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The Observable

Heisenberg’s Philosophy of Quantum Mechanics


Patrick Aidan Heelan

Edited By Babette Babich

Patrick Aidan Heelan’s The Observable offers the reader a completely articulated development of his 1965 philosophy of quantum physics, Quantum Mechanics and Objectivity. In this previously unpublished study dating back more than a half a century, Heelan brings his background as both a physicist and a philosopher to his reflections on Werner Heisenberg’s physical philosophy. Including considerably broader connections to the contributions of Niels Bohr, Wolfgang Pauli, and Albert Einstein, this study also reflects Heelan’s experience in Eugene Wigner’s laboratory at Princeton along with his reflections on working with Erwin Schrödinger dating from Heelan’s years at the Institute for Advanced Cosmology in Dublin.
A contribution to continental philosophy of science, the phenomenological and hermeneutic resources applied in this book to the physical and ontological paradoxes of quantum physics, especially in connection with laboratory science and measurement, theory and model making, will enrich students of the history of science as well as those interested in different approaches to the historiography of science. University courses in the philosophy of physics will find this book indispensable as a resource and invaluable for courses in the history of science.
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Chapter Fourteen: The Logical Status ofPotentia


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The Logical Status of Potentia

Central to Heisenberg’s notion of potentia are then: (1) its ontological status as an Aristotelian principle of being; (2) its logical status as a descriptive dispositional term.

To possess a disposition is not to be in a particular state but to be bound, or liable to be in a certain state, or to undergo a certain change of state (if certain conditions are realized).1 Consider, for example, the term “soluble.” The sentence “This lump of sugar is soluble” is true if and only if, were this lump of sugar to be placed in water (under standard conditions of temperature and pressure), it would dissolve. “Solubility” is defined in terms of an end-state, the state of being in solution, which would result if certain conditions were fulfilled. As far as descriptive language goes, no more is required of it than the ability to describe the end state when the appropriate conditions are fulfilled.

Moreover, the use of a dispositional predicate is equivalent to the use of a counterfactual or law-like hypothetical statement form. This permits, for example, the dispositional soluble to be predicated of a lump of sugar, even though the lump of sugar has never actually been subjected to the test of solubility. In fact, the form of the counterfactual supposes that the test has not been made on the ← 119 | 120 → lump of sugar.2 It says what would...

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