Fall 2021: Geometric Possibility

The philosophy of physics deals with methodological, epistemological, and metaphysical issues in physics. This seminar has the dual purpose of systematically introducing the background necessary to do research in philosophy of physics as well as discussing current research in the field.

What is the nature of space? What is its structure? Is it ontologically prior to matter, or should we seek to ground all claims about the structure of space in facts about actual and possible configurations of matter? In this seminar, which will be organised around Gordon Belot's monograph 'Geometric Possibility', we will discuss these and related questions. In particular, with Belot, we will investigate the particular notion of geometric possibility that relationalists seem to rely upon, and study its tenability in the context of Humean, primitivist, and necessitarian views of possibility. Consequently, the seminar will be of interest not only to philosophers and metaphysicians of space and time, but also to anyone interested in laws of nature and modality.

While some background in physics, mathematics, and philosophy will be helpful, we will not assume any specific knowledge beyond high school mathematics.

This seminar will be in English.

Course Requirements

If this seminar is taken for credit, please let me know. You will have to fulfill requirements, depending on the module for which you are taking this course. For credit in philosophy:

- travail écrit de recherche avec soutenance (env. 25 pages, 50'000 signes)
- travail écrit de recherche (env. 12 pages, 24'000 signes) ou présentation orale durant le séminaire

Contact me if you need credit in physics or in another programme.

My expectation is that everyone prepares the assigned readings ahead of time, actively participates in the seminar (including those featuring a guest speaker), and accepts a reasonable share of presentation duties.

Course Materials

Course materials such as lecture notes, handouts, etc may be made available as they will be used in class.

The readings for this seminar will be from the following sources:

  • Belot, Gordon (2011). Geometric Possibility. Oxford University Press.
  • All other reading materials will be made available on Moodle.

Schedule (Fall 2021)

This is the schedule for the seminar. It is subject to adjustment. For titles and abstracts of the guest seminars, visit genevasymmetrygroup.wordpress.com/. Reading marked with an asterisk (*) are not mandatory.

Date Readings Presenter(s)
22.09. *Dasgupta (2015)
*Hoefer, Huggett, and Read (2021), Stanford Encyclopedia entry
Christian Wüthrich
29.09. Stein (1967) Lorenzo Cocco
06.10. Earman (1989), Ch. 6, pp. 111-136 Ryan Miller
13.10. Manders (1982) Joshua Babic
20.10. Belot, Ch. 1, pp. 8-34 Alberto Corti
27.10. Belot, Ch. 2, pp. 35-53 Marta Pedroni
03.11. No seminar (semaine de lecture)
10.11. Field (1984), pp. 56-74 Lorenzo Cocco
17.11. Huggett (2006) Emilia Margoni
24.11. Belot, Ch. 3, pp. 54-77 Joshua Babic
01.12. Carroll (1994), Ch. 4, pp. 86-116 Gaia Valenti
08.12. Guest seminar: Siska de Baerdemaeker
15.12. Belot, Ch. 4, pp. 78-101 Ryan Miller
22.12. Belot, Ch. 5, pp. 102-133 Alberto Corti