Worldviews and physicists' experience of disciplinary change: On the uses of 'classical' physics

Among the many tensions and oppositions in play in the early twentieth century, one—the divide between classical and modern physics—has retrospectively overshadowed our understandings of the period. This paper investigates when and why physicists first started using the term ‘classical’ to describe their discipline. Beginning with Boltzmann and ending with the 1911 Solvay Congress, on a broad scale this story constitutes a powerful instance of the circulation of a rich cultural image. First deployed in understandings of literature, music, art and schooling, the concept of the classical within the physics community came to be invested with a highly specific meaning, which in turn formed the basis for the widespread popularization of a new physical worldview after World War I. But on a finer scale, displaying the diverse, contrasting and controversial concepts of classical theory invoked by different physicists around 1900, and charting the emergence of our present understanding with the rise of relativity and quantum theory, reveals significant tussles over the meaning and value of different intellectual approaches. Here I use these tensions to investigate the interrelations between research programs and the broader, framing concepts with which physicists describe their experience of disciplinary change.Keywords: Energetics; Statistical mechanics; Relativity; Quantum theory; Classical physics; Ludwig Boltzmann
Keywords No keywords specified (fix it)
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1016/j.shpsa.2008.06.002
 Save to my reading list
Follow the author(s)
My bibliography
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Revision history Request removal from index
Download options
PhilPapers Archive

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy on self-archival     Papers currently archived: 23,674
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
Thomas S. Kuhn (1981). Black-Body Theory and the Quantum Discontinuity, 1894-1912. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 32 (1):71-85.
John Blackmore (1996). Ludwig Boltzmann: His Later Life and Philosophy, 1900-1906. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 47 (4):630-632.
Martin J. Klein (1961). Max Planck and the Beginnings of the Quantum Theory. Archive for History of Exact Sciences 1 (5):459--479.

View all 11 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

No citations found.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Monthly downloads

Added to index


Total downloads

12 ( #354,299 of 1,903,117 )

Recent downloads (6 months)

7 ( #128,437 of 1,903,117 )

How can I increase my downloads?

My notes
Sign in to use this feature

Start a new thread
There  are no threads in this forum
Nothing in this forum yet.