Probability and statistics in Boltzmann's early papers on kinetic theory

Boltzmann’s equilibrium theory has not received by the scholars the attention it deserves. It was always interpreted as a mere generalization of Maxwell’s work or, in the most favorable case, a sketch of some ideas more consistently developed in the 1872 memoir. In this paper, I try to prove that this view is ungenerous. My claim is that in the theory developed during the period 1866-1871 the generalization of Maxwell’s distribution was mainly a mean to get a more general scope: a theory of the equilibrium of a system of mechanical points from a general point of view. To face this issue Boltzmann analyzed and discussed probabilistic assumptions so that his equilibrium theory cannot be considered a purely mechanical theory. I claim also that the special perspective adopted by Boltzmann and his view about probabilistic requirements played a role in the transition to the non equilibrium theory of 1872.
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