Get Started Reading Recent Classics on the Philosophy of Physics

Which philosophy of physics books are relatively recent (say, post-1980), but still clear classics that every graduate student in the field should at least paw through? Here’s a preliminary list, ordered alphabetically.

  • Albert, David: QM & Experience
  • Albert, David: Time & Chance
  • Barrett, Jeff: QM of minds & worlds
  • Bell, John: Speakable & Unspeakable in QM
  • Bub, Jeff: Interpreting the Quantum World
  • Cartwright, Nancy: How the Laws of Physics Lie
  • Earman, John: Bangs, Crunches, Whimpers & Shrieks
  • Earman, John: Primer on Determinism
  • Earman, John: World Enough & Spacetime
  • Fine, Arthur: The Shaky Game
  • Friedman, Michael: Foundations of Spacetime Theories
  • Hughes, RIG: Structure & Interpretation of QM
  • Maudlin, Tim: Metaphysics Within Physics
  • Maudlin, Tim: Quantum Non-locality & Relativity
  • Penrose, Roger: The Emperor’s New Mind
  • Price, Hugh: Time’s Arrow & Archimedes’ Point*
  • Redhead, Michael: Incompleteness, Non-locality & Realism
  • Redhead, Michael: From Physics to Metaphysics
  • Sklar, Lawrence: Philosophy of Physics*
  • Sklar, Lawrence: Physics & Chance*
  • Teller, Paul: Interpretive Introduction to QFT
  • van Fraassen, Bas: QM An Empiricist View

Also, some classic unpublished texts:

Also, quickly becoming classics:

  • Brown, Harvey: Physical Relativity
  • Healey, Richard: Gauging What’s Real
  • Lange, Marc: Introduction to the Philosophy of Physics
  • Monographs contained in the Handbook of Philosophy of Physics, Earman & Butterfield (eds)

One important book on the list, John Earman’s (1986) Primer on Determinism, has unfortunately reached “rare” status, and is fairly difficult get ahold of for less than $200. Nevertheless, let it be known that an electronic copy of this book does is circulating on the inter-tubes. If you look around a bit, you’ll likely be able to find and download a copy for free. Just throwing that out there.

See also my advice about reading on the cheap, and about learning GR online. This list was inspired by a recent post over at It’s Only a Theory — further suggestions are more than welcome. Happy reading!

(*) Added Feb. 11 – Thanks commenters!

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    5 thoughts on “Get Started Reading Recent Classics on the Philosophy of Physics

    1. Anonymous

      I’d suggest maybe Peter Smith’s “Explaining Chaos” if only because the above list seems rather short on Chaos Theory. (That said, this is not a failing of the list, but rather a consequence of the lack of philosophical writing on chaos theory)

      And while it’s not explicitly philosophy of physics, Gillies’ Philosophical Theories of Probability is something everyone should be acquainted with.

    2. Jon

      I’d suggest “Every Thing Must Go: Metaphysics Naturalized” if you’re interested in the more wide-ranging implications. The authors argue (echoing a similar line that Maudlin takes in “Metaphysics in Physics”) that contemporary metaphysics is too-often informed by pseudo-naturalism. Metaphysics is too often conducted, that is, by people who claim to be doing it in the name of real science, but who have only superficial understandings of out-dated scientific concepts. If we want to make any serious progress in metaphysics, they contend, we need to drop the Humean supervenience-motivated appeals to atomic theory and Newtonian mechanics and engage with cutting-edge physics on its own terms.

    3. Ponder Stibbons

      I don’t think Penrose should be on there.

      Agree with Jon about Price. Best philosophy of direction of time book out there, IMO.

      Don’t know if it’s recent enough and no idea how it compares to Lange, but I remember Sklar’s “Philosophy of Physics” as being a pretty decent introduction to the field.

    4. Anonymous

      Sklar’s book on the philosophy of statistical mechanics (“Physics and Chance”) is absolutely essential for anyone considering work in that field. Liu and Emch’s “The Logic of Thermo-Statistical Physics” may not be well-known enough to qualify for “classic” status, but it is excellent.