by John Earman

- The Determinism and Freedom Philosophy Website, edited by Ted Honderich

This important paper by the Pittsburgh philosopher of science sets out the implications of physics past and present for determinism. It therefore examines the common idea that Newtonian physics supported determinism and contemporary physics refutes it. I need to say that I myself do not know enough science to understand much of the paper. It is piece of  philosophy of science that makes that subject into something that requires more understanding of science than is possessed by almost all philosophers. It is not easy to say what we should think about that. Nor am I sure what weight, evidently a very large one, to give to physics in deciding the question of determinism. That question is bound up with the fact that interpretations of recent physics are themselves evidently so philosophical in nature. What all of us can confidently take away from Professor Earman's lecture, which certainly enthralled me when it was given at an Inland Northwest Philosophy Conference in Idaho, is at least the drift of it, which is pretty surprising. That is stated succinctly in his conclusion, as follows.

"One might have hoped that this survey would provide an answer to the question: If we believe modern physics, is the world deterministic or not? But there is no simple and clean answer. The theories of modern physics paint many different and seemingly incommensurable pictures of the world; not only is there no unified theory of physics, there is not even agreement on the best route to getting one. And even within a particular theory -- say, QM or GTR -- there is no clear verdict. This is a reflection of the fact that determinism is bound up with some of the most important unresolved problems for these theories. While this linkage makes for frustration if one is in search of a quick and neat answer to the above questions, it also makes determinism an exciting topic for the philosophy of science."

To go to the paper supporting this conclusion, which you need to do, CLICK HERE.

A final draft of it will be published in the volume of proceedings of the Inland Northwest Philosophy conference, edited by Joseph Keim Campbell, Michael O'Rourke and David Shier.