Recent Changes in the Concept of Matter: How Does 'Elementary Particle' Mean?

In this paper the author analyzes the recent history of the concept of matter by examining two criteria, in-principle-observability and noncompositeness, for use of the term 'elementary particle'. Arguing that how these criteria are employed sheds light on a change in what matter means, the author draws three conclusions. (1) Since the seventeenth century, in-principle-observability has undergone a progressive devaluation, if not abandonment, in favor of the criterion of theoretical simplicity. As a consequence, (2) the concept of matter has undergone a "third phase" of dematerialization. (This is an extension of the view of Russ Hanson, who described two such phases.) Finally, (3) the current concept of matter reveals a dilemma: if alleged elementary particles are verified through observation, they are composite and hence not elementary; if they are elementary, they are in-principle-unobservable.
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DOI 10.2307/192574
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