Contexts of scientific investigation

Scientific inquiry has a central place in modern life, affecting every dimension of human society. Our field helps you gain both scientific and historical literacy at a time when the need to reflect critically on science, technology, and medicine is more urgent than ever before. We examine gene technologies, global warming, the rapid acceleration of artificial intelligence and information science, and other topics of contemporary importance, placing them in an historical context. Our courses are designed to help you better understand the origins of current scientific practices and what they imply about human ambitions, motivations, and needs.

Our department

Our department exemplifies the remarkable opportunities for interdisciplinary work at IU, a Research 1 university. In addition to considerable strengths within the department, IU is home to strong research resources, such as the Lilly Library of rare books, over 200 institutes and labs, and a College of Arts and Sciences that encourages meaningful exchange across disciplinary domains.

We are home to leading experts and programs in areas such as the history of medicine, logic, cognitive science, ancient musicology, the history and philosophy of mathematics, library science, journalism, medieval studies, and many more fields relevant to the history and philosophy of science and medicine. This exceptional knowledge base enables our students to customize their course of study. We also have a proven track record in obtaining external funding.

Our discipline

Our field of inquiry is devoted to using a wide variety of historical and philosophical approaches to understand the relationships between science and medicine in their complex engagement with culture, religion, politics, technology, and the natural world. We examine the social contexts in which science operates and achieves legitimacy.

Studies in the history and philosophy of science take many different forms, all with the common aim of understanding how science works. Some researchers do this by looking at the history of science, and others by analyzing the abstract structure of scientific theory and practice. Still others become involved in examining detailed foundational issues within specific scientific theories. Many scholars employ a combination of these and other approaches.

The particular focus of research in our discipline also varies widely. Some writers concentrate on abstract ideas and theory, and others on experimental techniques and apparatuses. Researchers often examine the institutional setting of science—universities, laboratories, government agencies—and the interactions among science and technology, religion, or social movements.

Historical topics can range from the science and technology of ancient Babylonia to the development of quantum field theory. Philosophical issues include the epistemology and metaphysics of science, the logic of theory testing and theory evaluation, and the role of experiment and heuristics in scientific change.

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