Truth, Reality, and Objectivity: Philosophical Themes in Physics

A First Year Seminar

Tuesdays and Thursdays 9:30 to 10:45 PM in Trible A307


Ralph Kennedy
Department of Philosophy
Room B307 Tribble Hall


Office hours: T 3:00 - 4:00 PM

Daniel Kim-Shapiro
Department of Physics
Room 208 Olin Physical Lab


Office hours: M 3:00 - 4:00 PM

In addition to our regular individual office hours, we will hold
a joint office hour each Friday from 3:30 to 4:30 PM in Shorty's.

Pandemic Plan


Is all truth relative, contingent on social and historical factors? Does it make sense to speak of what is "real", independently of what anybody says or thinks? Is objectivity ever a reasonable goal? We will consider these philosophical questions with reference to natural science generally and quantum mechanics in particular, a field which poses acute challenges for traditional understandings of reality and objectivity.


Go to Blackboard page



Philosophy of Natural Science, by C.G. Hempel
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, by T.S. Kuhn
Philosophical Concepts in Physics, by J. T. Cushing
Quantum Reality, by N. Herbert




Pre-class quizzes (Blackboard)1
Class Participation/On-line Discussion2
Midterm (10/16)
3 or 4 short papers3
Final (12/13 at 2 PM)


  1. Quizzes based on weekly reading assignments will be due every Monday at 9 AM. The class discussions for that week will be based on the reading due each Monday. The quiz questions and reading assignments will be posted in Blackboard under course documents - Quiz questions by the Thursday evening of the prior week. Occasionally, these weekly schdules will be altered. Generally, the reading is associated with the quiz and both are due the same day (including working out answers to questions under course info). The date that the quiz (and hence reading and associated preparation) is due will be posted as an anouncement. You should finalize your answers for the quiz before actually taking it through Blackboard under assignments - quizzes. You can only submit the quiz once. The lowest two grades on the quizzes will be dropped.

  2. Questions used for in-class discussion and exams will also be posted under course documents. You should prepare for class discussion by making notes of your answers to these questions. The number of times you participate in class will be recorded and some assessment of the quality of your participation will also be noted. Each student will be expected to lead in-class discussions on a rotating basis. The discussion leader will be expeted to meet with an instructor prior to class to make sure that (s)he has prepared properly. The discussion leader is welcome to prepare additioal questions to those posted by the instructors on course info. Through Blackboard - communication - discussion board you can post and respond to questions and comments. Your class participation grade will be based mainly on your participation in the classroom but your participation in the discussion board can help improve your grade.

  3. You will do 3 or 4 short papers. The topics and due dates will be posted under Blackboard - assignments. Your final grade on the papers will be the highest of the following three schemes:
Plan a
Paper # Weight Length
1 5% <200 words
2 5% about 500 words
3 15% about 1000 words
4 15% about 1000 words
Plan b
Paper # Weight Length
1 8% <200 words
2 8% about 500 words
3 24% about 1000 words
Plan c
Paper # Weight Length
1 8% <200 words
2 8% about 500 words
4 24% about 1000 words