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PHDH902 Philosophy of science and research ethics in health and social sciences

Course description for academic year 2024/2025

Contents and structure

This course aims at providing candidates with a high awareness of ontological, epistemological and methodological positions in human health research, as well as a broad methodological understanding of the candidate's own PhD project. The philosophy of science traditions, amongst these empiricism , positivism, phenomenology, hermeneutics and constructivism, are discussed in relation to topics such as paradigms, theory and data, explanation and interpretation, knowledge and power, holism and reductionism, and rationality and relativism. During the course, issues related to health, function and participation are addressed by focusing on humans in the tension between nature and culture. The core questions are how various disciplines perceive scientific knowledge, and what assumptions this is based on. In this course, critical reflection on epistemological assumptions in one's own discipline is central, as well as the relationship between one's discipline and other disciplines in the field of health science.

Learning Outcome

After completing the course, the student will have the following total learning outcome:

Knowledge: The student ...

  • can critically reflect on what knowledge is in their own and in other disciplines represented in health science
  • has an in-depth insight into the connections between epistemological and methodological positions, also related to their own field and subject of research
  • can critically reflect on historical and social conditions for knowledge production
  • have in-depth knowledge of how different epistemological traditions can respectively be productive or restrictive in health science research
  • has knowledge of key ethical premises and dilemmas in human health research

Skills: The student ...

  • can relate central issues in theory of science to their own research
  • can challenge and problematize established knowledge and practices in health science
  • can critically assess their own positioning, and their transparency and reflexivity as a researcher
  • can handle complex academic issues
  • has acquired a methodological awareness on that research methods themselve are based on a particular ontology and a certain understanding of knowledge production (epistemology)

General competence: The student ...

  • can identify and critically reflect on ontological and epistemological foundations in research in health sciences
  • is able to enter into and initiate interdisciplinary research and practice with an meta-theoretical awareness
  • can identify and understand research as social practice
  • is able to identify and analyze relevant research ethical issues related to various epistemological positions, but also to research in general and to reasonableness in the research role in particular

Entry requirements

Master's degree with 120 ECTS credits or equivalent in relevant academic fields.

Number of participants: The course requires a minimum of 5 and a maximum of 20 participants. The number of PhD students should preferably comprise at least 50% of the total number of participants.

Teaching methods

The course is based on seminars. Working methods are lectures and organized seminars as well as group work. Individual and group-based guidance is provided for the essay, where the students discuss ontological, epistemological and ethical challenges associated with their own project. The students are thus trained in presenting their own work as well as in the role of an opponent. The student shall provide written and oral feedbacks on fellow students' first draft of the scientific essay. The examination assignment starts at the same time as the course, and the student receives individual and group-based supervision from fellow students and teachers.

Compulsory learning activities




An individual scientific essay that discusses scientific theoretical and ethical challenges with relevance to the student's own research project. The essay should be a maximum of 4500 words and the literature list must reflect both self-selected literature and a selection from the core literature of the course. The course coordinator, teachers and examiner evaluate the written essay.


Pass / fail

Re-sit exam

If failing to pass, an improved version of the task can be handed in for new assessment once.

Examination support material

Specified aids

All aids are permitted except Artificial Intelligence (AI)

More about examination support material