Science and Society - Online philosophy courses | Arts and Science Online

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Science & Society

PHIL 203/3.0

Philosophical issues-both epistemological and ethical-involved in specific debates about the relationship between science and social issues. The course may focus, for instance, on recent ‘popular’ sociobiology efforts by biologists and others to establish scientific theories of human nature and human potential.

Learning Outcomes

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this course students will be able to

  • Demonstrate the skills required for critically assessing the role of scientific data and theories that impact wider social life, public policy, etc.
  • Describe the interplay between fact and value, and be able to deploy the techniques for thinking critically about both. Be able to think about how facts inform values, and how values in turn play into finding, selecting, and making facts.
  • Demonstrate an understanding of objectivity, for a more critical understanding of the relationships between science and society.
  • Assess why science matters to society, and why society matters to science.


Some of the topics covered in this course include:

  • The Classic Fact/Value Dichotomy
  • Science, Politics and Business - Fact and the Value in Action
  • Science and Pseudo-Science
  • What Can We Say is Objective?
  • A New Understanding of Objectivity
  • Case Studies on:
    • Climate Change
    • DSM, and Other Ways of Being
    • Species - Invention or Discovery?
    • Race & Gender - Invention or Discovery?
  • So What is There, Really, in the World?


This course has two main, and connected, goals: the first is to introduce some of the main conceptual tools from the philosophy of science, and the second is to take those tools to the critical analysis of case studies in which science and broader society are importantly entwined.

We will investigate a number of questions, such as:

  • Is there a sharp distinction between fact and value, with science only dealing in facts, while values are strictly subjective?

  • What, if any, values influence science, and what values should influence science?

  • What influence, in turn, should science have on values?

  • What is objectivity? How do we get to an objective view of the world?

  • Is ignorance sometimes deliberately manufactured?

This is just a sampler of some of the gripping questions we will broach. Along the way, we will look at case studies of major contemporary concern, such as climate change, psychiatry and psychiatric disorders, and gender.


Winter 2019
Course Dates: 
Jan. 7 - Apr. 5, 2019
Exam Dates: 
Apr. 11-27, 2019


Online Discussions30%
Short Paper20%
Final Proctored Exam30%

**Evaluation Subject to Change**

Final Examination

Students must write their exam on the day and time scheduled by the University. The start time may vary slightly depending on the off-campus exam centre. Do not schedule vacations, appointments, etc., during the exam period.


Professor Mark Smith (

Instructor message

Mark SmithHello, and welcome to PHIL 203 – Science and Society. I’m Dr. Mark Smith (feel free to call me Mark). I teach in the Philosophy Department at Queen’s and I am your instructor for this course.

I did my doctoral research in the philosophy of mathematics. I regularly teach courses in philosophy of mathematics, metaphysics and the theory of knowledge, and the philosophy of Descartes. I occasionally also teach philosophy of science, symbolic logic, and other things. You can check out some more info about me at:

Time Commitment

To complete the readings, assignments, and course activities, students can expect to spend on average, about 10 hours per week (120 hours per term) on the course.

Additional Information

Course Resources


SOLUS is Queen’s Student On-Line University System. You’ll have access to a SOLUS account once you become a Queen’s student. You’ll use SOLUS to register for courses, add and drop courses, update your contact information, view financial and academic information, and pay your tuition.

About OnQ

onQ is Queen's online learning platform. You'll log into onQ to access your course. All materials related to your course—notes, readings, videos, recordings, discussion forums, assignments, quizzes, groupwork, tutorials, and help—will be on the onQ site.

About Credit Units

Queen’s courses are weighted in credit units. A typical one-term course is worth 3.0 units, and a typical two-term course is worth 6.0 units. You combine these units to create your degree. A general (three-year) BA or BSc requires a total of 90 credit units.

Computer Requirements

To take an online course, you’ll need a high speed internet connection as well as a microphone and speakers to be able to watch videos, hear sounds, and participate in interactive online activities. A webcam is recommended but not necessary.

System Requirements:

  • Laptop or Desktop computer purchased within the last 5 years. (mobile devices are not supported)
  • Windows Vista SP2/Mac OSX 10.9 or higher
  • Up to date versions of Firefox, Internet Explorer or Safari. Please note that Google Chrome is not recommended for use in our courses.
  • Most recent version of Adobe Reader and Adobe Flash

 See also Getting Started.


The deadlines for new applications to Queen’s Arts and Science Online courses are in our Upcoming Application Dates section.

Tuition Fees

Tuition fees vary depending when you start, your year, faculty, and program. Fees for Summer Term 2018 first-year Distance Career Arts & Science Domestic students are as follows: for a 3.0-unit course, $685.90; for a 6.0-unit course, $1371.80 See also Tuition and Fees.

Grading Scheme

The information below is intended for undergraduate students in the Faculty of Arts and Science. Academic Regulations in other Faculties may differ.

Letter Grade Grade Point

GPA Calculators
Have your SOLUS grade report handy and then follow the link to the Arts and Science GPA calculators.

How does this affect my academics?
See the GPA and Academic Standing page.

Follow the link above for an explanation of how the GPA system affects such things as the Dean’s Honour List, requirements to graduate, and academic progression.

Frequently Asked Questions on the Grading Scheme
Please follow this link to the FAQ's

Campus Bookstore

All textbooks can be purchased at Queen’s Campus Bookstore.

Non-Queen’s Students

All Queen’s Arts and Science Online courses are open to students at other universities. Before applying as a visiting student, request a Letter of Permission from your home university that states that you have permission to take the course and apply it to your degree. See also Apply.

Academic Integrity

Please see Queen’s policy statement on academic integrity for information on how to complete an online course honestly.