Centre for the Study of the Sciences and the Humanities

VITSV900 Philosophy of Social Science and Ethics

VITSV900 provides training in the Philosophy of Social Science and research ethics, and is an obligatory part of the doctoral education at the Faculty of Social Sciences.

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Vatnahalsen Høyfjellshotell / Colorbox

Main content

Practical information


Enrolment details
Enrollment is open for those accepted into the PhD program, Faculty of Social Sciences, at the University of Bergen, Norway. Other candidates can be enrolled if there is capacity. Studentweb.uib.no is open for registration from November 17th, 2022 to January 9th, 2023. The deadline for registration is 9 January 2023

Project description
All participants must submit a a project description (1-2 pages). The description should focus on the main theoretical, methodological and emipirical aspects of the PhD-project. The abstract must be submitted within 22. January 2023 to Idunn Tandstad. The project descriptions will be distributed to all participants. The group sessions at Vatnahalsen will be based on these descriptions.

The course is free to doctoral candidates registered at the UiB PhD-programme.

The lectures will be held in English. The individual project descriptions must be written in English .

Course content

The Centre for the Study of the Sciences and the Humanities (Senter for vitenskapsteori - SVT) is responsible for the course. The course entails approximately two months of work. The course is approved based on an assessment of submitted essay. In addition, it is compulsory to take part in the introductory five-day seminar and to present an essay at the end of the course.


An intensive five-day seminar is held once a year by an academic staff member from SVT. The seminar will both provide an overview of the field, as well as selected topics which are at the forefront of the international scholarly debate. The candidates will be asked to hand in an abstract of their PhD project before the seminar. There will be group sessions where the relations between the projects and the problematics of the seminar will be discussed. It is expected that the candidates will take active part in the debates at the seminar.


The seminar marks the beginning of a reading and writing process that will result in an essay. The candidate selects a topic for the essay, in cooperation with course responsible from SVT and the supervisor. The candidate can require two sessions of supervision from SVT's course responsible.

One of the main intentions with the essay is to reflect on some of the fundamental theoretical, methodological and ethical dilemmas in the candidate's PhD project, so that it can serve as a driving force to move the thesis work forward. The essay should be closely related to the thesis process, and at the same time provide the possibility to transgress the discipline's own limitations and discuss more general theoretical problems.

Normally the essay should have a length of 4-7000 words, and should not exceed 8000 words.

The essay must include a reading list of approximately 700 pages. The list should include literature that is relevant for themes dealt with in the essay, but should also cover central issues in the philosophy and ethics of social sciences. Normally around 250 pages should be drawn from the recommended reading list following the course. Recommended reading list will be published in December.


The essay will be presented at an open seminar at the candidate's department. There will be a collective seminar for all the candidates from the same department, and each candidate is supposed to take part in the discussion of the other candidates' essays. Normally each presentation should last around 25 minutes, followed by a 30 minutes discussion. Only approved essays may be presented.

Learning outcomes

Upon successful completion of this course the participants should be able to:

  • Reflect critically upon the theoretical and epistemic foundations of the social sciences, as well as the implications of choices on this level for the research questions, methodologies, empirical strategies and empirical explanations
  • Relate the debates on the theoretical and epistemic foundations of the social sciences to similar debates within the humanities and the natural sciences
  • Provide an overview of general debates about the philosophy and theory of sciences, social sciences and the humanities, as well as perspectives on the relation between science/expertise and society
  • Reflect upon the ethical dimensions of social sciences
  • Provide an overview of theoretical and practical aspects of research ethics in general and the Guidelines for Research Ethics in The Social Sciences, Law and The Humanities in particular

Study period

The course takes place during the spring semester, February 2023.

The presentation of essays takes place at the end of the semester.

Compulsory requirements

Participation at seminar week
Presentation of approved essay

Form of assessment

The course is approved based on an assessment of submitted essay.

Normally the essay should have a length of 4-7000 words, and should not exceed 8000 words. The essay is to be handed in electronically to the course responsible from SVT.

The essay is graded by a committee with two members from the candidate's department and the course responsible from SVT. The committee is approved by the faculty. The essay is graded "passed"/ "not passed". The requirement for passing corresponds to the grade B.

If the essay does not meet the requirements for approval, the committee will present a written assessment to the candidate. In this case, the candidate may submit a revised version within 3 weeks. The essay will then be graded by the committee, without any presentations.

If the resubmitted essay is graded "not passed", the candidate has the right to appeal the grading of the essay according to ordinary routines for examination work.

Course description - substantial issues

Philosophy and theory of science concerns meta-scientific problematics, where scientific knowledge and research activities become the object of reflections and studies. A core question is what constitutes scientific knowledge and activities, how these have developed historically, which presuppositions they build upon and what distinguishes them from other kinds of knowledges, knowledge-based activities and expertises. The relations between science and society, and the ethical dimensions of research practises, are parts of this problem. These questions have an importance in their own right, and they unavoidably present themselves  when scholars reflect upon their own practices as researchers and the results of it.   

The main goal of the course is to build the candidates’ comptence in reflecting critically upon their own discipline’s epistemic and conceptual foundations, basic presuppostions, theories, modes of explanation, models, methodologies and empirical strategies, and to reflect upon the differences and similarities between their own and other disciplines. Important issue are the relations between the sciences, the humanities and the social sciences concerning these problems and questions, as well as the relations between the different disciplines of the social sciences. 

Some central issues:

  1. The theoretical and empirical. Within this theme we will focus on the relations between different levels of the research process. What are the relations between the general epistemic foundations, and the empirical explanations?  How may choices on the most presuppositional level influence the research questions and empirical strategies? What are the relations between paradigms, theories, methodologies and the constitution of scientific data? What are the implications for the relevance, importance and centrality of different emprical strategies and data?
  2. Interpretations and causual factors. Within this theme we will focus on the debate on the relation between understanding and explaining human action and behaviour, as well as attempts to transgress this distinction. What is the role and position of hermeneutics within social sciences, and how may it be combined with other perspectives?
  3. The normative and material. What are the relations between the normative and material dimensions of society, and how may these be combined in modes of explanation? We will focus on basic assumptions regarding the rationality of social actors, and whether they are constituted and guided by norms or material interests. This also leads to the general question of how it is possible to understand and conceptualize the relations between normative structures, economy, technology and ecology.
  4. Language and society. What are the relations between epistemic structures and the formation of norms and social interests? We will focus on how language and discourses may constitute both the identities of social actors, as well as how they understand and evaluate cultural, social and material dimensions and problems. What are the strengths and limitations of language based perspectives within social sciences? We will also discuss the relations between cultural discourses and the foundations of social sciences, thereby raising the question of the nature of objectivity.
  5. Nature and culture. What are the relations between cultural dimensions, and the human nature, in modes of explaining social behaviour and structures? We will focus on the emerging interfaces between biology, genetics, brain research and social sciences, and theoretical and methodological problems and debates in this contested terrain. What are the challenges for the dominating modes of explanation within the social sciences?
  6. Values, ethics and the social sciences. There is an old and comprehensive debate about the role and position of values within social sciences. This is closely related to the question of the possibility and desirability of scientific objectivity, and how this should be understood and practised.  At the same time there is a renewed debate about the ethical obligations and challenges of the social sciences, related to the uses of vulnerable humans for research purposes, social inequalities, poverty and ecology. We will have a closer look at the relations between these old and new debates, as well the different positions within them.  
  7. Science and society. The relation between science and society is multidimensional, and has undergone fundamental historical changes. This concerns institutional and political positions, economic and legal conditions, effects on society and nature, legitimacy and modes of legitimation, and global distribution.  We will have a look on the debates about these developments, and the different positions witin them.
  8. The social sciences and society. We will locate the position of the social sciences within the larger science/society picture. Two issues will be central. The social sciences have a special relation to governance and governmentality, which have many implications for their disciplinary developments and modes of legitimation. Also, we are faced with the problems of the double hermeneutics, or the influence of perspectives and results on the humans as research objects, due to their capacity to think and reflect. The social sciences may have important effects on the way individuals, groups, organizations, movements – as well as state apparatuses – understand and conceptualize themselves, their conditions, and modes of existence. These aspects produce some fundamental methodological, theoretical and ethical challenges, which we will discuss.  


To be published soon.