Skull prepared by F. J. Gall, ca. 1812 [Foto (c) Bullenwächter]

Sciences vs. Non- and Pseudo-Sciences: The Demarcation Problem

Winter term 2022/23 Seminarplan Seminar Thursdays 16-18 Uhr KG I HS 1227

Please read the syllabus carefully!

We have a rough and ready idea what sciences are and that some methods to gain knowledge are “scientific” whereas others are “unscientific.” Conducting a social survey, doing experiments in behaviour economics or constructing computer models to predict how the climate changes is scientific, relying on hearsay, following gut intuitions or compiling knowledge from randomly selected search results on google is not. Moreover, we consider some fields of knowledge to be “pseudo-sciences.” Astrology is a prime example, although it was consider being a science for a long time.

How do we justify these intuitive judgements? What principles do we appeal to, and which elements of the sciences do we focus on? A central discussion in philosophy of science is devoted to precisely this “demarcation problem”: to finding criteria that distinguish between sciences, pseudo-sciences and non-scientific knowledge. Despite the fact that philosophers and scientists often agree on individual cases, giving an account of general criteria is not just surprisingly hard but the search for it was more or less abandoned in the 1980s. The demarcation problem was declared unsolvable or even a “pseudo-problem.” In the seminar, we will revisit this discussion and consider newer contributions, which were often prompted by political worries. After all, should philosophy of science not be able to show why e.g. creationism or astrology are not sciences?

Preparatory Reading

Hansson, Sven Ove (2017): Science and Pseudo-Science. In: Edward N. Zalta, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,

Oreskes, Naomi (2021): Why Trust Science? Princeton/Oxford: Princeton University Press.

Pigliucci, Massimo and Maarten Boudry (eds.) (2013): Philosophy of Pseudoscience. Reconsidering the Demarcation Problem. Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press.

Rupnow, Dirk, Veronika Lipphardt, Jens Thiel und Christina Wessely (eds.) (2008): Pseudowissenschaft. Konzeptionen von Nichtwissenschaftlichkeit in der Wissenschaftsgeschichte. Frankfurt a. M.: Suhrkamp.


There are no special requirements.


Examination: The final assessment task is to write a term paper of 4,000–5,000 words, to be handed in before 15th of March 2023 (as an electronic copy and in print). Please discuss the topic with me before you start writing.

Pass/Fail Examination: Each student must give a short presentation (10min max!) of the core text (or texts if there are more than one) in one session. This short presentation is intended to open up the discussion in class and should answer three questions:

  • What is the main argument in the text? How can we express its main thesis?
  • How does the argument work?
  • Where do you see problems? Identify where you find an argument hard to understand or why you think an argument is inconclusive.

Please be aware that you should reconstruct the argument and not just recall the text. Since you will not have time to include every detail, you must decide what is important and what is not. It is far better if we discover in the discussion that we do need some of the left-out passages than if you try to cramp everything into the presentation.

For details, please read the syllabus carefully.