Marij Van Strien
Bergische Universität Wuppertal
The reversibility problem (better known as the reversibility objection) is usually taken to be an internal problem in the kinetic theory of gases, namely the problem of how to account for the second law of thermodynamics within this theory. Historically, it is seen as an objection that was raised against Boltzmann's kinetic theory of gases, which led Boltzmann to a statistical approach to the kinetic theory, culminating in the development of statistical mechanics. In this paper, I show that in the late nineteenth century, the reversibility problem had a much broader significance - it was widely discussed and certainly not only as an objection to Boltzmann's kinetic theory of gases. In this period, there was a conflict between mechanism and irreversibility in physics which was tied up with central issues in philosophy of science such as materialism, empiricism and the need for mechanistic foundations of physical theories, as well as with concerns about the heat death of the universe. I discuss how this conflict was handled by the major physicists of the period, such as Maxwell, Kelvin, Duhem, Poincaré, Mach and Planck, as well as by a number of lesser-known authors.
Keywords irreversibility  reversibility  statistical mechanics  mechanism  second law of thermodynamics  kinetic theory of gases
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DOI 10.1016/j.shpsb.2013.05.004
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References found in this work BETA

Compendium of the Foundations of Classical Statistical Physics.Jos Uffink - 2005 - In Jeremy Butterfield & John Earman (eds.), Handbook of the Philosophy of Physics. Elsevier.
Bluff Your Way in the Second Law of Thermodynamics.Jos Uffink - 2001 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics 32 (3):305-394.
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Boltzmann's H-Theorem, its Discontents, and the Birth of Statistical Mechanics.Harvey R. Brown, Wayne Myrvold & Jos Uffink - 2009 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics 40 (2):174-191.

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