PHI 327 Philosophy of Physics

Spring 2003


Professor: Hans Halvorson
E-mail: hhalvors
Phone: 8-1494
Office: Marx Hall, Room 205
Office hours: First week of class: Thursday (Feb 6) 1:30-2:30pm. And then Tuesdays 2:30-3:30. I'm happy to set up appointments by e-mail, but please give at least a day's advance notice.

Assistant in Instruction: Daniel Rothschild
E-mail: drothsch
Phone: 8-4292
Office: 1879 Hall, Room 114
Office hours: TBA

Prerequisites: This course has no physics courses as prerequisites. However, due to the technical nature of the subject matter, a moderate level of mathematical maturity (e.g., symbolic logic, calculus) would be very helpful.

Course Description: We shall look at several competing interpretations of quantum mechanics (e.g., Everett's many universe interpretation, Bohr's Copenhagen interpretation), and the philosophical issues that divide them (e.g., is nature deterministic? Are there nonlocal causal connections?) If time permits, we might also take up some more advanced topics such as quantum information theory and quantum field theory.

Lectures: Mon & Wed, 12:30–1:20pm; Friend Center 006. Lectures will assume that you have already read the material that is the topic of the lecture.

Precepts: You are required to attend a weekly precept.  Precepts will be devoted to discussing philosophical and technical issues that arise in the lecture and readings. You are expected to have done the appropriate reading, and your preceptor may choose to determine part of your grade based on precept participation.

Precept cards will be filled out during the first class, and assignments will be posted by Wednesday, 02.05 on the bulletin board in the Philosophy Department (1879 Hall) and on the course website, in the "Course Information" section. We will make every effort to assign you a precept that fits your schedule. However, this is sometimes very difficult, and your schedule might also change during the first couple of weeks of the semester. So, if your original precept assignment turns out to be a hardship, you can request a change into a different section by sending e-mail to Daniel Rothschild (drothsch@Princeton.EDU). However, we cannot enroll more than 14 students in a single precept.  If you decide to drop the course, please notify us so that we can delete your name from the precept list.

Precepts will begin meeting the second week of the semester (i.e., beginning on Monday, 02.10). If you are waiting for a reply concerning a requested precept change, then you should attend your originally assigned precept — unless this precept conflicts with the lecture for another course, in which case you may attend the precept you have requested to enter.

Required Texts:

  • Albert, David. Quantum Mechanics and Experience. Harvard University Press (1992).
  • Hughes, R.I.G. The Structure and Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics. Harvard University Press (1989).
  • There will also be assigned readings from articles.  Each of these articles is available via Electronic Course Reserves (login: phi327; password: _________), and also under the "Assignments" section of the Blackboard course website.  

Optional Readings:

  • There are a number of relevant articles in the Stanford Online Encyclopedia of Philosophy:
  • There are two articles "Quantum Mechanics" and "Locality" (by Halvorson) that can be downloaded from the "Assignments" section of the Blackboard course website. 
  • The following books have been placed on reserve in Firestone Library.
    • Barrett, Jeffrey, The quantum mechanics of minds and worlds.
    • Bell, John, Speakable and unspeakable in quantum mechanics.
    • Bub, Jeffrey, Interpreting the quantum world.
    • Cushing, James (ed.), Philosophical consequences of quantum theory.
    • Greenstein, George, The quantum challenge.
    • Redhead, Michael, Incompleteness, nonlocality, and realism. 
    • van Fraassen, Bas, Quantum mechanics: An empiricist view.


  • In-class midterm exam; Mon March 10 (25%)
  • Short paper 4-5 pages; due Wed April 9  (25%)
  • Choice of term paper (8-10 pages) or take-home final exam; due Dean's Date, Tue May 13 (50%)

Academic Integrity: Exams are conducted under the honor system: an instructor will drop it off, and stay to answer questions for a few minutes, but there will be no proctor. With regard to papers, students are expected to be familiar with Princeton's academic integrity policies.

Disability Information: If you have a disability for which you may be requesting an accommodation, you should notify the Professor right away.