In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Philosophy of Cosmology

  • Introduction
  • Overviews, Textbooks, and Anthologies

Philosophy Philosophy of Cosmology
Craig Fox, Marie Gueguen, Adam Koberinski, Chris Smeenk
  • LAST REVIEWED: 13 December 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 August 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0233


Physical cosmology, the study of the large-scale structure of the universe and its evolution, has become a central area of research in fundamental physics. Theoretical and observational developments have led to acceptance of a “standard model” describing the history of the universe in impressive detail. These developments raise a number of challenging foundational questions that have stimulated the emerging field of philosophy of cosmology. Many of these questions are closely tied to discussions in general philosophy of science and philosophy of physics, whereas others are distinctive to the field. This bibliography aims to provide an orientation for both kinds of questions. As philosophy of cosmology is an emerging field, the literature in this area is sparse. Hence this bibliography includes two kinds of references that do not explicitly address philosophy of cosmology. First, it identifies several philosophical papers regarding other scientific fields, with the thought that these will inform discussions of parallel issues in cosmology. Second, it includes several references to the scientific literature, to provide philosophers with a useful orientation to contemporary scientific debates.

Overviews, Textbooks, and Anthologies

These overviews provide accessible philosophical introductions to issues in cosmology. Quantitative precision cosmology is a relatively new scientific discipline, so philosophical analyses of the discipline are sparse. Smeenk 2013 is a useful orientation for newcomers to the field; see Smeenk and Ellis 2017 for further detail. Chamcham, et al. 2017 provides a higher-level survey of various issues in the philosophy of cosmology, as does Zinkernagel 2014. Torretti 2000 and Malament 2012 are more focused overviews of the historical and contemporary states of relativity, respectively. Geroch 2013 is an accessible conceptual introduction. Ryden 2016 and Dodelson 2003 are comprehensive textbook introductions to general relativity and cosmology, written for physicists in training. Ellis 2006 surveys the features of cosmology that make it unique among investigations in physics.

  • Chamcham, K., J. Silk, J. D. Barrow, and S. Saunders. The Philosophy of Cosmology. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2017.

    DOI: 10.1017/9781316535783

    Featuring chapters from leading cosmologists, theoretical physicists, and philosophers of physics, the anthology covers topics specific to the philosophy of cosmology—including structure formation in the universe, the structure of the standard model of cosmology, and tensions between gravity and quantum theory—as well more general philosophical issues that appear in the study of cosmology—including time’s arrow, the existence of the universe, confirmation of theories, and probability.

  • Dodelson, S. Modern Cosmology. Amsterdam: Academic Press, 2003.

    A good textbook treatment, not presuming knowledge of general relativity and covering a variety of topics in addition to relativistic models.

  • Ellis, G. F. R. “Issues in the Philosophy of Cosmology.” In Handbook in Philosophy of Physics. Edited by J. Butterfield and J. Earman, 1183–1286. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Elsevier, 2006.

    Ellis outlines the present state of cosmology and details what makes cosmology unique—in particular, the uniqueness of its object and its role as the background for all of physics.

  • Geroch, R. General Relativity from A to B. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013.

    A beautifully executed introductory text.

  • Malament, D. B. Topics in the Foundations of General Relativity and Newtonian Gravitation Theory. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012.

    DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226502472.001.0001

    Masterful treatment of the foundations of relativity theory, including special topics (Gödel spacetime, rotation, and geometrized Newtonian gravitation).

  • Ryden, B. Introduction to Cosmology. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2016.

    Advanced undergraduate-level textbook for physics students, this text provides an introduction to cosmology that does not presuppose background knowledge of general relativity.

  • Smeenk, C. “Philosophy of Cosmology.” In The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Physics. Edited by R. Batterman, 607–652. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013.

    This article provides an overview of the foundations of the standard model of cosmology, modern quantitative applications, and philosophical issues related to cosmology. Topics include dark matter, dark energy, early universe cosmology, the uniqueness of the universe, and anthropic reasoning. The article is meant to serve as an introduction to philosophy of cosmology for philosophy graduate students.

  • Smeenk, C., and G. F. R. Ellis. “Philosophy of Cosmology.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by E. N. Zalta. Stanford, CA: Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University, 2017.

    In a more recent review of the field, Smeenk and Ellis provide a detailed survey meant as a reference for working philosophers. This article covers background for understanding the standard model of cosmology, as well as philosophical issues such as underdetermination, the origins of the universe, testing cosmological models, and anthropic reasoning.

  • Torretti, R. “Spacetime Models for the World.” Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics 31.2 (2000): 171–186.

    DOI: 10.1016/S1355-2198(99)00036-2

    Concise historical and philosophical discussion of the early days of relativistic cosmology.

  • Zinkernagel, H. ed. Special Issue: Philosophy of Cosmology. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics 46 (2014).

    A special issue dedicated to papers on various topics in the philosophy of cosmology, including underdetermination, epistemology, testability, and predictability.

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