Does anyone know what is the timeline of modern and contemporary philosophical criticism of modern physics? We know, for instance, about a debate between Bergson and Einstein, and that Einstein was criticized for Kantians for contradicting Kant's conceptions of space and time. We also know that Quantum Mechanics generated a very long discussion about reality and our natural measurement limits.

I would like to know what is the present status of these questions. Is there a present dialogue between physicists and philosophers speaking the same language and constructing some kind of holistic comprehension of reality? I can not see this. It seems to me that Physics have become some kind of engineering science, and have lost the point of a philosophia naturalis. Am I wrong?

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    I enjoyed reading your post. In Germany (gymnasium) and France (lycee) you had the real possibility that a student destined to become a practicing scientist or science instructor would be exposed to philosophy in what we call high school in America. I think it was required in France and Germany that college bound students be exposed to philosophy. So you had much more philosophical sophistication among scientists from those countries. Hence, scientists like Heisenberg could write an intelligent book on philosophy.
    – Gordon
    Commented Sep 1, 2017 at 20:31
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    @Gordon, My point is that in the birth of the physical science as we know it, with Copernicus, Galileo and Newton, just to say a few names, there were not a clear separation between physics and philosophy. They used to refer to each other as philosophers of nature and that was not just a name. There was a need to build a worldview based on a meaningful comprehension of reality and this effort was made by people that today would be classified as a physicist or a philosopher. And I fell that nowadays physicists do not have this more deep undestanding purpose. Commented Sep 1, 2017 at 21:16
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    Right. I agree with you. But to have a deeper worldview they must be educated to have one, or they must be given the tools to develop one. Where is the incentive today? If a scientist wants to write or speak on such topics today, he must do so outside of the academy, generally. Retired science professors, or famous scientists have more leeway to discuss science more broadly. The average practicing physicist or science instructor is not rewarded for writing or speaking publicly on such broader topics. It's not rewarded, so they don't educate themselves in it. – Gordon 5 hours ago delete
    – Gordon
    Commented Sep 2, 2017 at 2:45
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    It is interesting to see that some of the greateast scientific works were constructed outside of the academy, like Darwin's evolution of species and Einstein's general relativity in a patent office. Commented Sep 2, 2017 at 12:33
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    you'll enjoy 'Quantum Physics and Ultimate Reality: Mystical Writings of Great Physicists" edited by Michael Green. Commented Sep 3, 2017 at 4:26

1 Answer 1


Philosophy of physics is a whole field of contemporary philosophy. There are many debates in the field, concerning for example the interpretation of quantum mechanics, the role of symmetries in physics, questions regarding formalism choice or relation between the formalism and reality, the status of causation in physics, the status of laws of nature, the role and nature of explanations, the nature of space and time, reduction and emergence and relations between physics and other fields (chemistry, biology), continuity between old and new theories, the nature of observation and the pragmatics of experimentation, the role of epistemic or non epistemic values in theory choice... There are also methodological issues concerning the relation between metaphysics and physics.

Philosophers of physics are usually taking a difference stance than that of Bergson, in that they attempt to interpret physics and provide conceptual tools to understand it rather than criticise it in relation to pre-theoretical intuitions.

There is a dialogue between philosophers and physicists, and although most physicists are not acquainted with philosophical jargon, they mostly talk the same language. Most philosophers of physics have a scientific training. Physicists are often invited in philosophical conferences. Some work together on the same projects, for example in the field of quantum gravity. Having said that, this dialogue is rather scarce due to institutional separations. With notable exceptions, most physicists completely ignore philosophical work on their topics.

If you're interested, you can find articles there: http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu

  • This is precisely what I was looking for. Thank you Quentin Ruyant. Commented Sep 5, 2017 at 13:29

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