What does History Matter to Philosophy of Physics?

in Journal of the Philosophy of History
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Naturalized metaphysics remains a default presupposition of much contemporary philosophy of physics. As metaphysics is supposed to be about the general structure of reality, so a naturalized metaphysics draws upon our best physical theories: Assuming the truth of such a theory, it attempts to answer the “foundational question par excellence”, “how could the world possibly be the way this theory says it is?” It is argued that attention to historical detail in the development and formulation of physical theories serves as an ever-relevant hygienic corrective to the “sentiment of rationality” underlying the naturalistic impulse to read ontology off of physics.




Oxford University Press, 2007. Gauge theories are theories with ‘local symmetries’, that is, theories that remain invariant under transformation of a variable quantity that is ‘local’ (‘infinitesimal’ would be more exact) in the sense that its value expressly depends on the space and time coordinates. The quantum field theories that comprise the so-called Standard Model of elementary particles – the current best understanding of the non-¬gravitational fundamental interaction – are quantized gauge theories, also known as Yang-Mills ¬theories.


James Ladyman and Don Ross, Every Thing Must Go: Metaphysics Naturalized. Oxford University Press, 2007, p. 37.


Katherine Brading and Thomas Ryckman, “Hilbert’s ‘Foundations of Physics’: Gravitation and Electromagnetism within the Axiomatic Method”, Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics 39 (2009), 102–53.


Harvey Brown and Katherine Brading, “General Covariance from the Perspective of Noether’s Theorems”, Diálogos 79 (Festschrift for Roberto Torretti), 59–86.


See e.g., Craig Callender, “Taking Thermodynamics Too Seriously”, Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics 32 (2001), 539–553; Lawrence Sklar, Physics and Chance: Philosophical Issues in the Foundations of Statistical Mechanics. Cambridge University Press, 1993.


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