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History and Philosophy summer course
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John Templeton Foundation logo
This course is archived
Course date
July 11–22, 2022
Application deadline
The application process for this course is closed.
ECTS Credits
Course delivery
SUN Packages
Tuition Waiver
Partial Scholarship
Full Scholarship

Brief description of the course

The history and metaphysics of the concepts of laws of nature and objective probabilities are closely connected with one another and with main topics in the philosophy and history of science. Fundamental laws of physics, particularly quantum theory and statistical mechanics, posit objective probabilities and it has been debated whether all objective probabilities are ultimately grounded in such laws. Laws and probabilities also figure prominently in the special sciences (e.g. biology, psychology, economics) Understanding the metaphysics of scientific laws and objective probabilities are central concerns of the philosophy of science. Understanding begins with the history of both concepts. The idea that it is a goal, perhaps the primary goal, of the sciences to discover laws arose in the 17th century. Descartes (and various of his contemporaries) conceived of laws as principles that describe how God makes material bodies move. Subsequently, some (e.g. Newton) came to think of laws as themselves governing physical events while others (especially David Hume) came to think of laws not as governing but rather as describing patterns and regularities among events. These two views have developed into the two main philosophical accounts of the metaphysics of laws which are usually called anti-Humean and Humean accounts.

The idea that some events are chancy also arose in the 17th century first to describe the behavior of gambling devices (e.g. Pascal) and later to deal with patterns of events that were either too complicated to account for in terms of laws or were not subject to laws at all. However, in the 20th-century probability was incorporated into the laws of statistical mechanics, evolutionary and genetic theory, and quantum mechanics. The main views concerning the metaphysics of probability mirror the views about laws. Anti-Humean views construe probability as a measure of the propensity of a situation to produce an effect (e.g. the propensity of a lump of radium to emit an alpha particle in a given time period) while Humean views construe probability as describing patterns of events (e.g. the frequency of a lump of radium to emit an alpha particle in a given time period or the probability implied by the Best System).

The first week of the summer school will concern the history and metaphysics of the concept of laws and the second will concern the history and metaphysics of the concept of probability and how objective probability is connected to laws. The metaphysics of laws and probability are also connected to a number of other issues in metaphysics and epistemology including the nature of time, the relations between physics and special sciences, the compatibility of free will and physical laws, and how objective probabilities rationally guide belief. These issues will be discussed throughout the course.

"It was extremely helpful to gain an in-person sense of which philosophical arguments participants found most pressing and forceful. [...] I feel like I did a semester-long seminar on laws in the span of a few days. Very enriching."

"The course provided an in-depth look at historical issues but also places where the contemporary literature on the laws of nature needs further development. As a young researcher, I found that particularly helpful, along with the openness of the faculty to discussion."

“Compared to other courses I have attended, the academic quality was excellent, and also the cohesion between the topics covered by the lectures and the discussions. In other courses, sometimes, there was a lack of unification in the content of the lectures and it ended up being an amalgamation of different topics, only interesting to the lecturer and a small group in the audience, so it was very easy to disconnect. In this course, I think the topics were very well chosen and organized so that there was a clear conducting line on the background, and the majority of lecturers made an effort not to go very far away from that conducting line.”

"It was very useful to discuss these relevant topics with the very proponents of the ideas. I also liked the student presentations that allowed us to know more of our peers' work."

"The course has helped me in several ways: by informal talks with the professors and speakers, by discussions with my peers (clarifying points of the lectures that I didn't understand and other general discussions), by making contact with professors or other participants who work on a topic related to the topic of my thesis, and it has helped me to clarify what are the important points I want to address in my thesis by having to explain them to other participants and answer their questions."

"Getting feedback on my research from faculty and other participants was extremely helpful. A few people pointed out potential pitfalls of my thesis along with ways to amend my arguments. The summer school clarified the relevant choice points for defending my preferred account of laws, along with the arguments and methodology that opponents might find most persuasive."

Target group

Graduate Students, postdocs, faculty in philosophy, history and the sciences, and a few advanced undergraduate students.

Please read the following directions carefully.

Below is the list of the documents you need to prepare or arrange for submission:

  1. Completed online SUN Application Form (see notes below)
  2. Full curriculum vitae or resume, including a list of publications, if any
    Please upload your Curriculum Vitae or resume, including a list of publications, if any.
  3. Statement of Purpose (max. 1,000 words)

In the Statement of Purpose, please describe how the course is relevant to your teaching, research or professional work, and in what way you expect to benefit from it. Please list relevant courses in the field you have taken previously during your studies.

Please provide a name, contact email, and phone number of a person (a faculty member, job supervisor, etc.) who can be contacted by the course directors to attest to your abilities, qualifications, and academic/professional performance.

Optional attachments:

You can upload further optional documents on the Qualifications page such as

  • academic documents that you think may be relevant to support your application in the ‘Other Supporting Documents’ section. All documents should be merged into a single PDF file not exceeding the size 2 MB. No passwords and encryption are allowed.

Completed CEU Summer University Application Form

We strongly advise the use of Google Chrome to enable the full functionality of the form.


  • You may apply to a maximum of two summer courses. In case of being admitted, you can only attend both if the two courses do not overlap in time.
  • If you applied to CEU before, please use your existing login and password to start a new application. If you do not remember your password from last year click on Forgotten Password. With technical problems, bugs, or errors related to the online application forms please contact the CEU IT Help Desk.
  • Right after login, please select the ”Summer University” radio button from the "Type of course" list, and leave all other fields empty.
  • All application materials must be submitted with the online application form(s). Materials sent by postal mail, electronic mail, or fax are not considered.
  • The maximum allowable file size for upload is 2MB per file and the acceptable file formats are PDF, JPG, and JPEG. Ensure all security features (e.g. passwords and encryption) are removed from the documents before uploading them.
  • Applications cannot be edited after submission. Please submit your application only when it is 100% final and complete.
  • Further user instructions for the online application are included in the form itself. Should you have questions regarding the application form, check the relevant Frequently Asked Questions.
  • Applications submitted after the deadline will be considered on a case-by-case basis.


If you need help or more information during the application process, please feel free to contact the SUN staff via email.


The SUN Office will notify applicants about the selection results in April. Please check the 'Dates and deadlines' section on the relevant course websites for notification deadlines planned earlier or later. The final decision is not open to appeal.