Laws of Nature

Graduate Program (& Advanced Certificate) Status

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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 to the major philosophical problems concerning laws of nature. The course is structured around three main topics. First, we shall discuss the classical rationalist and empiricist accounts of laws; then we shall investigate some specific kinds of laws (physical, statistical, ceteris paribus, etc.); and finally, we shall address the question about metaphysical foundations of laws.

Learning Outcomes: 

Students attending this course are expected to familiarize themselves with the most important issues about the current philosophical debates over laws of nature; about their role in the explanation of natural and social phenomena; and about some important metaphysical issues related to the notion of laws and the nature of nomic properties. 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. 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. 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. Thirdly, students are required to submit a max. 2 000 word long term-paper. The chosen topic should be approved by the instructor and presented in the last class of the course.

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