Bedside thesis reading pile now 100% taller


in Books and literature, Oxford, Science

At Tristan’s urging, I have added a thick collection of philosophy of science books to my thesis reading stack. At 212 pages, Thomas Kuhn‘s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions looks fairly reasonable. Rather more daunting are the two square books by Karl Popper: Conjectures and Refutations at 580 pages, and The Logic of Scientific Discovery at 513. Popper and Kuhn are the two names that have come up again and again when I discuss this project with people and, judging by the blurbs on the back and a scan of the introductions, these are the three more relevant books by them in the vast shelves of the Norrington Room at Blackwell’s.

Collectively, they are about ten times longer than my thesis will be. My hopes, in reading them, are to avoid embarrassing myself with ignorance of the philosophy of science, at a minimum, and to generate some interesting ideas, from a more optimistic perspective. Notes on all three will appear on the wiki, as I progress through them. I will begin with the Kuhn, once I have dealt with this week’s reading for tomorrow’s seminar, and the preparation of something to say about the thesis project with Dr. Hurrell on Friday.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Nick L November 22, 2006 at 5:14 pm

Not to want to add to your reading pile, but you should really read Lakatos and Feyerabend as well as, along with the two authors mentioned above, they make up the holy quadrilogy of philosophy of science.

Milan November 22, 2006 at 5:56 pm

After these, I am moving on to Haas, Bernstein, and Litfin.

RP November 22, 2006 at 11:34 pm

Perhaps I am not sufficiently purist, but I would recommend significantly reducing your workload by instead reading the relevant chapters of
Godfrey-Smith, P. (2003), Theory and Reality: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Science, University of Chicago Press.
Bird, A. (2000), The Philosophy of Science, UCL Press.
These will give you a solid grounding in philosophy of science (certainly enough to make sure you don’t embarrass yourself) without magnifying your workload so spectacularly.

Milan November 22, 2006 at 11:57 pm


Three books – even long, tricky ones – are not a spectacular magnification of my thesis work. That said, I may well give the summary books you recommend a glance. If nothing else, they will help me to decode the primary sources.

Nick L and RP,

Thanks for the source suggestions.

Tristan Laing November 24, 2006 at 7:10 am

I would not think that 1000 pages of Popper is just beyond reason. Popper and all the rational positivism, etc, it’s all over. It’s just dead. I mean, it’s important to know about, but know 1000 pages know about. The beginning of SSR gives a charicature (accurate) of the Vienese position. I recommend perhaps following RPs selection instead. Also, along with SSR, you ought to read “Normal Science and it’s dangers” or “the Dangers of normal science” or somesuch, by Popper, published in response to SSR.

If you are going to read 1000 pages of phil of science, it could be much better directed towards, yes some popper and kuhn (and if you were going to read that muhc, some Richenbach, and **** definitely Lakatos), but then to concentrate on SSK (sociology of scientific knowledge) would be more fruitful. The Ediborough school was the stronghold of this. Why not seek out someone at Oxford, presumably in the Philosophy department, to guide you through it? It is the biggest philosophy department in the world.

Milan November 24, 2006 at 2:09 pm


I meant for these three books to serve as a starting point, as well as objects of discussion in the thesis.

I am not the sort to plow through 1000 pages of something if it isn’t useful.

When I next meet with Dr. Hurrell, I will ask if there is anyone who he knows in the philosophy department who works on this sort of thing.

Tristan Laing November 24, 2006 at 4:43 pm

1 of those thousand pages could be directed towards this website

which, while uncitable, and certainly not authoritative, is the only web site I’ve been able to find devoted to Robert Merton’s KUDOS set of scientific norms. He’s one of very few prevalent sociologists of science pre-Kuhn. Lakatos being the more important one. (Lakatos – a historian of science, it was there that Kuhn borrowed the notion of paradigmatic shift, and generally continued to idolize throghout his career).

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