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Determinism: What We Have Learned and What We Still Don’t Know

Earman, John (2004) Determinism: What We Have Learned and What We Still Don’t Know. In: Freedom and Determinism. The MIT Press, Cambridge, 21 - 46. ISBN 0262532573

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The purpose of this paper is to give a brief survey the implications of the theories of modern physics for the doctrine of determinism. The survey will reveal a curious feature of determinism: in some respects it is fragile, requiring a number of enabling assumptions to give it a fighting chance; but in other respects it is quite robust and very difficult to kill. The survey will also aim to show that, apart from its own intrinsic interest, determinism is an excellent device for probing the foundations of classical, relativistic, and quantum physics. The survey is conducted under three major presuppositions. First, I take a realistic attitude towards scientific theories in that I assume that to give an interpretation of a theory is, at a minimum, to specify what the world would have to be like in order for the theory to be true. But we will see that the demand for a deterministic interpretation of a theory can force us to abandon a naively realistic reading of the theory. Second, I reject the “no laws” view of science and assume that the field equations or laws of motion of the most fundamental theories of current physics represent science’s best guesses as to the form of the basic laws of nature. Third, I take determinism to be an ontological doctrine, a doctrine about the temporal evolution of the world. This ontological doctrine must not be confused with predictability, which is an epistemological doctrine, the failure of which need not entail a failure of determinism. From time to time I will comment on ways in which predictability can fail in a deterministic setting. Finally, my survey will concentrate on the Laplacian variety of determinism according to which the instantaneous state of the world at any time uniquely determines the state at any other time. The plan of the survey is as follows. Section 2 illustrates the fragility of determinism by means of a Zeno type example. Then sections 3 and 4 survey successively the fortunes of determinism in the Newtonian and the special relativistic settings..


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Item Type: Book Section
Status: Published
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Earman, Johnjearman@pitt.eduJEARMAN
Centers: University Centers > Center for Philosophy of Science
Date: July 2004
Date Type: Publication
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Publisher: The MIT Press
Place of Publication: Cambridge
Page Range: 21 - 46
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > History and Philosophy of Science
Refereed: Yes
ISBN: 0262532573
Title of Book: Freedom and Determinism
EditorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
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Date Deposited: 24 Jul 2012 18:59
Last Modified: 25 Aug 2017 05:07


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