M.A. in Philosophical Foundations of Physics

Note: for additional information, please consult the M.A. in Philosophical Foundations of Physics page on the Columbia Graduate School of Arts & Sciences website.

The program is designed to meet the needs of an increasing population of gifted students who are intrigued by, and want to participate in, the growing scholarly interest in the relationship between the philosophy of science and the foundations of physics. The program draws upon the diverse strengths of Columbia University in Physics, the Foundations of Physics, the Philosophy of Physics, and the Philosophy of Science generally.

Students who attend on a fulltime basis will be expected to complete the degree within two semesters, while students who attend on a parttime basis will be given a maximum of six semesters to complete the degree.


Degree Requirements for the M.A. in the Philosophical Foundations of Physics:

The requirements below should be read in conjunction with the general requirements of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.


2 Residence Units (two terms of full-time study or four terms of part-time study) 30 points of coursework: 18 E-credit points (six courses) and 12 R-credit points (four courses). 

Distribution requirements:

3 E-credit courses in Physics and 3 E-credit courses in Philosophy
1 E-credit course in each of the three main areas of the foundations of physics below:
Relativity; Quantum Mechanics; Thermodynamics

Here are some specific courses that would satisfy the second distribution requirement:

Relativity: The Philosophy of Space and Time, Special and General Relativity; Early Universe; Cosmology and Particle Astrophysics; General Relativity and Black Holes.
Quantum Mechanics: The Conceptual Foundations of Quantum Mechanics; Quantum Mechanics; Quantum Field Theory.
Thermodynamics: The Direction of Time; Thermal and Statistical Physics; Statistical Mechanics.

Thesis Requirement

In addition to completing the above course requirements, students in this program must submit and defend a written Master's Thesis which presents original research on some aspect of the foundations or philosophy of physics. The Master's Thesis is to be completed under the supervision of a member of the Physics or Philosophy departments at Columbia. It must be presented as part of the program's colloquium series, and it must be defended before a committee consisting of the supervisor and two faculty members (one from Philosophy and one from Physics).

A typical two semester, ten course program can be structured as follows:

First Semester:
Quantum Mechanics (E Credit)
The Conceptual Foundations of Quantum Mechanics (E Credit)
Probability and Induction The Scientific Revolution (R Credit)
General Relativity and Black Holes (R Credit )

Second Semester:
Thermal and Statistical Physics Special and General Relativity (E Credit)
The Direction of Time (E Credit)
Philosophy of Science (R Credit)
Geometrical Concepts in Physics (R Credit)

For further information and planning, please be certain to meet with the Program Directors at the beginning of each semester. The Program Directors are Professor David Albert (212-854-3519) and Professor Allan Blaer (212-854-3262).