Università degli Studi di Urbino Carlo Bo / Portale Web di Ateneo


Einstein’s reflection on space, time, individuation and his long struggle with Quantum Mechanics
La riflessione di Einstein su spazio, tempo, individuazione e la sua lunga lotta con la meccanica quantistica.

A.Y. Credits
2015/2016 6
Lecturer Email Office hours for students
Isabella Tassani Eventual preliminary talks will be on Tuesday and Wednesday, after lectures, or when they are requested by students (upon agreement fixed by e-mail).

Assigned to the Degree Course

Date Time Classroom / Location

Learning Objectives

The course is designed to improve the student’s awareness of the methodological and the epistemological principles which form the basis for scientific research, and of the principle stages of development in the history of physics which have led to the origin of modern science.

In particular, our aim is to familiarise students with Einstein’s way of thinking and to his scientific activity, in relation to the many recent historical developments in this matter. For example, Don Howard, the American historian of science, asks: «Why Schopenhauer’s portrait was hunging on the wall of Einstein’s Berlin study in the late 1920s, near to those of Faraday and Maxwell?». To answer this question, Howard tries to look beyond the prevailing neo-positivistic interpretation of Einstein’s thought, that he repudiated as prejudice; Howard collocates Einstein’s work in the wake of the debate between Newton, Leibniz and Clarke on the nature of space, and of 19th century philosophy and physics.

The reading of the proposed texts and a critical analysis of theoretical concepts will help students appreciate how deeply Einstein read Schopenhauer’s books, on topics such as space, time, causality, individuation, determinism.

Knowing theoretical and philosophical concepts which are at the basis of modern physical theories is essential if a student's curriculum is to be complete.


The following topics will be studied:

 1. Introduction to the main theoretical concepts of modern physics: the new concepts of space and time in Special Relativity, the philosophical Einstein’s reflection on spacetime and simultaneity.

 2. Historical origins of the debate between Newton, Leibniz and Clarke on the nature of space.

 3. Space, time and individuation in Kant’s and Schopenhauer’s philosophy.

 4. Concepts of locality, simultaneity and separability in Quantum Mechanics.

 5. Einstein’s philosophical reflection on determinism vs. indeterminism, the principle of individuation; his long struggle with Quantum Mechanics.


Bridging Courses

There are no pre-requisites for this course.

Learning Achievements (Dublin Descriptors)

After the course, the student is expected to have acquired basic knowledge of the epistemological debate on the conceptual foundations of modern science (theories, questions, methods, scientific instruments).

The student is expected to understand the concepts and the theories put forward during the lectures, to be able to put them to use in his own research and to communicate on them.

 The student is expected to be able to demonstrate he has acquired the numerous historical and epistemological interrelations between physical theories and philosophical conceptions.

 The student is expected to have acquired a correct methodological awareness and to be able to recognize the main interpretative schools of thought behind the history of science.

The student is expected to be able to demonstrate he has acquired the skills necessary to argue effectively, to analyse the texts proposed critically and to elaborate on them personally, making personal judgements.

Teaching Material

The teaching material prepared by the lecturer in addition to recommended textbooks (such as for instance slides, lecture notes, exercises, bibliography) and communications from the lecturer specific to the course can be found inside the Moodle platform › blended.uniurb.it

Supporting Activities

The teaching material made available by the lecturer can be found, together with other supporting activities, inside the Moodle platform >blended.uniurb.it

No activities are provided to support the teaching.

Didactics, Attendance, Course Books and Assessment


Frontal lectures, comments and, where appropriate, debates on questions which are of particular interest to the students, only if they are pertinent to the course.


There are no specific attendance rules.

Course books

(a) A. Einstein, Relativity. The Special and General Theory, New York, Henry Holton and C., 1920.

(b) A. Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation, 2 vols., New York, Dover, 1969, chapters 1; 2; 3 (only paragraphs 36, 37, 43, 44); 4 (only paragraphs 55, 61, 63).

(c) D. Howard, “A Peek Behind the Veil of Maya: Einstein, Schopenhauer, and the Historical Background of the Conception of Space as a Ground for the Individuation of Physical Systems”, in J. Earman, J.D. Norton (eds.), The Cosmos of Science: Essays of Explanation, “Pittsburg-Konstanz Series in the Philosophy and History of Science, 6, University of  Pittsburg Press-Universitätsverlag, Pittsburgh-Konstanz 1997, pp. 87-150.

(d) D. Howard, “Einstein on Locality and Separability”, in Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, 1985, 16, pp. 171-201.


Oral exams, which enable the examiner to evaluate to what extent the formative objectives have been achieved by the students.

The final mark will be determined by taking into account, not only of the knowledge acquired by the student, but also of his skills in using conceptual and bibliographical tools, of his ability to interpret texts critically and to argue effectively. Active participation in the classroom will also contribute to the final evaluation.


Additional Information for Non-Attending Students


They will study on their own (individually or with others) according to the directions of this Vademecum.


A hard and careful study is required.

Course books

Students that do not attend lectures will follow this alternative programme, in order to prepare to better for exams:

(a) A. Einstein, Relativity. The Special and General Theory, New York, Henry Holt and C., 1920.

(b) G. Holton, The Advancement of Science, and its Burdens, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1986.

(c) F. Laudisa, Albert Einstein e l’immagine scientifica del mondo, Carocci, Roma, 2015.




Oral exams.

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