Causation in Statistical Mechanics

Lawrence Sklar

in The Oxford Handbook of Causation

Published in print November 2009 | ISBN: 9780199279739
Published online January 2010 | e-ISBN: 9780191577246 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Philosophy

Causation in Statistical Mechanics

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In statistical mechanics causation appears at the micro-level as the postulation that the full state of a system at one time can be specified by the dynamical state of all its micro-constituents (the positions and momenta of the molecules in a gas or, alternatively the wave function of these at one time), and that this state at one time generates, following the laws of dynamics (classical or quantum) the future dynamical state of the system characterized in these micro-constituent terms. So what is ‘non-causal’ in nature in explanations in statistical mechanics? This article explores two issues: The peculiar ‘transcendental’ nature of explanation in equilibrium theory in statistical mechanics; The need for introducing some a priori probability posit over initial conditions of systems in non-equilibrium theory.

Keywords: causation; statistical mechanics; state of the system; equilibrium theory; non-equilibrium theory; nature of explanation

Article.  5394 words. 

Subjects: Metaphysics ; Philosophy of Science

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