Understanding the Role and Utility of Philosophy of Science in Psychology and Beyond

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Psychology has been forefront among many disciplines that have recently experienced a crisis of confidence in the trustworthiness of research. Huge efforts to replicate published research have yielded mixed, sometimes worrying results. Numerous problems and solutions have been suggested, covering topics such as theoretical, methodological, and statistical practices. Ideas from philosophy of science (PoS) have recurred throughout these discussions, contextualising and informing many issues. PoS is a vast field, which studies the foundations of scientific activity such as its aims, methods, assumptions, and implications.
Given the integral role PoS has had in some of psychology’s reform discussions, the aim of this project was to better understand the role and utility of PoS in psychology research and related disciplines.
We undertook two distinct projects. One involved constructing and member checking a grounded theory about thirteen psychology researchers’ understanding of scientific method. From this we drew two major conclusions. First, philosophical differences between interviewees were microcosmic of historical debates about the conceptual foundations of psychology. Second, the principles of systematicity and epistemic virtues broadly encompassed principles and practices which interviewees would largely all agree as central aspects of scientific method.
Our second project involved developing, refining, and evaluating a philosophical workshop for researchers in empirical sciences. Learning about inferential logic and the basis of epistemic fallibilism encouraged many to be more critical of both research design and inferences. Among our many conclusions, our studies provided modest evidence that PoS is generally lacking from researchers’ education, both in quantity and quality. Consequently, scientific education should better incorporate contemporary ideas from PoS, such as inference methods and their links to various scientific methods.
Date of Award7 May 2024
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorMarcus R Munafo (Supervisor) & James A C Ladyman (Supervisor)

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