Current Research Projects

The Metaphysics of Physics: Natural Philosophy

We pursue a methodology of philosophy of nature that considers physics and metaphysics as constituting a seamless whole – in contrast to both a neo-positivist metaphysics that seeks to read metaphysical consequences directly off from the formalism of a physical theory and a neo-rationalist a priori metaphysics based on conceptual analysis. In this spirit, we examine proposals for a primitive ontology of physics and enquire into the link between the primitive ontology and laws of nature. We start from Newtonian mechanics and then consider mainly quantum physics, focusing on Bohmian mechanics and the GRW theory.

PhD Theses

Vincent Lam: Space-Time Metaphysics

Matthias Egg: Causal Explanations and Unobservable Entities in Particle Physics

Tim Raez: On the Applicability of Mathematics – Philosophical and Historical Perspectives

Antonio Vassallo: The Metaphysics of Quantum Gravity

Mario Hubert: Laws and Objects in the Philosophy of Physics

Andrea Oldofredi: Primitive Ontology and Quantum Field Theory (co-direction with Prof. Nino Zanghì)

Davide Romano: A Classical World from an Undivided Universe - A Metaphysical Inquiry into the Classical Limit of Bohmian Mechanics

Recent Publications


Antonio Vassallo: "A Metaphysical Reflection on the Notion of Background in Modern Spacetime Physics", forthcoming in L. Felline, F. Paoli, E. Rossanese, editors, New Developments in Logic and Philosophy of Science. College Publications.

M. Hubert: "Quantity of matter or intrinsic property: Why mass cannot be both", forthcoming in L. Felline, F. Paoli, and E. Rossanese, editors, New Developments in Logic and Philosophy of Science. London: College Publications.
(preprint: PhilSci, arXiv)

Michael Esfeld, Dirk-André Deckert, and Andrea Oldofredi: "What is matter? The fundamental ontology of atomism and structural realism", forthcoming in Anna Ijjas and Barry Loewer (eds.): A guide to the philosophy of cosmology. Oxford University Press
(preprint: PhilSci, arXiv)

Michael Esfeld, Dustin Lazarovici, Vincent Lam, and Mario Hubert: "The physics and metaphysics of primitive stuff", forthcoming in The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science.
(preprint: PhilSci, arXiv)

Mauro Dorato and Michael Esfeld: "The metaphysics of laws: dispositionalism vs. primitivism", forthcoming in Tomasz Bigaj and Christian Wüthrich (eds.): Metaphysics in contemporary physics. Dordrecht: Springer.
(preprint: arXiv)

Michael Esfeld: "How to account for quantum non-locality: ontic structural realism and the primitive ontology of quantum physics", forthcoming in Synthese, DOI 10.1007/s11229-014-0549-4
(preprint: PhilSci, arXiv)

Antonio Vassallo: "General Covariance, Diffeomorphism Invariance, and Background Independence in 5 Dimensions", forthcoming in T. Bigaj and C. Wüthrich, editors, Metaphysics in Contemporary Physics.
(preprint: PhilSci, arXiv)

Michael Esfeld: "The reality of relations: the case from quantum physics". Forthcoming in: Anna Marmodoro and David Yates (eds.): The metaphysics of relations. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Matthias Egg and Michael Esfeld: "Primitive ontology and quantum state in the GRW matter density theory", Synthese 192 (2015), pp. 3229-3245.
(preprint: PhilSci, arXiv)

Antonio Vassallo: "Can Bohmian Mechanics Be Made Background Independent?", Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics DOI 10.1016/j.shpsb.2015.08.005, 2015.
(preprint: PhilSci, arXiv)

Antonio Vassallo and Michael Esfeld: "On the Importance of Interpretation in Quantum Physics. A Reply to Elise Crull." Foundations of Physics 45 (2015), pp. 1533–1536.
(preprint: PhilSciarXiv)

Michael Esfeld: "Quantum physics and presentism", in Albrecht von Müller and Thomas Filk (eds.): Re-thinking time at the interface of physics and philosophy. The forgotten present. Cham: Springer 2015, pp. 231–248.
(download: preprint)

Michael Esfeld: "Bell’s theorem and the issue of determinism and indeterminism", Foundations of Physics 45 (2015), pp. 471–482.
(preprint: PhilSciarXiv)


Antonio Vassallo: "A proposal for a Bohmian ontology of quantum gravity", Foundations of Physics 44(1), pp. 1-18, 2014.
(preprint: PhilSci, arXiv)

Michael Esfeld, Dustin Lazarovici, Mario Hubert, and Detlef Dürr: "The ontology of Bohmian mechanics," The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 65 (2014), pp. 773–796.
(preprint: PhilSci, arXiv)

Michael Esfeld: "The primitive ontology of quantum physics: guidelines for an assessment of the proposals", Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics 47 (2014), pp. 99-106.

Michael Esfeld: "Quantum Humeanism, or: physicalism without properties", The Philosophical Quarterly, 64 (2014), pp. 453–470.

Michael Esfeld: "Physics and intrinsic properties", in Robert Francescotti (ed.): Companion to intrinsic properties. Berlin: de Gruyter 2014, chapter 13, pp. 253–269.

Michael Esfeld and Nicolas Gisin: "The GRW flash theory: a relativistic quantum ontology of matter in space-time?", Philosophy of Science 81 (2014), pp. 248–264.

Matthias Egg and Michael Esfeld: "Non-local common cause explanations for EPR", European Journal for Philosophy of Science 4 (2014), pp. 181–196.

Antonio Vassallo and Michael Esfeld: "A proposal for a Bohmian ontology of quantum gravity", Foundations of Physics 44(1), pp. 1-18, 2014.


Michael Esfeld and Antonio Vassallo: "From Quantum Gravity to Classical Phenomena" (with M. Esfeld) In T. Sauer and A. Wüthrich, editors, New Vistas on Old Problems: Recent Approaches to the Foundations of Quantum Mechanics, pp. 35-57. Max Planck Research Library for the History and Development of Knowledge, 2013.

Michael Esfeld: "Ontic structural realism and the interpretation of quantum mechanics", in European Journal for the Philosophy of Science 3 (2013), pp. 19-32.

Michael Esfeld (ed.): Philosophie der Physik, Berlin: Suhrkamp 2012 (stw 2033).

Vincent Lam and Michael Esfeld: "A dilemma for the emergence of spacetime in canonical quantum gravity", Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics 44 (2013), pp. 286–293.


Michael Esfeld and Vincent Lam: "Ontic structural realism as a metaphysics of objects", in Alisa and Peter Bokulich (eds.): Scientific structuralism. Dordrecht: Springer 2011. Chapter 8.


Mauro Dorato and Michael Esfeld: "GRW as an ontology of dispositions", in Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics 41 (2010), pp. 41–49.

Michael Esfeld: "Physics and causation", Foundations of Physics 40 (2010), pp. 1597-1610.

2009 and before

Michael Esfeld: "The modal nature of structures in ontic structural realism", International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 23 (2009), pp. 179-194.

Michael Esfeld: Naturphilosophie als Metaphysik der Natur. Frankfurt (Main): Suhrkamp 2008.Table of contents & Introduction

Michael Esfeld & Vincent Lam: "Moderate structural realism about space-time". Synthese 160 (2008), pp. 27-46.

Michael Esfeld: "Quantum entanglement and a metaphysics of relations", Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics 35B (2004), pp. 601-617. (Preprint)

Conservative Reductionism

This project starts from three premises:

  1. The fundamental physical properties consist in structures.
  2. All properties, including the fundamental physical structures, are causal.
  3. Properties are modes, that is, the way objects are.

After providing independent arguments for each of these premises, we show how it is possible to construct a metaphysics of science on them that includes both fundamental physics and the special sciences. We argue that the properties that the special sciences consider are identical with local physical structures and we show how the multiple realization argument against reductionism can be countered by the introduction of functional sub-types. After having applied this conception to the philosophy of biology, notably the relationship between classical and molecular biology, we currently develop it with respect to the philosophy of mind and the relationship between common sense psychology and neurobiology.

PhD Theses

Christian Sachse: Reductionism in the Philosophy of Science

Patrice Soom: Psychology and Neuroscience. A new Reductive Account

Laurent Cordonier: The Philosophy of the Social Sciences

Pietro Snider: Causation and the Self-Constitution of the Conscious Mind

Recent Publications

Michael Esfeld: "Reductionism today", in Maria Carla Galavotti, Elisabeth Nemeth and Friedrich Stadler (eds.): European philosophy of science – Philosophy of science in Europe and the Viennese heritage. Cham: Springer 2013, pp. 89–101.

Michael Esfeld, Christian Sachse and Patrice Soom: "Marrying the merits of Nagelian reduction and functional reduction", Acta Analytica 27 (2012), pp. 217–230.

Michael Esfeld & Christian Sachse: "Kausale Strukturen. Einheit und Vielfalt in der Natur und den Naturwissenschaften", Berlin: Suhrkamp 2010, 261 pages.
English version: Conservative reductionism. New York: Routledge 2011, 204 pages.

Patrice Soom, Christian Sachse & Michael Esfeld: "Psycho-neural reduction through functional sub-types", in Journal of Consciousness Studies 17 (2010), pp. 7–26.

Michael Esfeld & Christian Sachse: "Theory reduction by means of functional sub-types", International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 21 (2007).

Michael Esfeld: "Mental causation and the metaphysics of causation", Erkenntnis 67 (2007), pp. 207-220.

Anthropole - CH-1015 Lausanne
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