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Theoria. Revista de Teoría, Historia y Fundamentos de la Ciencia

Volume 36, Issue 3, September 2021

Javier AntaOrcid-ID
Pages 399-419

The epistemic schism of statistical mechanics

In this paper I will argue that the two main approaches to statistical mechanics, that of Boltzmann and Gibbs, constitute two substantially different theoretical apparatuses. Particularly, I defend that this theoretical split must be philosophically understood as a separation of epistemic functions within this physical domain: while Boltzmannians are able to generate powerful explanations of thermal phenomena from molecular dynamics, Gibbsians can statistically predict observable values in a highly effective way. Therefore, statistical mechanics is a counterexample to Hempel’s (1958) symmetry thesis, where the predictive capacity of a theory is directly correlated with its explanatory potential and vice versa.