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Unit information: Advanced Philosophy of Physics in 2018/19

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Unit name Advanced Philosophy of Physics
Unit code PHILM0029
Credit points 20
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Professor. Ladyman
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of Philosophy
Faculty Faculty of Arts


This unit will examine a selection of conceptual issues in the foundations of physical theory with particular focus on the physics of the mid-to-late 20th century. We will grapple with the philosophical problems that lie at heat of the most advanced physical theories, and in doing so attempt to answer fundamental questions about symmetry, matter and the early universe.

The aim of this course is to explore metaphysical, methodological, epistemological and conceptual issues that arise in contemporary physics. We cover topics such as: the arrow of time in thermal physics; the interpretation of quantum field theory; emergence and universality in condensed matter physics; fine tuning problems and inflationary cosmology; spontaneous symmetry breaking and the Higgs mechanism; and time in quantum gravity.

Intended learning outcomes

By the end of the unit, students will be expected to be able to:
(1) Identify the key debates within the philosophy of contemporary physics and discuss and analyze these with the sophistication appropriate to level M/7.
(2) Critically assess arguments made in the relevant physics literature and philosophy of physics literature.
(3) Explain, in a written argument, the strengths and weaknesses of positions taken within these debates with a sophistication appropriate to level M/7.
(4) Communicate these arguments with clear, fluent writing with a sophistication appropriate to level M/7.
(5) Develop and demonstrate research skills with a sophistication appropriate to level M/7.

Teaching details

1-hour lecture + 1-hour seminar each week + essay tutorials

Assessment Details

One essay of 5,000-6,000 words (excluding bibliography) designed to test ILOs (1)-(5).

Reading and References

Batterman, The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Physics​, OUP (2013)​

Butterfield and Earman, Philosophy of Physics Parts A & B. Elsevier (2006)

Rickles, The Ashgate Companion to Contemporary Philosophy of Physics. Ashgate (2008)