Electric Charge: A Case Study

Colin McGinn

in Basic Structures of Reality

Published in print January 2012 | ISBN: 9780199841103
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199919529 | DOI:
Electric Charge: A Case Study

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This chapter analyzes the nature of electric charge. The usual talk of electrical charge is really nothing more than a summary of certain law-governed dispositions—though it certainly gives the impression that it is digging deeper. Textbooks of physics speak as if it is because of charge, positive or negative, that interacting bodies move as they do—suggesting that they have a conception of charge that is independent of such motions. But to have a charge is understood simply as having the ability to induce certain motions in nearby objects—nothing further has been descriptively specified. Explaining electromagnetic motions by citing charges is basically a virtus dormitiva explanation, i.e., no explanation at all. At best it tells us that the motions are caused by the force we call “electricity” (i.e., amber-related) and not by the force we call “gravity.” If we want to know what the cause of electromagnetic motions is, we have not yet been enlightened.

Keywords: electricity; magnetism; electromagnetism; electromagnetic motions

Chapter.  7767 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Science

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