Philosophy and Science 2
Course infoSchedule
Course moduleFTR-FIME010-B
Credits (ECTS)10
Language of instructionEnglish
Offered byRadboud University; Faculty of Philosophy, Theology and Religious Studies; Opleiding Filosofie;
PreviousNext 2
Contactperson for the course
dr. ir. F.A. Bakker
Other course modules lecturer
dr. ir. F.A. Bakker
Other course modules lecturer
dr. ir. F.A. Bakker
Other course modules lecturer
prof. dr. C.H. Lüthy
Other course modules lecturer
prof. dr. C.H. Lüthy
Other course modules lecturer
Academic year2018
PER3-PER4  (04/02/2019 to 09/06/2019)
Starting block
Course mode
Registration using OSIRISYes
Course open to students from other facultiesNo
Waiting listNo
Placement procedure-
At the end of the course, you will be able to:
  • apply the methodology of conceptual history;  
  • retrace a key philosophical term through more than two millennia;
  • relate the history of philosophy to the history of science;
  • relate a Wittgensteinian word-use approach to an historical source-based approach;
  • explain and present your insights to a lay audience and to your peers;
  • critically reflect on the topics discussed in the course and report this in writing
Chance: An Elusive Concept and Its History

What do we mean when we say that ‘something happened by chance’? That it wasn’t intended? That no one expected it? That it happened against all odds? That there was no cause for it? That someone was lucky? That necessity had been absent?
If we follow everyday word use, then all of these definitions of ‘chance’ are correct. In fact, this word means so many different things that the only way of understanding it is to pinpoint its opposite: necessity, predictability, regularity, intention, expectation. Moreover, in each language, the sphere of meanings is different. ‘Chance’ is not equivalent to the Dutch ‘toeval’ or the French ‘accident’.
In this course, we will retrace the history of the concept of ‘chance’ and its opposites from Antiquity to the modern age. We will begin with Aristotle’s analysis of the term, examine the role of ‘chance’ in Epicurean natural philosophy, and introduce, with Boethius, the medieval two-tier model in which what looks like chance to us is either necessity or providence from God’s perspective. We will subsequently encounter definitions of chance as ignorance and examine the first attempts to measure chance mathematically. We will see how in the early-modern world, the mechanical world-view attempted to eliminate chance and introduced a determinism that was epitomized in Laplace’s imaginary demon who could predict any future event on the basis of his knowledge of all material particles in the world. We will end by retracing the reintroduction of chance in modern science, in Darwin’s biology and later in quantum physics and chaos theory.
This course will be co-taught by three historians of philosophy and science.
Additional comments
Each lesson will contain a lecture, a collective discussion of texts, student presentations and an element of skills training (debating, book reviewing, etc.).

The literature will comprise primary texts by Aristotle, Epicurus, Lucretius, Boethius, Abelard, Spinoza, Leibniz, Hume, Laplace, Darwin, and 20th century representatives of quantum mechanics and chaos theory. The primary literature will be flanked by secondary survey articles.

Test information
The final grade will be composed of the following four elements:

(1) written assignments (30%); (2) oral presentation (20%); (4) final paper (50%). In case the course is overbooked and oral presentations are impossible for the large number of students, the weighing of the components for the final grade may be adjusted.

Open to all Master and Research Master's students in philosophy.

Contact information
F.A. Bakker ( / E 16.04a)

Required materials
pp.9-48: Christoph Lüthy & Carla Rita Palmerino, "Conceptual and Historical Reflections on Chance (and Related Concepts)" (electronic copy available at UBN)
Title:The Challenge of Chance. A Multidisciplinary Approach from Science and the Humanities
Author:Klaas Landsman & Ellen van Wolde (eds.)
Publisher:Springer, 2016

Recommended materials
Course materials will be distributed through Brightspace.

Instructional modes
Attendance MandatoryYes

Test weight1
Test typePaper
OpportunitiesBlock TENT4, Block TENT5