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Unit information: Advanced Philosophy of Physics in 2021/22

Unit name Advanced Philosophy of Physics
Unit code PHILM0029
Credit points 20
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Professor. Ladyman
Open unit status Not open

Philosophy of Physics, PHILM0005, or Philosophical Issues of Physical Sciences PHIL30052, or equivalent



School/department Department of Philosophy
Faculty Faculty of Arts

Description including Unit Aims

This unit will examine a selection of conceptual issues in the foundations of physical theory with particular focus on the physics of the mid-to-late 20th century. We will grapple with the philosophical problems that lie at heat of the most advanced physical theories, and in doing so attempt to answer fundamental questions about symmetry, matter and the early universe.

The aim of this course is to explore metaphysical, methodological, epistemological and conceptual issues that arise in contemporary physics. We cover topics such as: the arrow of time in thermal physics; the interpretation of quantum field theory; emergence and universality in condensed matter physics; fine tuning problems and inflationary cosmology; spontaneous symmetry breaking and the Higgs mechanism; and time in quantum gravity.

Intended Learning Outcomes

By the end of the unit, students will be expected to be able to:
(1) Identify the key debates within the philosophy of contemporary physics and discuss and analyze these with the sophistication appropriate to level M/7.
(2) Critically assess arguments made in the relevant physics literature and philosophy of physics literature.
(3) Explain, in a written argument, the strengths and weaknesses of positions taken within these debates with a sophistication appropriate to level M/7.
(4) Communicate these arguments with clear, fluent writing with a sophistication appropriate to level M/7.
(5) Develop and demonstrate research skills with a sophistication appropriate to level M/7.

Teaching Information

Lectures, small group work, individual exercises, seminars and virtual learning environment.

Assessment Information

Summative Assessment: One essay of up to 6,000 words (excluding bibliography) designed to test the ILOs (1-5). - 100%


If this unit has a Resource List, you will normally find a link to it in the Blackboard area for the unit. Sometimes there will be a separate link for each weekly topic.

If you are unable to access a list through Blackboard, you can also find it via the Resource Lists homepage. Search for the list by the unit name or code (e.g. PHILM0029).

How much time the unit requires
Each credit equates to 10 hours of total student input. For example a 20 credit unit will take you 200 hours of study to complete. Your total learning time is made up of contact time, directed learning tasks, independent learning and assessment activity.

See the Faculty workload statement relating to this unit for more information.

The Board of Examiners will consider all cases where students have failed or not completed the assessments required for credit. The Board considers each student's outcomes across all the units which contribute to each year's programme of study. If you have self-certificated your absence from an assessment, you will normally be required to complete it the next time it runs (this is usually in the next assessment period).
The Board of Examiners will take into account any extenuating circumstances and operates within the Regulations and Code of Practice for Taught Programmes.