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Infinite idealizations appear in our best scientific explanations of phase transitions. This is thought by some to be paradoxical. In this paper I connect the existing literature on the phase transition paradox to work on the concept of indispensability, which arises in discussions of realism and anti-realism within the philosophy of science and the philosophy of mathematics. I formulate a version of the phase transition paradox based on the idea that infinite idealizations are explanatorily indispensable to our best science, and so ought to attract a realist attitude. I go on to offer a solution to the paradox by drawing a distinction between two types of indispensability: constructive and substantive indispensability. I argue that infinite idealizations are constructively indispensable to explanations of phase transitions, but not substantively indispensable. This helps to resolve the paradox, I maintain, since realist commitment tracks substantive, and not constructive, indispensability.


Dianoia Institute of Philosophy

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Journal Article

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