Philosophical issues in electromagnetism

Philosophy Compass 4 (1):255-270 (2008)
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Abstract

This paper provides a survey of several philosophical issues arising in classical electrodynamics arguing that there is a philosophically rich set of problems in theories of classical physics that have not yet received the attention by philosophers that they deserve. One issue, which is connected to the philosophy of causation, concerns the temporal asymmetry exhibited by radiation fields in the presence of wave sources. Physicists and philosophers disagree on whether this asymmetry reflects a fundamental causal asymmetry or is due to statistical or thermodynamic considerations. I suggest that an explanation appealing to the asymmetry of causation is more promising. Another issue concerns the conceptual structure of the theory. Despite its empirical success, classical electrodynamics faces serious foundational problems. Models of charged particles involve what by the theory's own lights are idealizations, I maintain, and this is a feature that is not readily captured by traditional philosophical accounts of scientific theories. Other issues I discuss concern (i) the relation between Lorentz's theory of the electron and Einstein's Theory of Special Relativity; (ii) the notion of the domain of a theory, the question of theory reduction, and the relation between classical and more fundamental quantum theories; and (iii) the role of locality constraints, their relation to the concept of causation; and the status of locality conditions in the semi-classical theory of the Aharanov-Bohm effect.

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Mathias Frisch
Universität Hannover

Citations of this work

On conceptual issues in classical electrodynamics: Prospects and problems of an action-at-a-distance interpretation.Wolfgang Pietsch - 2010 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics 41 (1):67-77.
Conceptual problems in classical electrodynamics: No more toils and trouble?Mathias Frisch - 2013 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics 44 (4):527-531.

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References found in this work

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.Thomas S. Kuhn - 1962 - Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. Edited by Ian Hacking.
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.David Bohm - 1964 - Philosophical Quarterly 14 (57):377-379.
Wandering Significance: An Essay on Conceptual Behavior.Mark Wilson - 2006 - Oxford, GB: Oxford: Clarendon Press.

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