Philosophy of Science and Ethics


Course Objective

At the end of this course you will be able to

1. Explain several basic concepts, problems and debates in
a. philosophy of science: problem of demarcation, problem of induction,
research integrity, scientific paradigm, scientific explanation and
reduction, and values in science, among others.
b. bioethics: consequentialism, deontology, virtue ethics, care ethics,
moral judgment and argument, duties versus rights, responsible research,
individual autonomy, public health ethics, paternalism, and the
normative dimension of definitions of health/disease and
normal/abnormal, among others.
2. Understand the importance of these debates to contemporary biomedical
3. Analyze and evaluate
a. the different positions in these debates
b. the normative assumptions inherent in scientific research
4. Give examples of lack of research integrity and propose coping
5. Read and analyze philosophical texts.

Furthermore, in this course you further develop your academic attitude
(one of the main academic skills). You will
6. be capable of critical reasoning
7. have insight in and be able to reflect on philosophical, ethical and
societal developments in biomedical science

Course Content

This course has two central components -- Philosophy of Science and
Ethics -- which correspond to two main aims. In the Philosophy of
Science unit, students will develop the ability to reflect critically on
the nature and practice of science, with an emphasis on biomedical
science. In the Ethics unit, students will explore various ethical
issues raised by the practice of biomedical science and the use of
products and technologies developed by biomedical scientists. Students
will learn how to critically read philosophical texts, which involves
understanding the structure of the authors' arguments developing their
own objections to or amplifications of the authors point of view.
Students will also be encouraged to (a) apply the philosophical concepts
they will learn to their own work and (b) to utilize clear and sound
argumentation in their own thinking and writing.

The philosophy of science unit will start with a discussion of the
distinguishing features of science as a form of inquiry. Topics that
will be covered include the nature of scientific reasoning and
explanation and the relationship between scientific theories and reality
(the realism/antirealism debate). We then shift to issues in the
philosophy of biology and medicine. The relevant topics there include
ontological status of race and gender, the nature of disease and health,
and evidence-based medicine. Attention to the role that values play in
these discussions will be paramount.

The focus in unit two will be on ethical questions raised by the
practice of biomedical science and the use of its products. After a very
brief introduction to ethics and a discussion of moral relativism, we’ll
closely explore several specific biomedical practices and technologies
that raise ethical questions. There are roughly three themes we will
discuss: (a) ethical issues in posed by research, (b) ethics of the use
of new biomedical technologies, and (c) social aspects of biomedical

Teaching Methods

Teaching consists of 2-hour lectures (8 in total) and 2-hour seminars (4
in total).

Method of Assessment

Quizzes: 20%
Debate: 10%
Final exam: 70%

Quizzes: Each of the four workgroups will start off with a short one or
two question, 10-minute quiz covering the material from the previous two
Debate: This will be a group assignment in which you will prepare for
and conduct a debate on some issue in philosophy of science or ethics.
Final exam: This exam will be a mixture of multiple choice and several
short essay questions.

A minimum score of 5.5 for the final exam is required in order to pass
the course, final grade (including quizzes and debate) is required to be
at least 5.5.


1. PS: Samir Okasha, Philosophy of Science: A Very Short Introduction
(Oxford: Oxford UP, 2002, 2016 2nd edition). (purchase)
2. EB: Gary Seay and Susana Nuccetelli, Engaging Bioethics: An
Introduction with Case Studies (New York: Routledge, 2017). (owned by VU
library, online access)
3. Seminal articles, both classical and contemporary, from philosophy of
science and from ethics. (canvas)
4. Popular writing and reports relevant to the different themes.

Target Audience

Compulsory course for 2nd year students Biomedical Sciences.

General Information

Course Code AB_1217
Credits 6 EC
Period P6
Course Level 200
Language of Tuition English
Faculty Faculty of Science
Course Coordinator dr. P. Robichaud
Examiner dr. P. Robichaud
Teaching Staff dr. P. Robichaud

Practical Information

You need to register for this course yourself

Last-minute registration is available for this course.

Teaching Methods Lecture, Study Group
Target audiences

This course is also available as: