Article ID: CBB129873379

Fresnel's Laws, Ceteris Paribus (2017)


This article is about structural realism, historical continuity, laws of nature, and ceteris paribus clauses. Fresnel's Laws of optics support Structural Realism because they are a scientific structure that has survived theory change. However, the history of Fresnel's Laws which has been depicted in debates over realism since the 1980s is badly distorted. Specifically, claims that J. C. Maxwell or his followers believed in an ontologically-subsistent electromagnetic field, and gave up the aether, before Einstein's annus mirabilis in 1905 are indefensible. Related claims that Maxwell himself did not believe in a luminiferous aether are also indefensible. This paper corrects the record. In order to trace Fresnel's Laws across significant ontological changes, they must be followed past Einstein into modern physics and nonlinear optics. I develop the philosophical implications of a more accurate history, and analyze Fresnel's Laws' historical trajectory in terms of dynamic ceteris paribus clauses. Structuralists have not embraced ceteris paribus laws, but they continue to point to Fresnel's Laws to resist anti-realist arguments from theory change. Fresnel's Laws fit the standard definition of a ceteris paribus law as a law applicable only in particular circumstances. Realists who appeal to the historical continuity of Fresnel's Laws to combat anti-realists must incorporate ceteris paribus laws into their metaphysics.

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Authors & Contributors
Worrall, John
Buchwald, Jed Z.
Tremblay, Frederic
Saldaña, Juan José
Mayrargue, Arnaud
Magalhães, Gildo
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science
Science in Context
Revista Mexicana de Física
PSA: Proceedings of the Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association
Philosophy of Science
Philosophy of science
Electromagnetic waves; radiation
Fresnel, Augustin Jean
Maxwell, James Clerk
Young, Thomas
Grassmann, Hermann Günther
Arago, François Jean Dominique
Poisson, Siméon Denis
Time Periods
19th century
20th century
Early modern
21st century
British Isles
Great Britain

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