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WILLIAM OF OCKHAM'S ARGUMENTS FOR ACTION AT A DISTANCE The history of action at a distance has had its ups and downs, mostly downs. Isaac Newton, whose principle of universal gravitation apparently assumes action at a distance, was never comfortable with the idea, so much so that even he rejected it as absurd. But the success of Newton's program as well as Kant's philosophical arguments on its behalf lent the principle of action at a distance as much credibility as it has ever possessed, until recently that is. Einstein's Theory of Relativity had barely resolved the question in favor of locality or contiguity, that is contact action, when quantum mechanics generated a number of serious questions about the principles of determinism and locality. More recently, Bell's Theorem, which can be interpreted in a nonquantum mechanical fashion, attempts to demonstrate that determinism and locality cannot both be true. That is to say, even independently of quantum mechanics, the results of Bell's Theorem provide no consolation for our intuitions about physical causality and contact action. Since both cannot be saved, a number of physicists have suggested ways of saving determinism by assuming some form of action at a distance. I mention this merely to suggest to you that the problems of locality and action at a distance are far from settled and that there are contemporary, that is genuinely historical, reasons for examining past arguments in behalfof action at a distance. With that in mind, allow me, then, to turn your attention to William of Ockham 's arguments for action at a distance.1 1 Ockham, Quaest. in 111 Sent., q. 2 (OTh VI, 43-97). Cf. Francis Kovach, "The Enduring Question of Action at a Distance in Saint Albert the Great," Albert the Great, ed. Francis Kovach and Robert Shahan (Nor- 228ANDRE GODDU There are principally two contexts in which Ockham considers the possibility of action at a distance. Let us take them in chronological order, lay out the arguments, and compare them. We may finally turn to the question of the larger context of Ockham's analysis and the meaning of his acceptance of action at a distance. man: U of Oklahoma P, 1980) 161-235; Mary Hesse, Forces and Fields (London : Nelson, 1961); Mary Hesse, "Action at a Distance," The Concept ofMatter in Modem Philosophy, ed. Ernan McMullin, rev. ed. (Notre Dame: Notre Dame UP, 1978) 119-37; and André Goddu, "Avicenna, Avempace and Averroes—Arabic Sources of "Mutual Attraction' and their Influence on Mediaeval and Modern Conceptions of Attraction and Gravitation," Misceüanea Mediaevalia 17 (1985): 218-39. On Bell's Theorem, see John Stewart Bell, "On the Einstein Podolsky Rosen Paradox," Physics 1 (1964): 195-200, esp. p. 199. For a recent discussion of relativity and locality, see Manfred Stockier, Philosophische Probleme der relativistischen Quantenmechanik (Berlin: Duncker, 1984) 137-202. On the Interpretation of locality as contiguity or contact action there may be some disagreement. Locality is defined in a technical sense to mean the assumption "that the value of an observable pertaining to one system depends on what sort of measurement procedure is performed on the other system." See Michael Redhead and Peter Heywood, "Nonlocality and the Kochen-Specker Paradox," Abstracts of the 7th International Congress of Logic, Methodology and Philosophy of Science (Salzburg, 1983) 4: 191-93, esp. p. 191. However, an examination of the descriptions shows clearly that locality entails contact action. Cf. Karl Popper, "A Realist's View ofthe Einstein-PodolskiRosen Experiment," Abstracts 4: 176-77. See also, Arthur Fine, "Einstein's Realism," Srience and Reality, ed. James Cushing, Cornelius Delaney, and Gary Gutting (Notre Dame: Notre Dame UP, 1984) 106-133, esp. pp. 120-22. While action-at-a-distance theories have been proposed as solutions to the EPR paradox , none has been successful so far. See Stöckler 179-81. Nonetheless, the view seems to be growing and may now be generally held that some type of nonlocality is the only viable alternative for saving realism. The statement by Malcolm Forster, "Bell's Paradox: What's the Problem?," Abstracts 4: 59-62, esp. p. 62, puts it in strong terms: ". . . non-locality is the only...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1945-9718
Print ISSN
0080-5459
Pages
pp. 227-244
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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