701-0016-00L  Philosophical Issues in Understanding Global Change

SemesterSpring Semester 2019
LecturersC. J. Baumberger, R. Knutti
Periodicityyearly recurring course
CourseDoes not take place this semester.
Language of instructionEnglish
CommentNumber of participants limited to 9.
Priority is given to D-ERDW Master in Atmospheric and Climate Science or doctoral students and D-USYS Master's and doctoral students.


701-0016-00 SPhilosophical Issues in Understanding Global Change
Does not take place this semester.
1 hrsC. J. Baumberger, R. Knutti

Catalogue data

AbstractThis course investigates the potentials and limitations of models and computer simulations that aim at understanding global change. We also discuss the limitations of observations and the role that results from models and computer simulations may take in decision making on policies for sustainable development.
ObjectiveStudents learn to reflect on concepts, methods, arguments and knowledge claims based upon computer simulations by critically analysing and assessing topical and recent research papers from philosophy and the sciences.
ContentGlobal change is not just a major real-world problem, but also a challenge for the natural and social sciences. The challenge is due to the spatial and temporal scales considered, the diversity, complexity and variability of aspects involved, and, last but not least, the pragmatic and normative questions raised by global change. This course investigates the potentials and limits of research methods such as modelling for understanding global change with a focus on climate change. We also discuss the role of results from modelling and computer simulations in decision making on policies for sustainable development.

In the seminar, topics such as the following are discussed:
(1) What is a model? What are purposes and potential pitfalls of models? What are the basic steps of modelling?
(2) What are computer simulations and what is their relation to models? How do we learn about the real world by running computer simulations? How do computer simulations differ from classical experiments?
(3) What do data tell us about the problem we are investigating? What are the difficulties in assessing and interpreting data?
(4) What is the role of results from modelling and computer simulation in decision making on policies for sustainable development? What are the consequences of model uncertainties for policy making?
Lecture notesA set of papers from philosophy and from science to be discussed and a guide to analyzing texts are provided.
LiteratureThe papers to be discussed in the seminar sessions and guidelines about the analysis of texts are provided.
Prerequisites / NoticeThis seminar is offered at the ETH and the University of Bern. There are four seminar sessions, each lasting 4 hours. The sessions take place from 13:45 to 17:15. The places alternate between Zurich and Berne in the following way
DATUM Berne, BHF Soz. Arbeit, Raum 310, Hallerstrasse 10
DATUM Zurich, CHN P12 Universitätstrasse 16
DATUM Berne, BHF Soz. Arbeit, Raum 310, Hallerstrasse 10
DATUM Zurich, CHN P12 Universitätstrasse 16

In the first meeting, participants are introduced to methods on how to read a philosophical paper. For each meeting, every participant answers a couple of questions about one of the papers scheduled for discussion. The preparation for each session will take about 5 hours. Answers have to be sent to the lecturers before the seminar takes place and provide a basis for the discussion. All students that have subscribed will get the questions and texts for the first meeting by email.
Seminar discussions are chaired jointly by lecturers from philosophy and from science. Interest in interdisciplinary reading and discussion is a prerequisite. The number of participants is limited to 18, viz. 9 from the University of Bern and 9 from ETH Zurich.

Requirements for 2 CP: (1) Answer the questions about one paper before the meetings and read another paper (4 times), (2) Write a short essay of about 2-3 pages about a topic discussed in our meetings. This essay should be delivered until 3 weeks after the end of the spring semester.
Master or PhD students of D-USYS or students of Atmosph. + Climate Science MSc have priority.

Performance assessment

Performance assessment information (valid until the course unit is held again)
Performance assessment as a semester course
ECTS credits2 credits
ExaminersC. J. Baumberger, R. Knutti
Typeungraded semester performance
Language of examinationEnglish
RepetitionRepetition only possible after re-enrolling for the course unit.

Learning materials

No public learning materials available.
Only public learning materials are listed.


No information on groups available.


Places9 at the most
PriorityRegistration for the course unit is until 21.02.2019 only possible for the primary target group
Primary target groupAtmospheric and Climate Science MSc (661000)
Doctorate Earth Sciences (664002)
Doctorate Earth Sciences ETH-UZH (665000)
Doctorate Earth Sciencess UZH-ETH (665100)
Environmental Sciences MSc (736000)
Doctorate Environmental Sciences (739002)
Waiting listuntil 13.03.2019

Offered in

Environmental Sciences MasterMinor in Global Change and SustainabilityWInformation
Environmental Sciences MasterPolicy EngagementWInformation
Environmental Sciences MasterElectivesWInformation