Teaching Philosophy of Science in France. Which type of didactical strategy? Marie-Geneviève Séré

Comment on Prof. Lecourt’s paper in Issue 5 of the Pantaneto Forum (January 2002)

Marie-Geneviève Séré

DidaScO (Groupe de Didactique des Sciences d’Orsay)

91405 ORSAY (France)


We are fortunate in France to have the opportunity of extending the teaching of philosophy of science to all university students. Hitherto, this has only applied to upper secondary school students, who must all follow a course of philosophy during the last year preceding their baccalauréat exam. Professor Lecourt is in charge of promoting such teaching at university level and produced a report, which was summarised in the last issue of this forum.  All universities are preparing to give shape to this project.

However, whilst the report is to be welcomed, traditionally, philosophy has always been taught only through lectures, and we would also propose that this teaching should include laboratory work.  We base this suggestion on research about “students’ images of science” (developed all over the world during the last decade[1]), and research on laboratory work[2].  The idea would be, not to abandon lectures, but to use lab work as a foundation, helping students to become conscious of the “underlying epistemology” of experimental work. This means that special teaching is necessary.

Two arguments among others support this idea:

(1)   There is a wide variety of “underlying epistemology” in every discipline and sub-discipline. The reasoning that underlies models employed in biology[3] is different from that employed in nuclear physics or, for instance, simulations of synthesis of chemicals.  By actually carrying out such different experiments, students can study and understand the varied modes of reasoning, such as induction, deduction or analogy.  Furthermore, the types of relationships between theory and experiment and between data and conclusions (with the latter’s associated uncertainty or risk) may be highlighted, judged and discussed.

(2)   Such “laboratory work” would be provided by university teachers who in France, fortunately, are also researchers “enseignants-chercheurs”.  Currently, it is not common for teachers to refer to their own research practices during teaching. However, it would be very fruitful for students to get personal epistemological comments from teachers, who are involved in a diverse range of experiments. One can imagine a molecular biologist’s comments in relation to an experiment being different from those of a biologist who is a specialist in statistical analysis, which would in turn be different from those comments of a biologist who is a specialist in microscopy. This sort of practice would not be an additional, time-consuming burden, nor would it be a teaching by “amateurs”, since it would be the discourse of professionals on their job. It could be a new way to take advantage of and to give interest in lab work.

Authors of lab work textbooks are invited to consider this new dimension of lab work. Furthermore, the university hierarchies should consider the needs of young “enseignants-chercheurs”, who are keen on training, by including philosophy of science in lab work guidance. It is time to incorporate philosophy of science into students’ experience by taking advantage of their teachers’ research experience. The result would be to help the teaching of philosophy of science at university level.


[1] A review of these types of studies can be found in: Leach, J., Millar, R., Ryder, J. and Séré, M-G. (2000) Epistemological understanding in science learning: the consistency of representations across contexts. Learning and Instruction, 10 (6), 497-527.

[2] The General Directorate XII of the European Commission funded a research project ‘Lab work in science Education’ (1996-98) coordinated by M.G. Séré. The final report can be found on: htpp://formation.etud.u-psud.fr/didasco/index.htm.


[3] See for instance: Séré M.G. & Galiana D. (in press) Enseigner la philosophie des sciences en DEUG scientifique:  Cours magistral ou travaux pratiques?  Didaskalia. De Boecke.