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Science and Reality


Admission requirements

Enrollment in the MA Philosophy 60 EC specialisation Philosophy of Knowledge.


Is there a clear boundary between philosophy and science? The traditional methods of philosophy are a priori reasoning, conceptual analysis, and common sense. Philosophers have used these methods to develop theories of topics such as causation, determinism, time. But one would expect science, and especially physics, to bear on those topics too – maybe even to such an extent that there is no need for further philosophical reflection. Does science need philosophy? Does philosophy need science?

The idea behind ‘naturalised metaphysics’ is that philosophy should say what the world is like in light of the sciences. But naturalised metaphysics does not just repeat what science says. Instead, it pays careful attention to the details of scientific theories, while remaining sensitive to the fact that those theories are open to interpretation. For example, to discover the nature of time the naturalised metaphysician does not look to our intuitions or experiences, but to Einstein’s theory of space-time.

In this course we will put this approach to metaphysics into practice by considering a range of philosophical questions in a way that is informed by contemporary science, from physics to neuroscience and from chemistry to biology. Topics will likely include: determinism, probability, causation, time, genetics, neuroscience, chemical substances, the emergence of the macro-world from the micro-world, symmetries and invariance, the existence of individuals, and the determinacy of reality.

Although the material covered in this course is related to science, we will mostly read philosophical texts and no background in any science is required. We will read works by Shamik Dasgupta, Daniel Dennett, Peter Godfrey-Smith, Katherine Hawley, Jenann Ismael, David Lewis, Tim Maudlin, W.V.O. Quine, and David Wallace, amongst others.

Course objectives

This course aims to enable students to think about traditional philosophical questions in light of contemporary science, as well as the relation between science and philosophy more broadly.

Students who successfully complete the course will have a good understanding of:

  • the relation between science and philosophy, and in particular the approach of naturalised metaphysics;

  • various metaphysical topics as they relate to the natural sciences, such as determinism, causation and time.

Students who successfully complete the course will be able to:

  • explain (in both spoken and written form) how the results of science bear on the specific metaphysical topics discussed in this course;

  • independently arrive at and defend a position on one of those topics taking into account scientific results insofar as they are discussed in the philosophical literature;

  • critically reflect on the relation between one’s own philosophical practice and that of science.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminars.

Class attendance is required.

Assessment method


  • Weekly reading responses (10%);

  • Class presentation (20%);

  • Final paper (70%).

The final paper must be on a topic different from the presentation.

Satisfactory attendance and participation in class is required for admission to the exam.


The final mark for the course is established by determining the weighted average. To pass the course, the weighted average of the partial grades must be 5.5 or higher.


The resit consists of a longer paper on a set question. The resit counts for 70% of your grade and replaces the grades for the reading responses and the final paper. The grade for the presentation remains in place. Students who have passed the course cannot participate in the resit. Attendance and active participation in class is required for admission to the resit.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

The required reading material will be made available through Brightspace.


Enrolment through MyStudyMap is mandatory.

General information about course and exam enrolment is available on the website.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Huizinga.