CfP: Synthese Topical Collection: “Simplicity out of Complexity? Physics and the Aims of Science” (Deadline: July 31, 2020)

Submitted by Florian J. Boge (University of Wuppertal).


Synthese Topical Collection on
Simplicity out of Complexity? Physics and the Aims of Science

Deadline: 31 July 2020

Guest Editors
Florian J. Boge (University of Wuppertal)
Paul Grünke (Karlsruhe Institute of Technology)
Martin King (University of Bonn)
Miguel Ángel Carretero Sahuquillo (University of Wuppertal)

The world we live in is notoriously complex: there is an outright zoo of material particles, a vast variety of different species, a whole plethora of stars and galaxies, and so forth. Yet many scientific achievements, such as the Standard Model of particle physics or Darwin’s theory of natural selection, allow us to manage part of this complexity by means of a simple set of laws or general rules.
Simplicity has often been assumed to be an epistemic ideal, most clearly exemplified in physics, with its trend towards encompassing theories that feature only a small number of fundamental laws, capable of explaining a large number of diverse phenomena.
This view of science, with physics at the center stage, has arguably provided the dominant narrative in mainstream philosophy of science throughout the 20th century. Yet many questions arise when one zooms in on the details. For instance: in what sense can the laws of physics be said to be simple, when concrete computations based on them are tedious or even impossible? How do notions of simplicity differ across the sciences, and what are their commonalities? Does the striving for simplification of perceived complexity imply an unjustified reductionism? Is simplicity really an epistemic ideal or just endorsed for pragmatic reasons, and maybe even an unreliable guide to truth? If so, what should it be replaced with?
The aim of this Topical Collection is to bring together contributions from different fields, such as (the philosophy of) physics, biology, economy, psychology, linguistics, or general philosophy of science. Topics may include but are not limited to:

  • epistemic vs. practical: Is simplicity an epistemic goal of science or just a practical benefit? (Why) should theories aim for simplicity, or (why) not?
  • physics vs. other sciences: Does the complexity of the world largely preclude simple science? Is complexity also an aim of the special sciences? Does contemporary physics really aim at simplicity?
  • the concept of simplicity in science: What does it mean to be a ‘simple’ theory? What is simplicity? Can there be a unified account of simplicity or should one embrace pluralism?

We invite contributions from the full spectrum of disciplines and their respective philosophies, scientists and scholars reflecting on their respective and neighboring research fields, as well as historians, philosophers and sociologists of science investigating the epistemologies, practices, and discourses of fellow epistemic communities.

For further information, please contact the guest editors:
Florian J. Boge
Paul Grünke
Martin King
Miguel Ángel Carretero Sahuquillo

The deadline for submissions is 31 July 2020
Submit your paper through the Synthese Editorial Manager under a dedicated heading entitled “T.C.: Simplicity out of Complexity? Physics and the Aim of Science”. Please visit Editorial Manager® ( and select this heading when submitting the manuscript.

Submitted papers will be peer-reviewed as per usual journal practice. At least two reviewers will be assigned to each paper and final decisions will be taken by Synthese Editors in Chief, following the recommendation of the Guest Editors, which is based on the reviewers’ reports. Please prepare papers for anonymous reviews.