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Building Blocks of Nature: The Metaphysics of Science


Admission requirements

Admission to this course is restricted to MA students in Philosophy.


Understanding the philosophical framework of scientific inquiry is crucial, and a central aspect of this entails a grasp of fundamental metaphysical concepts and principles that underlie that framework. This advanced course will focus on specialized topics, including causation, laws of nature, reductionism and emergentism, realism and instrumentalism, and the metaphysics of spacetime. We will conclude the course by examining the nature of entity and object in physics, chemistry, and biology, focusing on the metaphysical tapestry of identity and individuality in quantum physics, molecular entities in chemistry, and genes, organisms, and species in biology. An historical approach to topics will be coupled with the contemporary challenge of “naturalized metaphysics” as a backdrop to the course.

This course will utilize Loux’s Metaphysics text in addition to several required articles.

MA students enrolled in this course will write a 20-25 page final paper, give a presentation, take part in class discussion, lead one class discussion at some point in the course, and write and present a research proposal for the class.

Course objectives

This advanced seminar course will provide students with a background in metaphysics of science, including both an historical and contemporary perspective.

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

  • the historical context of metaphysics of science and philosophy of science;

  • the role of causation, from the Humean tradition on, to present philosophy of science;

  • the relationship of causation to natural laws, and the metaphysical status of laws;

  • the challenge of “naturalized metaphysics,” especially as represented in Ross and Ladyman’s book, Everything Must Go;

  • the historical and current framework of the debate over the metaphysical status of spacetime, from Leibniz, Newton, and Kant through the present;

  • the historical and current framework of the nature of natural kinds in science;

  • the metaphysical status and structure of particulars in the various sciences, from quantum physics and physics through molecular entities in chemistry, to genes, organisms, and species in biology, with an historical and philosophical context alike.

Students who successfully complete the course will be able to:

  • articulate specialized topics in metaphysics of science, from causation, natural laws, naturalism, and natural kinds to the status of spacetime and entities within it;

  • articulate the historical context of particular topics in metaphysics of science, while relating that historical context to enduring debates and questions in the area;

  • elaborate and defend a personal position regarding the nature of metaphysical discourse in philosophy of science, and their own position with regard to specific debates;

  • draw upon experience leading a class discussion on assigned readings;

  • draft an application or research proposal for a grant, fund, or academic endeavor, and to articulate the proposal in a formal presentation.


See Timetables Philosophy 2014-2015 , Timetables MA Philosophy 60 EC/120 EC.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Class attendance is required.

Course Load

To be announced.

Assessment method

  • A 20-25 page final paper (60%)

  • 10 minute presentation (20%)

  • Participation (10%, including 5% for leading a class discussion)

  • Research proposal and presentation (10%)

One resit will be offered, consisting of the final paper. Any student who did not take the first examination cannot take the resit.


Blackboard will be used for updates, links, uploading slides, and the syllabus.

Reading list

Reference text:

  • M. J. Loux, Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction, 3rd Ed., Routledge, 2006.

In addition, peer-reviewed, scholarly articles will be assigned. Full bibliographic details will be posted to Blackboard. In some cases, materials may be reserved at the library for temporary student use.


Please register for this course on uSis.
See Registration for courses and examinations

Students are strongly advised to register in uSis through the activity number which can be found in the timetable for courses in the column under the heading “Act.nbr”.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


A.W.M. Martin, MA