Fall 2011 Schedule of Courses


SECTION 1, 6:00 - 8:40 P.M.


Brian Ellis, The Philosophy of Nature, (paperback)
Stephen Weinberg, Dreams of a Final Theory, (paperback)
Robert Laughlin, A Different Universe, (paperback)
Others TBA

The course will focus upon the metaphysics of science – one of the fastest growing areas of research in the philosophy of science. The class will be divided into two sections. In section (I) we will survey competing accounts of some key ontological notions in the sciences, including older Humean views, but focusing primarily on recent accounts growing from the non-Humean, powers-based metaphysics that is emerging as the consensus position in the area. The topics we will cover are: (a) properties and their natures; (b) individuals and their kinds; (c) causation and production; (d) laws of nature; and (e) compositional relations in the sciences. The mid-term examination will be on the material of section (I).

In the second half of the course, in section (II), we will use our earlier work to engage a core issue in philosophy of science and the sciences themselves: continuing debates over ‘reduction’ and ‘emergence’. We will look at philosophical models of ‘reduction’ and ‘emergence’, but then also consider the rather different accounts of ‘reduction’ offered by scientists like Stephen Weinberg, and also the opposing views of ‘emergence’ defended by other scientific researchers such as Robert Laughlin. We will then work through the philosophical and scientific accounts to examine which come closer to the truth – or at least to the live positions about the structure of nature and the sciences. We will conclude by looking at arguments about concrete scientific examples that are claimed to resolve the debates for one side or the other and assess what has actually been shown, so far, using these cases. Students will write a final paper on a topic based upon the material of section (II).

This course will be a mixture of lecture and class discussion with some student presentations. (There will be a mandatory weekly Blackboard assignment on the week’s readings prior to the mid-term exam). The grade for the course will be based primarily on a mid-term on section (I) of the class and a final paper on section (II).