In Eleanor Knox & Alastair Wilson (eds.), The Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Physics. Oxford: Routledge. pp. Ch. 29 (2021)

Orly Shenker
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Statistical mechanics is often taken to be the paradigm of a successful inter-theoretic reduction, which explains the high-level phenomena (primarily those described by thermodynamics) by using the fundamental theories of physics together with some auxiliary hypotheses. In my view, the scope of statistical mechanics is wider since it is the type-identity physicalist account of all the special sciences. But in this chapter, I focus on the more traditional and less controversial domain of this theory, namely, that of explaining the thermodynamic phenomena.What are the fundamental theories that are taken to explain the thermodynamic phenomena? The lively research into the foundations of classical statistical mechanics suggests that using classical mechanics to explain the thermodynamic phenomena is fruitful. Strictly speaking, in contemporary physics, classical mechanics is considered to be false. Since classical mechanics preserves certain explanatory and predictive aspects of the true fundamental theories, it can be successfully applied in certain cases. In other circumstances, classical mechanics has to be replaced by quantum mechanics. In this chapter I ask the following two questions: I) How does quantum statistical mechanics differ from classical statistical mechanics? How are the well-known differences between the two fundamental theories reflected in the statistical mechanical account of high-level phenomena? II) How does quantum statistical mechanics differ from quantum mechanics simpliciter? To make our main points I need to only consider non-relativistic quantum mechanics. Most of the ideas described and addressed in this chapter hold irrespective of the choice of a (so-called) interpretation of quantum mechanics, and so I will mention interpretations only when the differences between them are important to the matter discussed.
Keywords Thermodynamics, statistical mechanics, quantum mechanics, macrostates
Categories (categorize this paper)
Buy the book Find it on
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 65,740
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

No references found.

Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

No citations found.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

The Foundations of Quantum Mechanics and the Approach to Thermodynamic Equilibrium.David Z. Albert - 1994 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 45 (2):669-677.
The Past Histories of Molecules.Craig Callender - 2011 - In Claus Beisbart & Stephan Hartmann (eds.), Probabilities in Physics. Oxford University Press. pp. 83--113.
Decoherence: The View From the History and the Philosophy of Science.Amit Hagar - 2012 - Phil. Trans. Royal Soc. London A 375 (1975).
The Case for Black Hole Thermodynamics, Part II: Statistical Mechanics.David Wallace - 2018 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics 66:103-117.
The Holographic Quantum.P. Fernández de Córdoba, J. M. Isidro & J. Vazquez Molina - 2016 - Foundations of Physics 46 (7):787-803.


Added to PP index

Total views
1 ( #1,516,702 of 2,462,864 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
1 ( #449,387 of 2,462,864 )

How can I increase my downloads?


Sorry, there are not enough data points to plot this chart.

My notes