Papers in progress

Here are some ideas I’m currently working on. Feel free to download the pdf where available. Comments and thoughts are very welcome, but please DO NOT CITE without permission.

Wolff, J.E.: Naturalism and the interpretation of quantum mechanics

Quantum mechanics is the paradigmatic example of a scientific theory seemingly demanding `an interpretation’. Bas van Fraassen has recently argued that the attitude towards the task of interpreting science can be used to demarcate two otherwise similar epistemic stances: empiricism and naturalism. He claims that while empiricists are committed to the task of interpretation, naturalists do not have room to make sense of interpretation from outside the scientific theory. Naturalists, it seems, would have to be quietists about interpretation. I investigate in what form, if any, naturalists can make sense of the task of interpretation in the case of quantum mechanics. Doing so will shed light on the question whether interpretation of physical theories is a distinctively philosophical task, and what its purpose might be. I suggest that the aim of interpreting theories is to enhance our understanding, and that this task is not exclusively philosophical. (pdf)

This chapter is currently under review. Please do not cite without permission.

Wolff, J.E.: Fundamental and Derived Quantities

A widespread view in metaphysics holds that some properties, perfectly natural ones, have an elite status among properties. As part of a naturalistic approach to metaphysics, it is commonly presumed that science, and in particular physics, will reveal which properties in fact play the role of elite properties. Since properties in physics are often quantitative, this raises the question whether science delivers a distinction between base and derivative quantities that matches the distinction in metaphysics between fundamental and non-fundamental properties. In this chapter I investigate whether laws of nature or systems of units can be employed to arrive at such a distinction, and answer in the negative. The requisite definitional dependencies characteristic of fundamental and less-fundamental properties hold among the dimensions of quantities, not the quantities directly. Yet, the decision about which dimension have priority derives from a distinction of quantities into base quantities and derivative quantities that is ultimately conventional.(pdf)

This chapter is currently under review. Please do not cite without permission.

Wolff, J.E.: Why eliminativism?

This short paper began its life as a contribution to a symposium on Steven French’s book “The structure of the world – Representation and Metaphysics”. I focus on one aspect of French’s ontic structural realism: his eliminativism about objects. I consider three sources of problems for this view: objects might be needed for the articulation of struc- tural realism, objects are all around us, and quantum particles might be objects. I suggested in response to the first, that French’s Poincaré Manoeuvre needs a little more footwork, and in response to the latter two that dependence relations do not get rid of objects. In particular, I suggest that dependence relations are in fact too strong for the intended conclusion, that the explanatory dependence relations seem vindicatory rather than undermining, and that existential or essential dependence relations only eliminate dependent entities if no suitable dependee can be found.

This paper is under review. Please do not cite without permission. (pdf)

Wolff, J.E.: Heaps of moles

In this paper I take a close look at the SI base quantity “amount of substance”, and its unit, the mole. The mole was introduced as a base unit in the SI in 1971, and there is currently a proposal to change its definition. I argue, first, that the current definition of the mole creates a certain ambiguity regarding the nature of the quantity “amount of substance”. I then evaluate some of the criticisms this ambiguity has prompted. Finally I look at how the new proposal affects the ontological status of “amount of substance”.

This paper is forthcoming in Studies in History and Philosophy of Science. (pdf)

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