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Philosophy of Natural Sciences: The Arrows of Time


Admission requirements

This course is restricted to students enrolled in MA Philosophy 120 EC, specialisation Philosophy of Natural Sciences.
This specialist course is mandatory for above mentioned students.


Many processes in the world happen asymmetrically in time. Babies grow into old people, not the other way around; liquid mix spontaneously but do not separate spontaneously; and so on. Causes always precede their effects; memories are only of the past; and we experience time as flowing towards the future. But what do these phenomena have to do with each other? And how can they be explained? Can we, in fact explain the asymmetry that we see all around us?

We will confront the problem of time asymmetry on the boundary between philosophy and natural science, with our discussion topics ranging from metaphysical theories of time and causation to thermodynamics and big bang cosmology. It will soon become apparent that none of the simple answers – e.g., ‘entropy always increases’ – suffice to answer our questions; and indeed, we will find ourselves in an exciting field full of wild conjectures with far-reaching philosophical consequences.

The main course text is the by now classic overview by Paul Horwich: Asymmetries in Time: Problems in the Philosophy of Science (1987).

Course objectives

This course aims to: give students a thorough understanding of the philosophical problems surrounding asymmetries in time, including the asymmetries of causation, knowledge, time consciousness, entropy and the evolution of the universe.

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

  • the central philosophical questions surrounding asymmetries in time;

  • the relation between metaphysical and scientific questions concerning time asymmetry.

Students who successfully complete the course will be able to:

  • argue about the relations between the different arrows of time;

  • present a critical analysis of advanced philosophical literature in the field.


See Timetables MA Philosophy 2015-2016

Mode of instruction

  • Seminars

Class attendance is required.

Course Load

Total course load: 10 EC x 28 hours = 280 EC

  • Attending seminars: 14 × 3 hours = 42 hours

  • Weekly reading and assignments: 14 × 10 = 140 hours

  • Writing of papers: 98 hours.

Assessment method

  • Weekly assignments and class participation (criterion for being allowed entrance to the exam and resit)

  • Mid-term paper: 40%

  • Final paper: 60%


One resit will be offered, covering the entire course content, and consisting of a paper. The grade will replace previously earned grades for subtests. Students who have obtained a satisfactory grade for the first examination(s) cannot take the resit.


Blackboard will be used for posting texts, assignments and course information, announcements, discussion board.

Reading list

  • Paul Horwich, Asymmetries in Time: Problems in the Philosophy of Science (1987), ISBN 9780262580885

  • Other texts will be shared during the course.


Please register for this course via Study administration system uSis
See also Registration for lectures and tests

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

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Dr. V.A. Gijsbers