Master of Arts in the Philosophical Foundations of Physics

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 full-time basis will be expected to complete the degree within two semesters, while students who attend on a part-time basis will be given a maximum of six semesters to complete the degree.

Degree Requirements

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


**3000-level courses and below (undergraduate) do not count toward graduate degrees in Philosophy.**

Courses offered by departments other than the Department of Philosophy and the Department of Physics ordinarily do not count toward the degree. In some cases, the Program Directors may grant an exception to this restriction if it is justified by a student’s course of study or research interests. Courses taken Pass/Fail do not count toward the program requirements. 

In order to earn an M.A. degree in the Philosophical Foundations of Physics, students must satisfy the following requirements:

Residence Requirement:

To earn an M.A. degree in the Philosophical Foundations of Physics, students must accumulate two Residence Units (2 terms registered for 1 RU or 4 terms registered for ½ RU). Read more about GSAS Residence Units here.

Coursework Requirements:

At least 30 points of coursework in philosophy and in physics must be earned. Of these, at least 18 points must qualify for E-credit (a passing letter grade); the remaining points may be taken for R-credit (Registration credit).

Note: In order to earn E-credit, a student must complete all the requirements for the course. In order to earn R-credit, a student must attend the course and satisfy any additional requirements the instructor may impose, such as an oral presentation. However, no letter grade is awarded with R-credit. Courses taken Pass/Fail do not count toward the degree.

Distribution requirements:

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

Here are some specific courses that would satisfy the foundations of physics distribution requirement:

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

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

First Semester:

  • General Relativity and Black Holes (E Credit) (I.)
  • Quantum Mechanics (E Credit) (II.)
  • The Scientific Revolution (E Credit) (Phil.)
  • The Conceptual Foundations of Quantum Mechanics (R Credit)
  • Geometrical Concepts in Physics (R Credit)

Second Semester:

  • The Direction of Time (E Credit) (III.)
  • Philosophy of Science (E Credit) (Phil.)
  • Probability and Induction (E Credit) (Phil.)
  • Special and General Relativity (R Credit)
  • Thermal and Statistical Physics (R Credit) 


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 of 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, however there is no required course to be taken in conjunction with writing the thesis. 

Good Standing

Students should be familiar with the GSAS Policy on Good Academic Standing and Good Administrative Standing.


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).