Philosophy and Ethics of Social Sciences

Ph.D. -course

Course description

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.


A 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. The dates for the next seminar is normally decided in October and published at the course page with practical information.

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

Credits (ECTS)


Course location

Language of instruction
The course language is English.
Course registration and deadlines

Registration for the course is done via Registration is open from 1 November. The registration deadline and the deadline for submitting a project description is published at the course page with practical information.

If you experience trouble registering via Studentweb, please contact PhD coordinator at the faculty.

It is expected that the course participants hand in their essays within the spring deadline, which is 15 May. If the candidate chooses to withdraw from essay assessment, the deadline is 1 May.

For delayed candidates, individual deadlines in the autumn semester will be decided by the course responsible from SVT, after consultations with the candidate and the department. If it is not possible for the candidate (e.g. because of field work or long term sick leaves) to submit and present the essay in the same calendar year as the seminar participation, she/he may follow the deadlines of one of the following years. It is strongly recommended that the course is completed in the beginning of the doctoral education, preferably the first year.

The course is for candidates at the Faculty of Social Sciences, UiB. Candidates admitted at other institutions may apply to attend the course.

Part of training component
The course is an obligatory part of the PhD training component at the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Bergen.
Compulsory Requirements

Participation at seminar

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.

Participation expenses
The course is free to candidates enrolled in the PhD programme at the faculty. Travel expenses will be charged your individual PhD funding. External candidates will be charged both travel and hotel expenses.
Reading list
Will be distributed.