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The Beginnings of Scientific Inquiry and Epistemological Motives in the Sciences

Subproject a: The Beginnings of Scientific Inquiry: History and Impact of Presocratic Philosophy of Nature

In this project concepts and issues are investigated which stand at the beginning of the occidental tradition in philosophy and which became formative for later intellectual history. The aim is to show historical and systematic relations between particular concepts from presocratic philosophers and some central issues in modern philosophy and science.

An important preliminary work treats the ancient concept of physis and its relevance for present attempts towards a philosophy of nature. Here the main concerns are about a dynamic understanding of nature and about the integration and boundedness of a human being with respect to its natural environment. Additionally, there are points of contact with our former research project on the development and unity of physics—see the introductory volume "Philosophie der Physik" (C.H.Beck, Munich 2014)—where ancient concepts of matter are discussed together with questions about the origin and development of certain "explicatory strategies" which are typical also for modern physics.

An important focus of the present project is on Anaximander’s notion of the apeiron. Based on the history of the actual usage of the term, the apeiron is interpreted as something which is spatially or numerically inexhaustible. This interpretation is supported by investigations on the relations with a Homeric worldview and, in particular, on the way landmasses and sea are depicted on the first occidental world map (which goes back to Anaximander). A further topic of investigation is the way in which the notion of apeiron marks an important step towards introducing abstract concepts and theoretical entities in later accounts and descriptions of nature. At the same time, coarse and simplifying comparisons with modern notions of infinity and boundlessness are defeated.

At the moment, further studies are in preparation. One of these studies concerns the prominent role which, from antiquity right up to the nineteenth century, was played by poetry as a means of assuring and transmitting non-discursive knowledge about nature. A further study will be about the origin and development of historical consciousness, and especially of historiography, during the Archaic period. Accordingly, there are links to our current research project about time—see, e.g., "Philosophie der Zeit" (C.H.Beck, Munich 2018).

Examples for specific courses:


  • N. Sieroka (2019): Anaximander's ἄπειρον: From the Life-world to the Cosmic Event Horizon. Ancient Philosophy 39 (1), pp. 1-22.
  • N. Sieroka (2018): Relevanz und Vielstimmigkeit der gegenwärtigen Naturphilosophie. Allgemeine Zeitschrift für Philosophie 43 (1), pp. 95-100.
  • N. Sieroka (2017): The Bounds of Experience—Encountering Anaximander's In(de)finite. Ancient Philosophy 37 (2), pp. 243-263.
  • N. Sieroka (2014): Philosophie der Physik (series: C.H. Beck Wissen). Beck Verlag, München.
    Reviews in: Spektrum der Wissenschaft (Heft 2, 2015), Sterne und Weltraum (Heft 6, 2015) Physik-Journal (14(2), 2015), VSMP Bulletin (127, 2015), Bunsenmagazin (17(6), 2015), Physik in unserer Zeit (46(6), 2015).
  • N. Sieroka (2013): Die "Eigenwüchsigkeit" der Natur: Über ein dynamisches Naturverständnis und unser Verhältnis zur Natur. Archithese 6.2013, pp. 26-31.

Subproject b: Applied Philosophy of Artificial Intelligence: AI in Drug Design

… project with RETHINK

Subproject c: The Development and Unity of Physics: Epistemological Motives and Their Historical Change (closed)

This book project investigates the question how physics "works" epistemically: what counts as a good explanation in physics, what kind of relations hold between different explanations (between different theories, between different models), and are there historical shifts or changes in these relations?

The first—historical—part of the book introduces important stages in the history of physics by focussing on three major epochs. The chapter on antiquity discusses, among other things, the origin of the term "physics" as well as first attempts towards what might be called an "elementarism" about material reality. The chapter on the early modern period addresses most notably aspects of an increasing mathematisation of physics. And the chapter on the nineteenth and twentieth century highlights the development of classical field theory and of quantum physics and the resulting loss of the intuitiveness of physics.

The second—systematic—part of the book critically reflects the historical changes in the role and relevance of experiments and predictions in physics. There is a detailed discussion of how new physical concepts and theories are formed and of how these formation processes changed in character since antiquity. This leads to a discussion also of the notions of causality and objectivity as well as to questions about reductions between theories and about a possible unity of physics. Moreover, three general explicatory strategies are identified which can be found and which keep more or less stable throughout the whole history of physics. One of these strategies might be called "mereological" and is devoted to finding ultimate material constituents. A different strategy, which might be entitled "explanatory", searches for the "initiators" or causes of physical events (often in terms of forces). And then there is the search for a unified framework of representation. This strategy might be called "holistic" and it is, of course, often related to the mathematisation of physics. Last but not least, connections and transitions between these three strategies become transparent with the help of a further central concept employed in physics, namely that of symmetry.

As compared to other introductory works, the focus of the present book is not on innerphilosophical debates about, for instance, the metaphysical status of spacetime or the opposition between a nominalism and a realism regarding natural laws. Neither does it focus on popular presentations of modern physical theories. Instead, the book's aim is to provide insights into a certain methodological and epistemological unity of physics by showing the continuities and developments in the formation of theories and in the predominant explicatory strategies.


  • N. Sieroka (2014): Philosophie der Physik (series: C.H. Beck Wissen). Beck Verlag, München.
    Reviews in: Spektrum der Wissenschaft (Heft 2, 2015), Sterne und Weltraum (Heft 6, 2015) Physik-Journal (14(2), 2015), VSMP Bulletin (127, 2015), Bunsenmagazin (17(6), 2015), Physik in unserer Zeit (46(6), 2015).

Subproject d: The History of the Concept of Matter and a Relativised Apriori in Physics (closed)

This project investigates the historical and systematic relations between certain concepts in contemporary physics and in the natural philosophy of the early modern period and of classic German philosophy. The focus of the present project is on the concepts of matter and field.

With respect to the early modern period, current so-called "field metaphysical" interpretations of Spinoza's Ethics are critically assessed and connections are investigated with physical attempts towards a unified field theory at the beginning of the twentieth century. Besides, starting from Leibniz's physics (dynamics), and from several works by Weyl in which he follows Leibniz, the role and development of the modern concept of holography in quantum gravity is discussed.

As far as classical German philosophy is concerned, several comparative studies are undertaken regarding the concepts of time, matter, and causality in Kant, Fichte, and Schelling. These studies do not only treat the relations to present physics but also the reception by twentieth century philosophers and philosopher-scientists such as Peirce, Whitehead, Cassirer, Weyl, and von Weizsäcker.

An underlying aim of the project is to work towards some historical dialectics; dialectics which do not aim for an ultimate and timeless foundations of science and which, instead, are geared to Friedman's concept of a historically relativised apriori. Accordingly, what is investigated are concrete continuities and changes as they occur in the history of science. With respect to the concept of matter such a dialectics can be found in the back and forth between attempts to reduce matter to geometry or spacetime and attempts to understand matter as an agent which causes effects in spacetime.


  • N. Sieroka (2019): Neighbourhoods and Intersubjectivity: Analogies between Weyl's Analyses of the Continuum and Transcendental-Phenomenological Theories of Subjectivity. In: Weyl and the Problem of Space: From Science to Philosophy (Studies in History and Philosophy of Science), ed. by J. Bernard and C. Lobo. Springer-Verlag, Dordrecht 2019, S. 99-122.
  • N. Sieroka (2018): Theoretical Construction in Physics. Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics Physics 61, pp. 6-17.
  • N. Sieroka (2017): Schellingsches Natur- und Materieverständnis im und um das 20. Jahrhundert. In: Fichte und Schelling: Der Idealismus in der Diskussion, Bd.III (Acta des Brüsseler Kongresses 2009 der Internationalen J.G. Fichte-Gesellschaft), ed. by T. Grohmann, L. Held and J.-C. Lemaitre. EuroPhilosophie Éditions.
  • N. Sieroka (2016): Retrospective Analogies: Means for Understanding Leibniz's Metaphysics. In: "Für unser Glück oder das Glück der Anderen" (Vorträge des X. Internationalen Leibniz-Kongresses), ed. by W. Li. Olms, Hildesheim 2016, Band IV, S. 285-299.
  • N. Sieroka (2015): Transzendentale Naturlehre im Zeitalter von Relativitätstheorie und Quantenmechanik: Neuinterpretationen von Raum, Zeit und Kausalität durch Cassirer, Medicus und Weyl. In: "Natur" in der Transzendentalphilosophie, ed. by H. Girndt. Duncker & Humblot, Berlin, pp. 431-446.
  • N. Sieroka (2015): Some Remarks on the Historical Origin and Current Prospects of Holography. In: Proceedings of the Thirteenth Marcel Grossmann Meeting on General Relativity, ed. by R.T. Jantzen, K. Rosquist und R. Ruffini. World Scientific, Singapur, pp. 2242-2244.
  • N. Sieroka, E.W. Mielke (2014): Holography as a Principle in Quantum Gravity? – Some Historical and Systematic Observations. Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics 46, pp. 170-178.
  • N. Sieroka (2013): A Post-Kantian Approach to the Constitution of Matter. In: Objectivity after Kant: Its Meaning, Its Limitations, Its Fateful Omissions, ed. by G. Van de Vijer and B. Demarest. Olms, Hildesheim, pp. 41-55.
  • N. Sieroka (2010): Geometrization Versus Transcendent Matter: A Systematic Historiography of Theories of Matter. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 61 (4), pp. 769-802.
  • N. Sieroka (2010): Umgebungen – Symbolischer Konstruktivismus im Anschluss an Hermann Weyl und Fritz Medicus. Chronos-Verlag, Zürich 2010.
    Reviews: Studies in History and Philosophy of Science (44(1), 2013, P. Pesic), HOPOS (3(1), 2013, T. Ryckman)
  • N. Sieroka (2010): Spinozistische Feldmetaphysik und physikalisches Materieverständnis. Allgemeine Zeitschrift für Philosophie 35 (2), pp. 105-122.
  • N. Sieroka (2009): Tobias Cheung, Res Vivens – Agentenmodelle organischer Ordnung 1600-1800 (Book Review). History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 31 (3-4), pp. 477-478.