mittwoch 15.11. 15:00 - 16:30 Hörsaal 2i NIG 2.Stock C0228
  • Mittwoch 22.11. 15:00 - 16:30 Hörsaal 2i NIG 2.Stock C0228
  • Mittwoch 29.11. 15:00 - 16:30 Hörsaal 2i NIG 2.Stock C0228
  • Mittwoch 06.12. 15:00 - 16:30 Hörsaal 2i NIG 2.Stock C0228
  • Mittwoch 13.12. 15:00 - 16:30 Hörsaal 2i NIG 2.Stock C0228
  • Mittwoch 10.01. 15:00 - 16:30 Hörsaal 2i NIG 2.Stock C0228
  • Mittwoch 17.01. 15:00 - 16:30 Hörsaal 2i NIG 2.Stock C0228
  • Mittwoch 24.01. 15:00 - 16:30 Hörsaal 2i NIG 2.Stock C0228
  • Mittwoch 31.01. 15:00 - 16:30 Hörsaal 2i NIG 2.Stock C0228


Ziele, Inhalte und Methode der Lehrveranstaltung

66 million years ago, an asteroid impact killed the dinosaurs that had roamed the planet for the previous 180 million years. 35 million years ago, the African tectonic plate collided with the European plate, starting the formation of the mountain range we now call the Alps. 60,000 years ago, Homo sapiens, our modern human ancestors, began migrating out of Africa, eventually populating the rest of the world. 12,000 years ago, the last ice age ended, leading to significant changes in the Earth’s climate. Two thousand years ago, Romans set up a military camp called Vindobona in what is now the city centre of Vienna.

This is a course about how we find out about all of the things above. We will investigate, from a philosophy of science perspective, how we know what (we think) we know about the past. In the course of the semester, we will look at various case studies from the historical sciences – natural sciences investigating the past. Palaeontology, geology, and archaeology are classic examples of historical sciences, but so are astronomy and evolutionary biology. Philosophers of science have only relatively recently begun to look into the historical sciences and we will read some of their key contributions in this course. We will focus on some of following topics and questions:

1. Evidence and Confirmation: What kind of evidence do historical scientists draw on in their investigations? How do scientists ‘test’ theories about the past? Do historical scientists face unique challenge because they study the past – compared to, say, sciences like physics or chemistry?

2. Methodology and Explanation: Are historical sciences, by their very nature, precluded from using certain scientific methods, such as experiments? Do historical scientists use special types of explanation? What is, for example, the role of narratives? What kind of indirect investigation strategies, such as modelling, do historical scientists draw on?

3. Science, Values, and Objectivity: How to distinguish scientific from pseudoscientific theories about the past? To what extent is the past a guide to the present and the future, for instance, with respect to environmental issues? How do values and ethical considerations enter investigations of the past, especially where our human, cultural past is concerned?

This course is right for you if you are interested in philosophy of science and scientific methodology, and like to engage with scientific case studies and examples. There is, of course, no need for any prior knowledge of palaeontology, archaeology, or geology. Background info in the form of short info texts and videos will be provided throughout the course. However, it helps if you are curious to learn about these kinds of disciplines (if you’ve enjoyed the Natural History Museum in Vienna, that’s a good sign!).

Please note that this is NOT a course in the philosophy of history (as in 'Geschichtswissenschaften' in German). Of course, there is some overlap in philosophical questions when it comes to disciplines studying the past. However, this course purposely does not cover any of the classic debates in the philosophy of history.

Art der Leistungskontrolle und erlaubte Hilfsmittel

This course is divided into two parts: the main part (sessions 2-10) and a ‘Mini-Conference’ (session 11-13).

The main part is based on the summary and discussions of weekly readings of about 20-25 pages. In preparation for the sessions, there is a weekly discussion forum in Moodle. Each week, 2-3 students will give a brief summary of the forum, select 2-3 questions/comments for further discussion, and moderate the discussion of these questions.

In the last three session of the semester, we will have a ‘Mini-Conference’, where you will give either a live or pre-recorded short talk presenting an argument pertaining to the theme of the course (more info on choosing a topic will be given during the semester). If you want to write your BA Thesis in this course, the presentation should prepare the thesis. Ideally, you should attend all three final sessions in January. However, since this might not be possible for everyone, you should at least attend and be happy to present at two out of the three final sessions.

Mindestanforderungen und Beurteilungsmaßstab

Attendance is a mandatory requirement for a passing grade. Three unexcused absences are permitted.

During the course you can collect 100 points in total (plus bonus points) in the following components:

(1) Participation: 40 points + max. 5 bonus points
You can collect points for participation by (i) writing entries and responses in the discussion forum on Moodle before class (max. 30 points, min. 10 points), and (ii) participating in the discussion during class (max. 30 points, min. 10 points). This adds up to a maximum of 60 points, BUT you can only get 40 points + max. 5 bonus points for your participation in total – there is some freedom to determine yourself if you want to participate mostly through the forum or mostly in class etc.

(2) Forum summary + moderation (in groups of 2-3 students): 10 points

(3) Mini-Conference: 50 points
• Presentation (in class or pre-recorded): 30 points
• Write-up: 20 points (if you write your Bachelor Thesis, you hand in the thesis instead of the write-up)

If you receive more than 50% of the points in each component, the final grade is assigned as follows:

100 – 87 points: 1
86 – 75 points: 2
75 – 63 points: 3
62 – 50 points: 4
50 – 0 points: 5

By registering for this course, you consent to all of your course submissions being checked by Turnitin (plagiarism-detection software).


Course grade is based on continuous assessment, there is not final exam.


[exact course readings might still change until the start of the semester]

Bocchi et al. (forthcoming). Are We in a Sixth Mass Extinction? The Challenges of Answering and Value of Asking. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science.

Brandstetter (2011). Time Machines: Model Experiments in Geology. Centaurus 53 (2):135-145.

Cleland (2002). Methodological and epistemic differences between historical science and experimental science. Philosophy of Science 69 (3):447-451.

Currie (2014). Narratives, mechanisms and progress in historical science. Synthese 191 (6):1-21.

Currie (2017). Hot-Blooded Gluttons: Dependency, Coherence, and Method in the Historical Sciences. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 68 (4):929-952.

Novick et al. (2020). Kon-Tiki Experiments. Philosophy of Science 87 (2):213-236.

Turner (2004). The past vs. the tiny: historical science and the abductive arguments for realism. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 35 (1):1-17.

Turner (2005). Local Underdetermination in Historical Science. Philosophy of Science 72 (1):209-230.

Turner & Turner (2021). “I’m Not Saying It Was Aliens”: An Archaeological and Philosophical Analysis of a Conspiracy Theory. In Sean Allen-Hermanson Anton Killin (ed.), Explorations in Archaeology and Philosophy. Synthese Library. Springer Verlag. pp. 7-24.

Wylie (2011). Critical distance : stabilising evidential claims in archaeology. In Philip Dawid, William Twining & Mimi Vasilaki (eds.), Evidence, Inference and Enquiry. Oup/British Academy.

Wylie (2009). What’s Feminist about Gender Archaeology? In Que(e)rying Archaeology: Proceedings of the 36th Annual Chacmool Conference. University of Calgary Archaeology Association. pp. 282-289.

Yao (forthcoming). Excavation in the Sky: Historical Inference in Astronomy. Philosophy of Science.

Zuordnung im Vorlesungsverzeichnis

Letzte Änderung: Do 28.09.2023 17:07