Chapter

Subjective Probability and Statistical Physics

Jos Uffink

in Probabilities in Physics

Published in print September 2011 | ISBN: 9780199577439
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191730603 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199577439.003.0002
Subjective Probability and Statistical Physics

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This chapter examines subjectivist interpretations of probabilities in statistical physics. It provides an introduction to subjectivism about probabilities and its main tenets by tracing its history, ranging from Bernoulli up to Ramsey and de Finetti. The chapter also analyzes foundational work in statistical physics by Maxwell and Boltzmann and finds that, at a surface level, subjective probabilities were often rejected. However, some assumptions in statistical physics are better understood if the probabilities are taken as subjective. From a systematic point of view, the chapter argues that subjectivism provides a viable interpretation of probabilities in statistical mechanics. However, claims to the effect that subjectivism can overcome problems with more objectivist interpretations are rejected. In particular, Jaynes' argument for the Second Law of Thermodynamics is found wanting.

Keywords: probabilities; statistical mechanics; subjectivism; Second Law of Thermodynamics; Maxwell; Boltzmann; de Finetti; E. T. Jaynes

Chapter.  12734 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Science

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