Putting the Cart Before the Horse: Ernest Nagel and the Uncertainty Principle

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In The Structure of Science, Ernest Nagel finds fault with Werner Heisenberg’s explication of the uncertainty principle. Nagel’s complaint is that this principle does not follow from the impossibility of measuring with precision both the position and the momentum of a particle, as Heisenberg intimates, rather it is the other way around. Recent developments in theoretical physics have shown that Nagel’s argument is more substantial than he could have envisaged. In particular it has become clear that there are in fact two uncertainty principles; as a result, there are four pairs of quantities to examine, whereas Heisenberg considers only one. These findings throw new light on Nagel’s criticism. They enable us to see that his intuition was surprisingly apposite, but also make clear where his argument misses the mark.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationErnest Nagel
Subtitle of host publicationPhilosophy of Science and the Fight for Clarity
EditorsAdam Tuboly, Matthias Neuber
Place of PublicationCham
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)978-3-030-81010-8
ISBN (Print)978-3-030-81009-2
Publication statusPublished - 2022
EventErnest Nagel and the Making of Philosophy of Science as a Profession - Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Institute of Philosophy, Budapest, Hungary
Duration: 4-Oct-20194-Oct-2019

Publication series

NameLogic, Epistemology and the Unity of Science


WorkshopErnest Nagel and the Making of Philosophy of Science as a Profession


  • Ernest Nagel
  • quantum mechanics
  • uncertainty principle

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