4pm - 5pm BST

Wednesday 15 September 2021

In praise of natural philosophy – a synthesis of physics and metaphysics

This talk is about the overwhelming case for conceiving, and doing, physics within the framework of aim-oriented empiricism – and its implications for discovery, for quantum theory, for the role of metaphysics and philosophy of physics within physics.


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This seminar is by invitation only. A Zoom link will be sent to participants before the event.


  • Nicholas Maxwell


The orthodox view among scientists and philosophers is that the basic aim of science is truth, the basic method being to assess theories with respect to evidence. The simplicity, unity, or explanatory power of a theory may be taken into account as well, but not in such a way that the universe itself is presupposed to be simple, unified or explanatory. This orthodox view of standard empiricism is however untenable. Physics only ever accepts unified theories, even though infinitely many empirically more successful disunified rivals always exist.

That means physics makes a persistent, substantial, problematic assumption about the nature of the universe: There is some kind of underlying unified pattern of physical law inherent in the physical universe. Precisely because this assumption exercises a profound influence over physics but is nevertheless problematic, a mere conjecture, very likely to be false in the specific form it has at any stage in the development of physics, we need a new meta-methodology for physics that facilitates the improvement of this problematic metaphysical assumption, as physics proceeds.

Physics becomes natural philosophy, a synthesis of physics, metaphysics and methodology. This “aim-oriented empiricist” conception of physics has implications for quantum theory, for theory discovery, for the search for the unified “theory of everything” – and, when generalised, for academia as a whole, and for the fate of the world.


Nicholas Maxwell

Nicholas Maxwell has devoted much of his working life to arguing that we need to bring about a revolution in science, and in universities so that the latter come to seek and promote wisdom, and do not just acquire knowledge. He has published fifteen books on this theme, and numerous papers and chapters in books on more or less closely related philosophical and scientific problems.

For thirty years he taught philosophy of science at University College London, where he is now Emeritus Reader. His last two books are: Our Fundamental Problem: A Revolutionary Approach to Philosophy (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2020), and The World Crisis – And What To Do About It (World Scientific, 2021).

Further reading

References:  Aim-Oriented Empiricism and Quantum Theory.

Related information

Take a look at our Quantum Foundations Centre website to find out more about what we're researching.