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the Complete Review
the complete review - philosophy

The Philosophy of Physics

Roberto Torretti

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To purchase The Philosophy of Physics

Title: The Philosophy of Physics
Author: Roberto Torretti
Genre: Philosophy
Written: 1999
Length: 457 pages
Availability: The Philosophy of Physics - US
The Philosophy of Physics - UK
The Philosophy of Physics - Canada

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Our Assessment:

B : useful broad survey of the philosophy of physics, fairly well presented.

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
British J. for the Phil. of Science . 9/2002 Frederick M. Kronz
Foundations of Physics . 5/2001 Lawrence Sklar
Isis . 6/2001 James T. Cushing
J. of the History of Philosophy . 10/2000 Martin Curd

  From the Reviews:
  • "The writing is admirably clear and the author has done a commendable job of explaining the arguments of historical scientists while presenting their theories in a clear modern notation.Inevitably, some of the mathematics will daunt readers whose background extends no further than high school but the formalism is used judiciously and to good purpose.In short, this is an excellent book: lucid, comprehensive, and reliable." - Martin Curd, Journal of the History of Philosophy

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Roberto Torretti's The Philosophy of Physics is a volume in the Cambridge University Press series, "The Evolution of Modern Philosophy." It serves to introduce the philosophical underpinnings of and questions raised by modern physics (the physics of Galileo, Newton and beyond). James T. Cushing covers similar territory in his Philosophical Concepts in Physics (see our review) -- an interesting point of comparison, as Cushing is a physicist and Torretti decidedly a philosopher.
       After a brief introduction as to the state of physics and philosophy in the seventeenth century, at the outset of the age of physics, Torretti proceeds with the expected advancements and advancers. The chapters that follow cover "Newton", "Kant", "The Rich Nineteenth Century", "Relativity", and "Quantum Mechanics", as well as a particularly useful final chapter of "Perspectives and Reflections".
       Torretti's emphasis is emphatically on the philosophical, an approach of particular value in certain areas, such as when discussing Kant, as well as the 19th century philosophers Whewell, Peirce, Mach, and Duhem. Torretti's understanding of the scientific questions at issue is also strong, and he manages to elucidate the connections between physics and philosophy fairly well.
       Perforce many subjects receive only a cursory mention, though Torretti does his best to include all that is, in his opinion, significant. Most of the major issues are covered, and Torretti offers useful discussions of topics as varied as geometry, the twin-paradox, and the "Many Worlds" interpretation of quantum physics. Torretti also writes with great confidence, certain about many of his answers. There are areas where he is not entirely convincing, so, for example, regarding quantum mechanics and specifically the EPR problem. (For a very different opinion and interpretation of Bohr and the Copenhagen interpretation see Mara Beller's fascinating Quantum Dialogue (see our review).)
       The mathematics in the book is within the grasp of most who have had a decent mathematical schooling (though perhaps more than Torretti suggests -- some college level maths would seem indispensable for a full understanding of even only the examples in the text proper). The few concepts of greater complexity are left for three supplements (on vectors, lattices, and topology).
       The book is fairly demanding and dense, though the variety of topics covered alone should serve to hold a reader's interest. Inevitably there is some regret that certain topics are not covered even more in depth, but that is not the purpose of this book. Torretti does cover a large amount of ground, and by and large he does so well. It is a useful survey, particularly welcome because of Torretti's philosophical background which shines through (much as the scientific background of most others who write on the philosophy of physics generally shines through).
       The Philosophy of Physics is likely to be too specialized for a general audience. We can, however, recommend it for anyone with an interest in physics and the philosophy of science

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The Philosophy of Physics: Roberto Torretti: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Roberto Torretti was born in 1930. A philosopher, he has taught at the University of Puerto Rico and the University of Chile.

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