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Philosophy of Space and Time


Admission requirements

Admission to this course is restricted to:

  • BA students in Filosofie, who have successfully completed at least 70 ECTS credits of the mandatory components of the first and second year of their bachelor’s programme, including History of Modern Philosophy, Logica, Epistemologie or Wetenschapsfilosofie, Analytische filosofie.

  • BA students in Philosophy: Global and Comparative Perspectives, who have successfully completed at least 70 ECTS credits of the mandatory components of the first and second year of their bachelor’s programme, including World Philosophies: Modern Europe, Logic, Epistemology or Philosophy of Science, Language of Thought.

  • Pre-master’s students in Philosophy who are in possession of an admission statement and who have to complete an advanced seminar, to be selected from package C.

  • BA students in Natuurkunde and BA students in Sterrenkunde in their third year of studies.

Note: no advanced knowledge of physics and/or mathematics is required for this course!


Historically, the disciplines of philosophy and physics were deeply intertwined. So-called ‘natural philosophers’, such as René Descartes, Isaac Newton and Émilie du Châtelet wondered about the nature of the physical world as much as about metaphysics and epistemology.
The nature of space and time is still of much interest to philosophers today. This course is relevant for anyone interested in philosophical questions about the fundamental aspects of nature – questions that modern-day physicists themselves usually do not ask.

In this course, we will consider philosophical questions about space and time, informed by theories from physics such as classical mechanics. We start with the most basic question: does space, and does time, even exist? After all, it is possible to measure distance but not space itself. And if space and time do exist, what are their characteristics we can discern? How could these questions be answered using observations of matter in motion?

We will also consider the modern idea of a unified space-time, and what Einstein’s theory of special relativity has to say about this concept. Without the need for any complicated mathematics, the course will consider such questions as whether time truly flows and whether time travel is possible. Although a detailed discussion of general relativity is beyond the scope of the course, we will briefly and informally discuss what it says about spacetime.

This course requires no previous background knowledge of physics, but a readiness to consider ideas from physics in mostly non-technical from is expected of all students that attend this class.

Course objectives

This course aims to enable you to understand the interplay between physics and philosophy in debates about the nature of space and time, and to explicate, defend and criticize positions in these debates.

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

  • the position of the sub-field of philosophy of physics with respect to both physics and philosophy;

  • historical debates about the nature of space and time, and their relation tot he contemporary literature on this topic;

  • various accounts of the structure of space and/or time, such as: Newtonian, Galilean and Minkowski spacetime; temporal orientation; spacetime curvature;

  • central debates in the contemporary philosophy of space and time, such as: substantivalism vs relationism, conventionalism, eternalism vs presentism.

Students who successfully complete the course will be able to:

  • read, analyze and discuss both historical and contemporary texts on the philosophy of space and time in depth;

  • confidently make use of non-technical concepts from physics in philosophical debates;

  • write an essay in accord with current writing standards in analytic philosophy, offering a reasoned defense of a claim about one of the topics discussed in the course.


The timetables are available through MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminars.

Class attendance is required.

Assessment method


  • Weekly assignments on Brightspace;

  • Final essay.

The questions on the assignments will consist of questions about the various concepts from physics discussed in this course.

Satisfactory completion of the weekly assignments is a prerequisite for submitting the final paper.


  • Weekly assignments (20%);

  • Final essay (80%).


The resit offers the opportunity to students who obtained an insufficient overall grade for the course to write a longer paper that counts for 100% for the overall grade, overwriting the grades for both the midterm essay and the final essay.

Sufficient attendance at the seminars and adequate weekly preparation for the seminars is a condition for participation in the resit.

Students who have passed the course cannot participate in 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

We will use the following books in this course:

  • Maudlin, T. (2010), Philosophy of Physics: Space and Time, Princeton University Press (ISBN: 9780691165714);

  • Huggett, N. (1999), Space from Zeno to Einstein, MIT Press (ISBN: 9780262581691);

  • Dainton, B. (2010), Time and Space, Routledge (ISBN: 978-1844651917).

These will be supplemented by selected articles made available in class.


Enrolment through MyStudymap is not possible for this course. Students are requested to submit their preferences for the third-year electives by means of an online registration form. They will receive the instruction and online registration form by email (uMail account); in June for courses scheduled in semester 1, and in December for courses scheduled in semester 2. Registration in uSis will be taken care of by the Education Administration Office.


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

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


Not applicable.