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The Kantian framework of complementarity

Cuffaro, Michael (2010) The Kantian framework of complementarity. [Published Article or Volume]

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A growing number of commentators have, in recent years, noted the important affinities in the views of Immanuel Kant and Niels Bohr. While these commentators are correct, the picture they present of the connections between Bohr and Kant is painted in broad strokes; it is open to the criticism that these affinities are merely superficial. In this essay, I provide a closer, structural, analysis of both Bohr's and Kant's views that makes these connections more explicit. In particular, I demonstrate the similarities between Bohr's argument, on the one hand, that neither the wave nor the particle description of atomic phenomena pick out an object in the ordinary sense of the word, and Kant's requirement, on the other hand, that both 'mathematical' (having to do with magnitude) and 'dynamical' (having to do with an object's interaction with other objects) principles must be applicable to appearances in order for us to determine them as objects of experience. I argue that Bohr's 'complementarity interpretation' of quantum mechanics, which views atomic objects as idealizations, and which licenses the repeal of the principle of causality for the domain of atomic physics, is perfectly compatible with, and indeed follows naturally from a broadly Kantian epistemological framework.

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Item Type: Published Article or Volume
Keywords: Complementarity; Niels Bohr; Immanuel Kant; Copenhagen interpretation; Uncertainty principle; Quantum mechanics
Subjects: General Issues > Causation
General Issues > Determinism/Indeterminism
General Issues > Explanation
General Issues > History of Philosophy of Science
General Issues > Operationalism/Instrumentalism
General Issues > Philosophers of Science
Specific Sciences > Physics > Quantum Mechanics
General Issues > Realism/Anti-realism
General Issues > Reductionism/Holism
Depositing User: Dr. Michael Cuffaro
Date Deposited: 13 Oct 2011 01:44
Last Modified: 09 Dec 2011 15:20
Item ID: 8838
Journal or Publication Title: Studies In History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies In History and Philosophy of Modern Physics
Publisher: Elsevier
Official URL:

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