Academic year
Carl Hoefer and José Díez
Department of Philosophy
Universitat de Barcelona
Master courses
Module 7. Issues in Contemporary Theoretical and Practical Philosophy
2016-10-04 - 2016-12-20
Tue. 11-14
Facultat de Filosofia, UB - Room 412



The goal of this course is to introduce students to contemporary philosophical debates in philosophy of science, and to build the analytical and critical skills needed to contribute to those debates. This year the topic chosen is the nature and status of three essential modal notions in the sciences:  Laws (of nature); Causation; and Probability. Students will acquire a comprehensive knowledge of the state of the art of current debates concerning laws, causation and probability, and learn to identify the main theses and arguments. Each student will analyse a selection of representative papers in the debates, present and discuss one of them in public, and write a final paper on the topic.



2016-17, 1st term 


Laws, Causation and Probability 

José Díez, Carl Hoefer


[Tentative schedule; final schedule will be distributed in the first class.]

1. Introduction: the idea of necessity in nature

2. History of laws, cause and determinism, 17th – 19th centuries

3. Contemporary views about Laws

4. Causal fundamentalism: pro and con

5. The two faces of probability (subjective/epistemic; objective/chance). Classic accounts.

6. Recent theories of objective probability and chance


7. Presentations by students on key papers



The course will start with six or seven introductory sessions giving a general overview of the problem and the background needed. In this part the student will have to do weekly short home exercises in order to assimilate the concepts and tools introduced, but only short reading assignments will be required.

In the second part of the course, every student will have to do a presentation of one paper of his/her choice, which will be followed by a general discussion. Before every presentation, all the students will have to deliver an answer to a short question about the paper that will be presented (and which they are expected to have read carefully).


Every student will have to write a short final paper related to the paper presented, or another topic (if agreed with the professor(s)). 



Grading will be based on weekly short questions (10%), class presentation (30%) and final paper (60%).

Intended Learning Outcomes:

Students will be familiar with the main currents of late 20th- and early 21st-century debates concerning the nature of natural law, of causation, and of objective probability.  Those who do not already have it will acquire background knowledge about key philosophical ideas concerning these concepts from the history of philosophy, from Descartes through logical positivism.  Students will improve their skills at writing well-structured philosophy essays in the analytic style, and at formulating and criticizing philosophical arguments.

CB6 – Students should be able to acquire and critically understand central philosophical theories in a way that puts them in a position to develop and apply original ideas. 

CB9 - Students should be able to communicate their knowledge and their arguments to specialized audiences in a clear and articulate way.

CG1. To abstract, analyze and elaborate valid arguments and identify logical fallacies. 

CG2. Design, create, develop and undertake new and innovative projects in their area of expertise. 

CG3. Switching between the general and detailed discussion, providing real or imaginary examples able to support or refute the position at stake. 

CG4. Working both independently and in a team in international contexts. 

CG5. Identify methodological errors, rhetorical, conventional or uncritical assumptions, and vague or vacuous theses. 

CE1. Recognize the concepts and methods of contemporary analytical philosophy and use them in the formulation and defense of philosophical proposals 

CE2. Identify the core arguments and theories of contemporary theoretical philosophy. 

CE4. Assess the writings of leading contemporary analytic philosophers. 

CE5. Identify ideas on the most advance contemporary philosophical debate and research. 


CE7. Using specialized, critical philosophical terminology.




Bird, A., 2007, Nature’s Metaphysics: Laws and Properties Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Cartwright, N., 1999, The Dappled World, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Collins, J., Hall, E., and Paul, L., 2004. Causation and Counterfactuals, Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.

De Finetti, B., 1990 [1974], Theory of Probability (Volume 1), New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Eagle, A., 2010, Philosophy of Probability: Contemporary Readings, London: Routledge. (Anthology)

Earman, J., 1986, A Primer on Determinism, Dordrecht: D. Reidel Publishing Company.

Ellis, B., 2001, Scientific Essentialism, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Frisch, M., 2014, Causal Reasoning in Physics, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Gillies, D., 2000b, Philosophical Theories of Probability, London: Routledge.

Howson, C. and Urbach, P., 1993, Scientific Reasoning: The Bayesian Approach, La Salle, IL: Open Court, 2nd edition.

Kripke, S., 1972, Naming and Necessity, Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Lange, M., 2009, Laws and Lawmakers, New York: Oxford University Press.

Lewis, D., 1973, Counterfactuals, Oxford: Blackwell.

Maudlin, T., 2007, The Metaphysics Within Physics, New York: Oxford University Press.

Pearl, J. (2000): Causality. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Sosa, E. and Tooley, M. (eds.) (1993): Causation. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (Anthology).

van Fraassen, B., 1989, Laws and Symmetry, Oxford: Clarendon Press.

von Plato J., 1994, Creating Modern Probability, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Woodward, J. (2003): Making Things Happen: A Theory of Causal Explanation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.



Bird, A., 2005, “The Dispositionalist Conception of Laws,” Foundations of Science, 10: 353–370.

Carroll, J., 1990, “The Humean Tradition,” The Philosophical Review, 99: 185–219.

Dretske, F., 1977, “Laws of Nature,” Philosophy of Science, 44: 248–268.

Earman, J., 1984, “Laws of Nature: The Empiricist Challenge,” in D. M. Armstrong, R. Bogdan (ed.), Dordrecht: D. Reidel Publishing Company.

Ellis, B. and Lierse, C., 1994, “Dispositional Essentialism,” Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 72: 27–45.

Eriksson, L. & Hájek, A., 2007, “What are Degrees of Belief?”, Studia Logica 86: 183–213. 

Giere, R. N., 1973, “Objective Single-Case Probabilities and the Foundations of Statistics”, in Logic, Methodology and Philosophy of Science (Volume IV), P. Suppes et al., (eds.), New York: North-Holland.

Goodman, N., 1947, “The Problem of Counterfactual Conditionals,” Journal of Philosophy, 44: 113–128.

Hájek, A., 2003, “What Conditional Probability Could Not Be”, Synthese, 137 (3): 273–323.

Hall, N., 2004, “Two Mistakes About Credence and Chance”, Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 82 (1): 93–111.

Hitchcock, C., 2002, “Probability and Chance”, in the International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences (Volume 18), London: Elsevier, pp. 12,089–12,095.

Hitchcock, C., 2004. “Do All and Only Causes Raise the Probabilities of Effects?”, in Collins, Hall and Paul (2004), pp. 403–418.

Hoefer, C., 2007, “The Third Way on Objective Probability: A Skeptic's Guide to Objective Chance”, Mind, 116 (2): 549–596.

Humphreys, P., 1985, “Why Propensities Cannot Be Probabilities”, Philosophical Review, 94: 557–70.

Lewis, D., 1973, “Causation”, Journal of Philosophy, 70: 556–67. Reprinted in his (1986).

Lewis, D., 1980, “A Subjectivist's Guide to Objective Chance”, in Richard C. Jeffrey (ed.) Studies in Inductive Logic and Probability, Vol II., Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, reprinted in Lewis 1986.

Lewis, D., 1983, “New Work for a Theory of Universals,” Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 61: 343–377.

Lewis, D., 1986, Philosophical Papers: Volume II, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Lewis, D., 1994b, “Humean Supervenience Debugged”, Mind, 103: 473–490.

Loewer, B., 2001, “Determinism and Chance”, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B 32 (4):609-620

Lyon, A., 2011, “Deterministic Probability: Neither Chance nor Credence”, Synthese, 182 (3): 413–32.

Price, H and Corry, R., 2007. Causation, Physics, and the Constitution of Reality: Russell's Republic Revisited, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Ramsey, F. P., 1926, “Truth and Probability”, in Foundations of Mathematics and other Essays, R. B. Braithwaite (ed.), London: Kegan, Paul, Trench, Trubner, & Co., 1931, 156–198.

Suárez, M., 2013, “Propensities and Pragmatism”, The Journal of Philosophy, 110 (2): 61-92.

Swoyer, C., 1982, “The Nature of Natural Laws,” Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 60: 203–223.

Tooley, M., 1977, “The Nature of Laws,” Canadian Journal of Philosophy, 7: 667–698.

Woodward, J., 1992, “Realism about Laws”, Erkenntnis, 36: 181–218.