Philosophy

Philosophy of science

Working at the juncture between philosophy and research in the sciences, from physics to neuroscience and artificial intelligence

Philosophy of science is a thriving and interdisciplinary field of research, bringing together philosophy and cutting-edge science.

Key areas covered by researchers at Edinburgh include: metaphysical issues in science (philosophy of time and time-travel; realism and antirealism; natural kinds; causation; laws of nature); history and philosophy of science (especially, the history and philosophy of natural sciences); philosophy of psychology; philosophy of neuroscience; philosophy of cognitive sciences, foundations of probability, ethics of AI.

The group has strong links with the Higgs Centre for Theoretical Physics, the Royal Observatory Edinburgh, the Edinburgh Futures Institute, History at Edinburgh, the Institute for the Study of Science, Technology and Innovation, the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, and with the Science and Religion Programme in the School of Divinity.

Research questions

These are some of the research questions that faculty members in Philosophy of Science are interested in:

  • What ethical implications do new technologies have?
  • Can we trust AI?
  • Is there a replication crisis in the human and social sciences?
  • What is realism and antirealism about science?
  • What is pluralism and perspectivism?
  • Do natural kinds carve nature’s joints?
  • What is causation?
  • What is the nature of scientific explanation?
  • Is fictionalism about science viable?
  • What is the role of probability in scientific theories?
  • What is Bayesianism?
  • How to think of measurement in science?
  • What is time? Is time-travel possible?
  • What is a law of nature?
  • What does it mean for scientific representations to be equivalent?
  • What makes an attribute quantitative?

People

Core faculty working in this area include:

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Research interests
Dr Mazviita Chirimuuta Philosophy of computational neuroscience, Ernst Cassirer and the history of biology, scientific realism and scientific understanding
Dr Alistair Isaac Measurement, models, the history and foundations of psychology, especially psychophysics and the measurement of subjective experience. Measurement in physics, in particular the evidential role of high precision measurements of the fundamental constants.
Dr Suilin Lavelle Replication, philosophy of psychology (especially cross-cultural differences in concepts of mind), the nature of explanation.
Dr Jennifer Smalligan Marušić History of Modern Philosophy, history and philosophy of science, especially the nature of causation and scientific explanation.
Professor Michela Massimi Realism and antirealism in science, perspectivism and pluralism, scientific models, Kant and the laws of nature, natural kinds, history and philosophy of the physical sciences.
Dr Alasdair Richmond Intersection of metaphysics and philosophy of science, time travel, the topology of time, and the anthropic principle, early modern philosophy.
Dr Wolfgang Schwarz Structure and interpretation of probability in science, the status of laws, and selected topics in philosophy of physics and cognitive science.
Dr Mark Sprevak Philosophy of cognitive science; Ethics of AI; Foundations of computational modelling; General philosophy of science.
Professor Shannon Vallor Scientific virtues and values (epistemic, aesthetic, and moral), phenomenological foundations of evidence in scientific practice, role of technology and automation in scientific inquiry and knowledge production.
Dr Jo Wolff Metaphysics of science, structural realism, measurement and quantification.

Other faculty and post-docs with interests in this area include:

Postgraduate study

MSc Philosophy (specialisation in philosophy of science available)

PhD and MSc by Research programmes

Meetings and events

Over the years we have been running a series of successful seminars entitled Contemporary Debates in Philosophy of Science. You can catch up with some of these seminars here:

We have also organised several workshops in collaboration with colleagues across the physical and the human sciences — please see here for a small sample of these events:

Since 2014 we have run a MOOC called Philosophy and the Sciences, which is in two parts “Introduction to Philosophy of the Physical Sciences” and “Introduction to Philosophy of the Cognitive Sciences”.

Upcoming talks

Upcoming events are listed on the Philosophy events page

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