The absolute and its measurement; William Thomson on temperature

Annals of Science 62 (3):281-308 (2004)

Hasok Chang
Cambridge University
In this paper we give a full account of the work of William Thomson on absolute temperature, which to this day provides the theoretical underpinnings for the most rigorous measurements of temperature. When Thomson fashioned his concepts of ‘absolute’ temperature, his main concern was to make the definition of temperature independent of the properties of particular thermometric substances . He tried out a succession of definitions based on the thermodynamics of ideal heat engines; most notably, in 1854 he gave the ratio of two temperatures as the ratio of quantities of heat taken in and given out at those temperatures in a Carnot cycle. But there were difficulties with using such definitions for experimental work, since it was not possible even to approximate an ideal Carnot engine in reality. More generally, it is not trivial to connect an abstract concept with concrete operations in order to make physical measurements possible. In the end, Thomson argued that an ideal gas thermometer would indicate his absolute temperature, and that the deviation of actual gas thermometers from the ideal could be estimated by means of the Joule‐Thomson effect. However, the measurement of the Joule‐Thomson effect itself required measurements of temperature, so there was a problem of circularity
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DOI 10.1080/00033790410001712246
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Four Arguments for Universal Relativism.Gregor Flock - 2015 - In Christian Kanzian, Josef Mitterer & Katharina Neges (eds.), Contributions of the 38th International Wittgenstein Symposium. Austrian Ludwig Wittgenstein Society. pp. 89-91.

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