Laws of Nature

Graduate Program (& Advanced Certificate) Status

Course Level: 
Course Open to: 
Students on-site
Academic Year: 
US Credits: 
ECTS Credits: 
Course Description: 

Laws of nature play a prominent role in modern science as well as in many areas in philosophy. Laws have a close conceptual relation to explanation, confirmation, causation, counterfactuals and probabilities. They are also involved in metaphysical issues concerning reduction and freedom of will.  Nonetheless, the nature, or even the existence, of natural laws is a contentious issue. This course provides a general introduction into the major philosophical problems concerning laws of nature. The course is structured around three main topics. First, we shall discuss the classical empiricist accounts of laws, induction and explanation; then we shall investigate some specific kinds of laws (fundamental, statistical, ceteris paribus, causal laws); and finally, we shall address the metaphysics of laws and properties.

Learning Outcomes: 

Students are expected to acquire the ability to reconstruct and analyze philosophical arguments or positions. These involve the understanding of validity and soundness of the arguments, the ability to identify background principles and assumptions as well as the ability to draw out the consequences of certain philosophical commitments. They are also expected to acquire certain oral communication skills such as the ability to formulate arguments concisely and accessibly in words, and to give short critical comments. They should also learn how to identify and execute an appropriate writing project. Finally, they should be familiarized with the main contemporary debates about philosophy of action. Learning outcomes shall be measured by term papers and oral presentations on the relevant topics.  


Students’ performance shall be evaluated on the following grounds. First, students are required to attend classes regularly and to participate actively in seminar discussions. 30 % of their final grade shall be given on the basis of this in-class activity. Second, students are required to give one or two short presentations of some chosen topic(s). The choice of topic is optional, but overlap should be avoided. This will make up another 30 % of their final grade. Thirdly, students are required to submit a max. 4 000 word long term-paper. The chosen topic should be approved by the instructor and presented in the last class of the course. The term paper’s contribution to the final assessment of students’ performance is 40 %.