What are laws of nature? During much of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries Newton’s laws of motion were taken to be the paradigm of scientific laws thought to constitute universal and necessary eternal truths. But since the turn of the twentieth century we know that Newton’s laws are not universally valid. Does this mean that their status as laws of physics has changed? Have we discovered that the principles, which were once thought to be laws of nature, are not in (...) fact laws? (shrink)
According to a widespread view, which can be traced back to Russell’s famous attack on the notion of cause, causal notions have no legitimate role to play in mature physical theorizing. This view has proponents even among those who believe that causal notions have an important place in our folk conception of the world. In this paper I critically examine Bas van Fraassen’s articulation of this view in a debate with Nancy Cartwright. I argue that there is an asymmetry of (...) state preparation characterizing our experimental interactions with physical systems that can provide a justification for asymmetric causal assumptions even within the context of a physics with time-reversal invariant dynamical equations. (shrink)
Climate change presents us with a problem of intergenerational justice. While any costs associated with climate change mitigation measures will have to be borne by the world’s present generation, the main beneficiaries of mitigation measures will be future generations. This raises the question to what extent present generations have a responsibility to shoulder these costs. One influential approach for addressing this question is to appeal to neo-classical economic cost–benefit analyses and so-called economy-climate “integrated assessment models” to determine what course of (...) action a principle of intergenerational welfare maximization would require of us. I critically examine a range of problems for this approach. First, integrated assessment models face a problem of underdetermination and induction: They are very sensitive to a number of highly conjectural assumptions about economic responses to a temperature and climate regime, for which we have no empirical evidence. Second, they involve several simplifying assumptions which cannot be justified empirically. And third, some of the assumptions underlying the construction of economic models are intrinsically normative assumptions that reflect value judgments of the modeler. I conclude that, while integrated assessment models may play a useful role as “toy models,” their use as tools for policy optimization is highly problematic. (shrink)
According to a widespread view, which can be traced back to Russell’s famous attack on the notion of cause, causal notions have no legitimate role to play in how mature physical theories represent the world. In this paper I first critically examine a number of arguments for this view that center on the asymmetry of the causal relation and argue that none of them succeed. I then argue that embedding the dynamical models of a theory into richer causal structures can (...) allow us to decide between models in cases where our observational data severely underdetermine our choice of dynamical models. (shrink)
In recent work on the foundations of statistical mechanics and the arrow of time, Barry Loewer and David Albert have developed a view that defends both a best system account of laws and a physicalist fundamentalism. I argue that there is a tension between their account of laws, which emphasizes the pragmatic element in assessing the relative strength of different deductive systems, and their reductivism or funda- mentalism. If we take the pragmatic dimension in their account seriously, then the laws (...) of the special sciences should be part of our best explanatory system of the world, as well. (shrink)
I examine Harvey Brown’s account of relativity as dynamic and constructive theory and Michel Janssen recent criticism of it. By contrasting Einstein’s principle-constructive distinction with a related distinction by Lorentz, I argue that Einstein's distinction presents a false dichotomy. Appealing to Lorentz’s distinction, I argue that there is less of a disagreement between Brown and Janssen than appears initially and, hence, that Brown’s view presents less of a departure from orthodoxy than it may seem. Neither the kinematics-dynamics distinction nor Einstein’s (...) principle- and constructive theory distinction ultimately capture their disagreement, which may instead be a disagreement about the role of modality in science and the explanatory force of putatively nomic constraints. (shrink)
David Albert (2000) and Barry Loewer (2007) have argued that the temporal asymmetry of our concept of causal influence or control is grounded in the statistical mechanical assumption of a low-entropy past. In this paper I critically examine Albert's and Loewer's accounts.
In order to motivate the thesis that there is no single concept of causation that can do justice to all of our core intuitions concerning that concept, Ned Hall has argued that there is a conflict between a counterfactual criterion of causation and the condition of causal locality. In this paper I critically examine Hall's argument within the context of a more general discussion of the role of locality constraints in a causal conception of the world. I present two strategies (...) that defenders of counterfactual accounts of causation can pursue to respond to Hall's challenge?including the adoption of a counterfactual condition that is sufficient for causal action-at-a-distance in place of Hall's ?process? condition?and conclude that Hall's argument against counterfactual accounts of causation is unsuccessful. (shrink)
Classical dispersion relations are derived from a time-asymmetric constraint. I argue that the standard causal interpretation of this constraint plays a scientifically legitimate role in dispersion theory, and hence provides a counterexample to the causal skepticism advanced by John Norton and others. Norton () argues that the causal interpretation of the time-asymmetric constraint is an empty honorific and that the constraint can be motivated by purely non-causal considerations. In this paper I respond to Norton's criticisms and argue that Norton's skepticism (...) derives its force partly by holding causal principles to a standard too high to be met by other scientifically legitimate constraints. (shrink)
This paper provides a survey of several philosophical issues arising in classical electrodynamics arguing that there is a philosophically rich set of problems in theories of classical physics that have not yet received the attention by philosophers that they deserve. One issue, which is connected to the philosophy of causation, concerns the temporal asymmetry exhibited by radiation fields in the presence of wave sources. Physicists and philosophers disagree on whether this asymmetry reflects a fundamental causal asymmetry or is due to (...) statistical or thermodynamic considerations. I suggest that an explanation appealing to the asymmetry of causation is more promising. Another issue concerns the conceptual structure of the theory. Despite its empirical success, classical electrodynamics faces serious foundational problems. Models of charged particles involve what by the theory's own lights are idealizations, I maintain, and this is a feature that is not readily captured by traditional philosophical accounts of scientific theories. Other issues I discuss concern (i) the relation between Lorentz's theory of the electron and Einstein's Theory of Special Relativity; (ii) the notion of the domain of a theory, the question of theory reduction, and the relation between classical and more fundamental quantum theories; and (iii) the role of locality constraints, their relation to the concept of causation; and the status of locality conditions in the semi-classical theory of the Aharanov-Bohm effect. (shrink)
According to a view widely held among philosophers of science, the notion of cause has no legitimate role to play in mature theories of physics. In this paper I investigate the role of what physicists themselves identify as causal principles in the derivation of dispersion relations. I argue that this case study constitutes a counterexample to the popular view and that causal principles can function as genuine factual constraints.
In Frisch 2004 and 2005 I showed that the standard ways of modeling particle-field interactions in classical electrodynamics, which exclude the interactions of a particle with its own field, results in a formal inconsistency, and I argued that attempts to include the self-field lead to numerous conceptual problems. In this paper I respond to criticism of my account in Belot 2007 and Muller 2007. I concede that this inconsistency in itself is less telling than I suggested earlier but argue that (...) existing solutions to the theory's foundational problems do not support the kind of traditional philosophical conception of scientific theorizing defended by Muller and Belot. *Received January 2007; revised October 2007. †To contact the author, please write to: Department of Philosophy, University of Maryland, Skinner Building, College Park, MD 20742; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. (shrink)
In this paper I examine several neo-Russellian arguments for the claim that there is no room for an asymmetric notion of cause in mature physical theories. I argue that these arguments are unsuccessful and discuss an example where an asymmetric causal condition plays an important role in the derivation of a physical law.
I have argued that the standard ways of modeling classical particle-field interactions rely on a set of inconsistent assumptions. This claim has been criticized in (Muller forthcoming). In this paper I respond to some of Muller's criticism.
In this paper I propose a reasonably sharp formulation of the temporal asymmetry of radiation. I criticize accounts that propose to derive the asymmetry from a low-entropy assumption characterizing the state of the early universe and argue that these accounts fail, since they presuppose the very asymmetry they are intended to derive. r 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Mathias Frisch provides the first sustained philosophical discussion of conceptual problems in classical particle-field theories. Part of the book focuses on the problem of a satisfactory equation of motion for charged particles interacting with electromagnetic fields. As Frisch shows, the standard equation of motion results in a mathematically inconsistent theory, yet there is no fully consistent and conceptually unproblematic alternative theory. Frisch describes in detail how the search for a fundamental equation of motion is partly driven by pragmatic considerations (like (...) simplicity and mathematical tractability) that can override the aim for full consistency. The book also offers a comprehensive review and criticism of both the physical and philosophical literature on the temporal asymmetry exhibited by electromagnetic radiation fields, including Einstein's discussion of the asymmetry and Wheeler and Feynman's influential absorber theory of radiation. Frisch argues that attempts to derive the asymmetry from thermodynamic or cosmological considerations fail and proposes that we should understand the asymmetry as due to a fundamental causal constraint. The book's overarching philosophical thesis is that standard philosophical accounts that strictly identify scientific theories with a mathematical formalism and a mapping function specifying the theory's ontology are inadequate, since they permit neither inconsistent yet genuinely successful theories nor thick causal notions to be part of fundamental physics. (shrink)
I show that Albert Einstein’s distinction between principle and constructive theories was predated by Hendrik A. Lorentz’s equivalent distinction between mechanism- and principle-theories. I further argue that Lorentz’s views toward realism similarly prefigure what Arthur Fine identified as Einstein’s ‘‘motivational realism.’’ r 2005 Published by Elsevier Ltd.
I show that the standard approach to modeling phenomena involving microscopic classical electrodynamics is mathematically inconsistent. I argue that there is no conceptually unproblematic and consistent theory covering the same phenomena to which this inconsistent theory can be thought of as an approximation; and I propose a set of conditions for the acceptability of inconsistent theories.
I discuss two case studies from classical electrodynamics challenging the distinction between laws that delineate physically possible words and initial conditions. First, for many reasonable initial conditions there exist no global solutions to the Maxwell‐Lorentz equations for continuous charge distributions. Second, in deriving an equation of motion for a charged point particle one needs to invoke an asymptotic condition that seems to express a physically contingent fact even though it is mathematically necessary for the derivation.
in Dirac's classical theory of the electron—is causally non-local. I distinguish two distinct causal locality principles and argue, using Dirac's theory as my main case study, that neither can be reduced to a non-causal principle of local determinism.
Bas van Fraassen has recently argued for a "dissolution" of Hilary Putnam's well-known model-theoretic argument. In this paper I argue that, as it stands, van Fraassen's reply to Putnam is unsuccessful. Nonetheless, it suggests the form a successful response might take.