Access to the full content is only available to members of institutions that have purchased access. If you belong to such an institution, please log in or find out more about how to order.




DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-Q105-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 15, 2024, from

Article Summary

Thermodynamics began as the science that elucidated the law-like order present in the behaviour of heat and in its transformations to and from mechanical work. It became of interest to philosophers of science when the nature of heat was discovered to be that of the hidden energy of motion of the microscopic constituents of matter.

Attempts at accounting for the phenomenological laws of heat that make up thermodynamics on the basis of the so-called kinetic theory of heat gave rise to the first fundamental introduction into physics of probabilistic concepts and of probabilistic explanation. This led to so-called statistical mechanics.

Some of the issues of thermodynamics with importance to philosophers are: the meaning of the probabilistic claims made in statistical mechanics; the nature of the probabilistic explanations it proffers for the observed macroscopic phenomena; the structure of the alleged reduction of thermodynamic theory to the theory of the dynamics of the underlying microscopic constituents of matter; the place of cosmological posits in explaining the behaviour of local systems; and the alleged reducibility of our very notion of the asymmetry of time to thermodynamic asymmetries of systems in time.

Citing this article:
Sklar, Lawrence. Thermodynamics, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-Q105-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.