The epistemic schism of statistical mechanics



Published 13-03-2021
Javier Anta


In this paper I will argue that the two main approaches to statistical mechanics, that of Boltzmann and Gibbs, constitute two substantially different theoretical apparatuses. Particularly, I defend that this theoretical split must be philosophically understood as a separation of epistemic functions within this physical domain: while Boltzmannians are able to generate powerful explanations of thermal phenomena from molecular dynamics, Gibbsians can statistically predict observable values in a highly effective way. Therefore, statistical mechanics is a counterexample to Hempel's (1958) symmetry thesis, where the predictive capacity of a theory is directly correlated with its explanatory potential and vice versa.

How to Cite

Anta, J. (2021). The epistemic schism of statistical mechanics. THEORIA. An International Journal for Theory, History and Foundations of Science, 36(3), 399–419.
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Statistical Mechanics, Explanation, Prediction, Hempel, Boltzmann, Gibbs