David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Jack Alan Reynolds
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British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 40 (1):39-68 (1989)
The standard mathematical apparatus of classical electromagnetic theory in Minkowski space-time allows an interpretation in terms of retarded distant action, as well as the standard field interpretation. This interpretation is here presented and defended as a scientifically significant alternative to the field theory, casting doubt upon the common view that classical electromagnetic theory provides scientific support for the physical existence of fields as fundamental entities. The various types of consideration normally thought to provide evidence for the existence of the electromagnetic field are surveyed and analyzed in retarded distant action terms, from both a contemporary viewpoint and with regard to the late 19th century context within which the field theory was first generally accepted. It is concluded that acceptance of the field as real is not evidentially justified in either context, and that the customary historical explanation of the triumph of field theory as due to its empirical superiority is inadequate. An alternative explanation is suggested but not developed, appealing to non-empirical factors associated with the research program based on the conservation of energy.
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