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Unit information: Philosophical Foundations of Physics in 2020/21

Unit name Philosophical Foundations of Physics
Unit code PHIL30054
Credit points 10
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Professor. Ladyman
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of Philosophy
Faculty Faculty of Arts


The aim of this unit is to explore metaphysical, methodological, epistemological and conceptual issues that arise in modern physics. We focus on quantum mechanics and relativity theory.

Topics covered include: the Copehagen interpretation of quantum mechanics; the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen experiment and Bell’s theorem; locality and action-at-a-distance; the problem of measurement in quantum mechanics and Schroedinger’s cat paradox; the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics; causation and chance; space and time in Aristotle’s, Newton’s, and Einstein’s physics; the notion of simultaneity in Einstein’s theory of relativity; and geometry and relativity physics.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this unit, students will be able to demonstrate:

(1) a sophisticated knowledge of the metaphysical, methodological, epistemological and conceptual issues that arise in modern physics.

(2) a sophisticated knowledge of the literature on these issues

(3) an ability to engage philosophically with, analyse, and critically appraise the main arguments in this literature.

(4) the sophisticated skills in philosophical writing and argumentation appropriate to level H/6.

Teaching details

Lectures, individual exercises, and virtual learning environment.

Assessment Details

Summative: one take home open book exam designed to test the intended learning outcomes - 100% (ILOs 1-4)

Reading and References

  • Cushing, J., Philosophical Concepts in Physics.
  • David Albert, D., Quantum Mechanics and Experience.
  • Sklar, L. Philosophy of Physics.
  • Kosso, P., Appearance and Reality: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Physics.
  • Sklar, L., Space, Time and Spacetime.