The Epistemic Schism of Statistical Mechanics

Theoria 36 (3):399-419 (2021)
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Abstract

In this paper I will argue that the two main approaches to statistical mechanics, that of Boltzmann and Gibbs, constitute two substantially different theoretical apparatuses. Particularly, I defend that this theoretical split must be philosophically understood as a separation of epistemic functions within this physical domain: while Boltzmannians are able to generate powerful explanations of thermal phenomena from molecular dynamics, Gibbsians can statistically predict observable values in a highly effective way. Therefore, statistical mechanics is a counterexample to Hempel's (1958) symmetry thesis, where the predictive capacity of a theory is directly correlated with its explanatory potential and vice versa.

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Javier Anta
Universidad de Sevilla

Citations of this work

Philosophy of statistical mechanics.Lawrence Sklar - 2008 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Framing the Epistemic Schism of Statistical Mechanics.Javier Anta - 2021 - Proceedings of the X Conference of the Spanish Society of Logic, Methodology and Philosophy of Science.

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References found in this work

Time and Chance.David Z. Albert - 2000 - Harvard University Press.
Compendium of the foundations of classical statistical physics.Jos Uffink - 2005 - In Jeremy Butterfield & John Earman (eds.), Handbook of the Philosophy of Physics. Elsevier.
Physics and Chance.Lawrence Sklar - 1995 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 46 (1):145-149.
Asymmetry, Abstraction, and Autonomy: Justifying Coarse-Graining in Statistical Mechanics.Katie Robertson - 2020 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 71 (2):547-579.

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