The course will offer a philosophical survey of the evolution of conceptions of microphysical objects, from their purely philosophical roots in ancient atomism to the modern theories of elementary particles. We will look into a wide range of philosophical debates that were instigated or inspired by those developments.

The course will look at the birth of atomism in ancient Greece (with a brief excursion to India),  the endorsement of atomist concepts in 17th century science, atomism’s empirical coming of age in the 19th century and its empirical confirmation in the early phases of the 20th century. We will also touch the conceptual changes of microphysics after the advent of quantum mechanics and the particle concept in contemporary particle physics.

Philosophically, we will analyze the substantial shifts of perspective that characterized the evolution of atomism throughout the centuries, on its way from an entirely metaphysical to a profoundly physical hypothesis; the mutual influence exerted onto each other by philosophical and physical strands of atomist thinking; the way in which the modern realism debate in the philosophy of science amounts to a continuation of historical disputes on atomism.  

The course is directed primarily towards philosophy students at the Masters and PhD level but also towards physicists interested in the philosophical roots and the contextualization of microphysical concepts.

Lecturer: Richard Dawid

The course consists of lecture elements and discussion. Each unit is accompanied by specific literature. The literature should be read by everyone in advance and will be addressed in our discussions. 

Time: Wednesday, 13.00-16.00. First unit: April 5. Last unit: May 17.

Room: See schedule for Teoretisk filosofi - magisterkurs


  • Texts and literature list can be found on Mondo.

Credits based on 2 assignment papers (about 3000 words each, submission deadline May 31 2017.)

The course will be held in English.