The Referents of a Physical Theory

  • Mario Bunge
Part of the Synthese Library book series (SYLI, volume 45)


It is generally recognised that theoretical physics has been in an impasse for at least two decades. In particular, no breakthrough has been made in the domain of “particle” physics: there are no general theories with a predictive power in this field. A number of formidable technical difficulties stand in the way, but there are also certain philosophical obstacles that could easily be swept aside. The chief among them is the current confusion and uncertainty concerning the referents of fundamental physical theories, i.e. the kind of thing they are about (Bunge, 1971a) For, if such theories are about language, as it is occasionally claimed, then obviously we must turn to linguistics for guidance through the maze. If they concern propositions, then we should ask logic to supply the answers to the pressing questions of particle physics. On the other hand if every theory about microsystems is about an object-apparatus-observer block that cannot be further analysed (Bohr’s “essential wholeness of a proper quantum phenomenon” [Bohr, 1958a, pp. 72 and passim]), then obviously there is no finer analysis to be expected. But if, on the other hand, physics must introduce the observer’s mind as a separate and determinant factor into the picture of the world (Wigner, 1962; Heitler, 1963; Houtappel et al., 1965), then there is hope for progress as long as physics joins forces (or rather failings) with psychology.


Physical System Physical Object Physical Theory Reference Class Subjectivist Theory 
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Copyright information

© D. Reidel Publishing Company, Dordrecht, Holland 1973

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mario Bunge
    • 1
  1. 1.Foundations and Philosophy of Science UnitMcGill UniversityMontrealCanada

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