Heidelberg University

Philosophy of Physics

Norman Sieroka, ETH Zürich


The course provides a systematic introduction to philosophical questions in and about physics and to their historical development. After introducing important stages in the history of physics, starting with antiquity and the early modern period, the course focuses on the last two centuries. We will explore in some detail the development of electromagnetism, relativity theory, and quantum physics, and will carefully examine the character of the knowledge that these theories provide. Particular attention is paid to typical explanatory strategies, to the role of experiments and predictions, to the formation and development of theories and concepts (such as causation), and to the significance and prominence of mathematics in modern physics.

The course is intended for graduate students who desire to learn more about the philosophical (especially epistemological) implications of physics theories they have studied or heard about. The references to the history of physics are born of a conviction that a deeper understanding of systematic questions can only be gained through an awareness of the origin and background of these questions.

The content of the course is based on the following two books:

    - Norman Sieroka. Philosophie der Physik - Eine Einführung. Beck-Verlag, München 2014.
    - James T. Cushing. Philosophical Concepts in Physics. Cambridge University Press, 1998.