, Volume 182, Issue 1, pp 149-163

What are the phenomena of physics?

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Abstract

Depending on different positions in the debate on scientific realism, there are various accounts of the phenomena of physics. For scientific realists like Bogen and Woodward, phenomena are matters of fact in nature, i.e., the effects explained and predicted by physical theories. For empiricists like van Fraassen, the phenomena of physics are the appearances observed or perceived by sensory experience. Constructivists, however, regard the phenomena of physics as artificial structures generated by experimental and mathematical methods. My paper investigates the historical background of these different meanings of “phenomenon” in the traditions of physics and philosophy. In particular, I discuss Newton’s account of the phenomena and Bohr’s view of quantum phenomena, their relation to the philosophical discussion, and to data and evidence in current particle physics and quantum optics.