Winter semester

Enrollment for the following courses starts on September 13.

SE The Origin of Thought (Christopher Gauker)
The course will examine recent writings by philosophers and psychologists who speculate over the historical roots of higher cognition. We will pose questions such as these: What are the non-linguistic precursors to language? What problems were originally solved by the advent of long-term memory?

SE Surrogative Reasoning in the Sciences (Rawad El Skaf) Surrogative reasoning is an effective form of scientific thinking especially used when scientists do not have direct empirical access to the target systems under study. Scientists can reason surrogatively via different material and cognitive “tools”, such as Analogy, Thought Experiments and Computer Simulations; by means of these tools, they construct and use material systems as well as purely conceptual scenarios with the aim to investigate a potential real-world phenomenon, to generate new hypotheses, or to evaluate an already established scientific theory. Surrogative reasoning is increasingly adopted in various fields of science, as it is the most (and sometimes even the only) effective way to draw inferences in those cases in which direct experimentation is precluded: for instance, because the target system is too far away (e.g. black holes), too small (e.g. elementary particles), too complex (e.g. the earth climate), too expensive to construct (e.g. real-scaled bridges), unethical/dangerous to experiment on (e.g. pharmacology and human medicine). This course aims at first introducing the philosophical debates around some of these tools. Secondly, at analysing the unifying features of such specific material and cognitive tools when employed within surrogative reasoning.

UV Knowledge and Evidence (Brett Topey)This course addresses some fundamental problems in epistemology, the branch of philosophy concerned with the nature of knowledge and the conditions on justified (or rational) belief. We’ll investigate the structure of justification, including just what sorts of things count as evidence and just what role evidence plays in justifying our beliefs. We’ll also discuss what it takes for a belief to count as knowledge and what the relationship is between knowledge and justified belief. Along the way, we’ll examine some powerful skeptical arguments purporting to show that we can’t know, or have justified beliefs about, even the most ordinary facts about the world around us.

SE Introduction to Philosophy of Science and Physics (Valeriya Chasova) Physics gave us lamps and laptops, but how does it work and what its theoretical machinery really means? Understanding this goes through studying science in general, issues specific to a given physical theory and some transversal aspects.The seminar will survey some of the major topics from philosophy of science and fundamental physics of the XX-XXI centuries, such as: – What is a scientific theory – The relationship between scientific theories and the world – Which physical theories there are – Interpretations of quantum mechanics – Paradoxes of special relativity – Problems with general relativity – The search for quantum gravity – Building gauge theories – Symmetries in physics

UV Logic III: Modal logic and Metalogic (Matteo de Ceglie) It is often said that logic is the study of „good reasoning“. Usually, this entails that logic can (and should) be used to evaluate arguments and proofs to see if they are „rational“ and „sound“. And this is exactly what the common syllaba of the first two courses in logic (i.e. Logic I and II) include: a presentation of argumentation theory (what does it mean for an argument to be sound) and then the tools and methods to formalise the arguments (propositional logic and first order logic). In those treatments, the main focus is usually how to formalise sentences in the natural languages (so the symbols and formula rules are presented) and then how to write formal, syntactic proofs (for example using natural deduction). The focus is always on the arguments, „external“ to the logical system.In this course the focus is instead on logic itself. Rather than using logic for some investigation, we will investigate logic, using logic itself. This means we will do what is called meta-logic. We will prove some fundamental results about logic: soundness and completeness (for both propositional and first order logic), the compactness theorem and the Löwenheim-Skolem theorem. After that, we will also briefly introduce some notions of modal logic, a crucial logic for any formal work in philosophy, from epistemology to ethics.

SE Topics in the Philosophy of Mathematics (Matteo de Ceglie) Mathematics is one of the oldest ’sciences‘. As such, it has sparked the interest of philosophers from the very beginning, with the Greek philosophers Pythagoras and Plato as pioneers. Philosophy of mathematics is now one of the cornerstones of contemporary philosophy: its main topics range from ontological and epistemological questions to technical questions regarding mathematical practice. In this course, we will investigate some of the most important questions regarding mathematics: What is mathematics? What counts as a proof? How do we know mathematics? Do mathematical objects really exist? What is a good foundation of mathematics? Such questions have been investigated from the very inception of philosophy itself, and are a fundamental part of the contemporary debate between mathematics and philosophy.

SE Philosophical Problems in Decision-Making (Silvana Pani) Which route should I take to get to the department (out of three possible ways)? Who should be (or should have been) prioritized for Covid-19 vaccines in our society?What is the difference between ordinary choices such as a restaurant order anda political decision with massive societal impact? How do we make decisions about the way ourbodies move in the environment we live in? What kind of cognitive capacities underlieour choices? Answering these and other questions will provide a philosophical inquiryinto some issues surrounding decision theory, from conceptions of utility andrationality to practical reasoning and heuristics, the effect of mentally representing choices and the question of whether (and to what extent) we can compare values.

SE Liberal Political Philosophy (Raimund Pils) The term ‘liberalism’ is both a central part of (the history of) political theory, but also of modern political discourse. This seminar offers a historically informed and topical treatment of this tradition. It covers both the classic texts at the beginning of this tradition (e.g., Locke, Mill) and the more contemporary adaptions (e.g., Hayek, Rawls). The seminar maps the full spectrum of current liberal thought from right-libertarianism to left-progressive-liberalism. The main questions that will be addressed include the nature of liberty, of property, and of the size and role of the state.All of this has direct practical relevance for students engaging in today’s political climate, as topics such as liberty, equality, property rights, and the role of the state are central to the contemporary discourse. Students thus learn both how this ideology emerged historically and evolved through the centuries, but also how to apply these concepts in the modern discourse, thus providing both academic and practical political knowledge.

Summer semester

Enrollment for the following courses starts on February 10.

UV The Significance of Common Sense Psychology (Johannes Brandl)

SE Mental Representations (Silvana Pani)It is widely agreed that the mind represents things and events in the external (or internal) world. It is less agreed by philosophers, psychologists, and neuroscientists how the mind represents. Students in this seminar will engage with some of the main theories and debates on the nature, the contents, and the roles of mental representations in human cognition.

SE First Philosophy: The System of Beings (Peter Simons)

SE Philosophy of symmetries in physics (Valeriya Chasova) Symmetries are invariances under transformations. For instance, if we rotate a snowflake, the angles between its branches will get preserved, hence rotation is a symmetry of the snowflake.In physics symmetries are omnipresent. For example, usually experimental results are the same here as there, and the same today as they were yesterday. And likewise physical equations are usually invariant under changes in spatial and temporal variables. Moreover, symmetries helped to build most of the major fundamental physical theories of the XX century, namely special relativity, general relativity and the Standard Model of particle physics. And these theories are empirically successful, as results like the recent detections of the Higgs boson and of the gravitational waves make clear. On the other hand, not all parts of physical theories are deemed to be connected with the world, because some may be just mathematical artefacts instead. And symmetries are often associated with the latter, because the usual criterion for separating, within a physical theory, its physical content from a mathematical surplus is to cut out what varies under symmetry transformations. So, the role of symmetries in physics seems mysterious, and many have tried to address it. The seminar will serve to present and discuss the main issues and ideas within that domain.

SE Objectivity and Values in Science (Rawad El Skaf)Unlike other modes of inquiry, scientific method(s), goals, results and claims are or at least should be objective. Without objectivity as an ideal driving science or as a virtue science actually has, it is hard to see what grounds scientific success in finding out how the world is. It leaves science open to being influenced and motivated by particular and subjective factors such as personal interests, perspectives, values and bias. This could be damaging to science’s epistemic, social and even political authority. However, objectivity has been criticized repeatedly both by scientists and philosophers. While some doubt the possibility of objectivity, others doubt its desirability. Indeed, objectivity is a central notion to many debates in philosophy of science such as observational evidence, theory choice and scientific change/progress; underdetermination of theory by evidence; demarcation between science and pseudo-science; context of discovery vs. context of justification vs. context of pursuit; idealisations and scientific representation; scientific method; experimentation and reproducibility of scientific results; realism and anti-realism; the incommensurability of scientific theories. Understanding the different notions of objectivity and their role in science is therefore integral to a full appreciation of these debates. The reverse is also true: it is impossible to fully appreciate the notion of scientific objectivity without touching upon many of these debates. This course aims at analysing the different notions of scientific objectivity and their role in debates in the philosophy of science.

UV Mathematics for philosophers (Matteo de Ceglie)In recent years, mathematics is ever more present in philosophy. Without considering logic and philosophy of mathematics, subjects such as epistemology, philosophy of language, philosophy of science, metaphysics, and even ethics are all becoming more and more „mathematised“. In this course, we will introduce, in a friendly, accessible, and yet rigorous way, most of the mathematical tools used in contemporary philosophy. More precisely, we will introduce a host of basic notions and techniques such as basic set theory, machines, semantics, probabilities, information theory, decision theory, and the infinite. In doing so, we will also discuss some examples of philosophical arguments that make use of these concepts. And, to make sure we properly understand these mathematical tools, we will regularly do some accessible and yet fun exercises. After this course, the students will be able to understand and actively engage with most of the technical notions that are currently used in contemporary philosophy.

SE Death and Dying (Stephen Müller)