On the indeterminacy of the meter

Synthese 196 (6):2487-2517 (2019)

Abstract

In the International System of Units, ‘meter’ is defined in terms of seconds and the speed of light, and ‘second’ is defined in terms of properties of cesium 133 atoms. I show that one consequence of these definitions is that: if there is a minimal length, then the chances that ‘meter’ is completely determinate are only 1 in 21,413,747. Moreover, we have good reason to believe that there is a minimal length. Thus, it is highly probable that ‘meter’ is indeterminate. If the meter is indeterminate, then any unit in the SI system that is defined in terms of the meter is indeterminate as well. This problem affects most of the familiar derived units in SI. As such, it is highly likely that indeterminacy pervades the SI system. The indeterminacy of the meter is compared and contrasted with emerging literature on indeterminacy in measurement locutions. Moreover, the indeterminacy of the meter has ramifications for the metaphysics of measurement and the semantics of measurement locutions. Finally, it is shown how to redefine ‘meter’ and ‘second’ to completely avoid the indeterminacy.

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Kevin Scharp
University of St. Andrews

References found in this work

New Work for a Theory of Universals.David K. Lewis - 1983 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 61 (4):343-377.
Naming and Necessity.Saul A. Kripke - 1985 - Critica 17 (49):69-71.
Eligibility and Inscrutability.J. Robert G. Williams - 2007 - Philosophical Review 116 (3):361-399.
Against Magnetism.Wolfgang Schwarz - 2014 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 92 (1):17-36.

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