Advancing the Philosophy of Physics

Authored by: Dean Rickles

The Ashgate Companion to Contemporary Philosophy of Physics

Print publication date:  October  2008
Online publication date:  November  2016

Print ISBN: 9780754655183
eBook ISBN: 9781315612676
Adobe ISBN: 9781317044321


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There are several (general) philosophy of physics textbooks on the market. 1 An obvious question to ask at the outset then is: Why another one? In his “Some Philosophical Aspects of Particle Physics”, Michael Redhead bemoans the common practice of philosophers of science of dealing with examples “which are no longer of current research interest in science” ((1980), p. 279). This practice is still common even among many philosophers of physics, and, for the most part, the available textbooks continue to engage in this practice. Generally, one finds a little spacetime, a little statistical mechanics, and a little quantum theory. Now, these are of course the ‘pillars’ of modern physics, so it is what we should expect to be covered in any textbook on the philosophy of physics worth its salt (and, indeed, they are well represented in this book). However, the issues that are dealt with are usually very old fashioned and very limited in scope: ‘spacetime’ means ‘the twins paradox’ (and possibly conventionalism); ‘statistical mechanics’ means ‘time asymmetry’; and ‘quantum theory’ means ‘the measurement problem’. Redhead is surely right that this leads physicists to “regard philosophy of science as somewhat irrelevant”. Rightly so, too, if this were in fact representative of much of what actually goes on in philosophy of physics. However, the state of play as represented in philosophy of physics and (some) philosophy of science journals shows a very different level of engagement, with philosophers of physics investigating the frontiers of scientific research. This disparity (or the impression of such) is the raison d’être for the book you are now reading. The result is an introductory textbook covering those portions of philosophy of physics research that other textbooks fail to cover, or cover only very briefly or very simplistically. The three pillars of modern physics—relativity, quantum theory and statistical mechanics—are still represented, then, but from a more advanced and contemporary perspective.

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