Philosophy Research Seminar - Dr Katie Robertson

27 February 2020, 2.00 PM - 27 February 2020, 3.30 PM

Dr Katie Robertson, University of Birmingham

G2, Cotham House

Asymmetry and Autonomy in the Special Sciences

Fodor (1997) famously claimed that the special sciences are still autonomous - after all these years. But Loewer (2009) has criticised Fodor’s view of autonomy for wavering between a trivial methodological reading and an implausible metaphysical reading. In this talk, I offer a new account of autonomy in terms of ‘conditional irrelevance’.

I then apply this account to a thorny problem: how to reconcile the time-asymmetry of macroscopic dynamics with the time-symmetry of the underlying microdynamics. Using a coarse-graining framework, I show how the macroscopic time-asymmetric equations in statistical mechanics can be constructed from the underlying time-symmetric microdynamics.

But this framework uses coarse-graining which has been heavily criticised; Redhead (1996) calls it “one of the most deceitful artifices I have ever come across in theoretical physics”. I defend coarse-graining, and then draw some morals for the nature of time-asymmetry and the status of the special science of statistical mechanics.


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