Bohr’s Theory of the Hydrogen Atom: A Selective Realist Interpretation

Conference paper
Part of the Studies in Applied Philosophy, Epistemology and Rational Ethics book series (SAPERE, volume 8)


This paper proposes a reconstruction of 1913 Bohr’s theory of the hydrogen atom in the framework of the model-theoretic approach of theories. On the basis of this reconstruction, it is argued that Bohr’s theory is not internally inconsistent and can’t be qualified as fictitious. Then, a selective realist interpretation of Bohr’s theory can be defended according to which electrons occupy energy levels. An agnostic attitude however is recommended as far as the electron’s trajectories are concerned.


Bohr Realism Model Fiction 


  1. 1.
    Ghins, M.: Bohr’s modelling of the atom. A reconstruction and assessment. Logique et Analyse 218, 329–350 (2012)Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Ghins, M. Scientific representation and realism. Principia 15(3), 461–474 (2011) Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Tarski, A.: Undecidable Theories. North Holland, Amsterdam (1953)Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Suppes, P.: Representation and Invariance of Scientific Structures. CLSI, Stanford (2002)Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Ghins, M.: Realism. Entry of the online Interdisciplinary Encyclopaedia of Religion and Science. (2009)
  6. 6.
    Da Costa, N., French, S.: Science and Partial Truth. A Unitary Approach to Models and Scientific Reasoning. Oxford University Press, Oxford (2003)Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Ghins, M.: Bas van Fraassen on scientific representation. Analysis 70, 524–536 (2010)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Hesse, M.: Models and Analogies in Science. University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame (1966)Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Bohr, N. On the constitution of atoms and molecules. Philosophical Magazine 26(6), 1–25; 476–502; 857–875 (1913) (Re-imprinted with an introduction by L. Rosenfeld (1963), Copenhagen: Munksgaard)Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Jammer, M.: The Conceptual Development of Quantum Mechanics. McGraw-Hill Book Company, New York (1966)Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Bueno, O.: Why inconsistency is not hell. Making room for inconsistency in science. In: Olsson, E. (ed.) Knowledge and Inquiry: Essays on the Pragmatism of Isaac Levi, 70–86. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (2006)Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Priest, G.: Inconsistency and the empirical sciences. In: Meheus, J. (ed.) Inconsistency in Science, 119–128. Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht (2002)Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Vickers, P.: Understanding Inconsistent Science. A Philosophical and Metaphilosophical Study. Oxford University Press, Oxford (2013)Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Bartelborth, T.: Is Bohr’s model of the atom inconsistent? In: Weingartner, P., Schurz, G. (eds.) Proceedings of the 13th International Wittgenstein Symposium, HPT (1989) Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Bartelborth, T.: Kann es Rational Sein, eine Inkonsistente Theorie zu Akzeptieren? Philosophia Naturalis 26, 91–120 (1989)Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Hendry, R.F.: Realism, history and the quantum theory: philosophical and historical arguments for realism as a methodological principle. LSE, unpublished PhD thesis (2003)Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Hettema, H.: Bohr’s theory of the atom 1913–1923: a case study in the progress of scientific research programmes. Stud. Hist. Philos. Mod. Phys. 26, 307–323 (1995)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Norton, J.: How we know about electrons. In: Nola, R., Sankey, H. (eds.) Issues in Theories of Scientific Method, 67–97. Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht (2000)Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Vickers, P.: Can partial structures accommodate inconsistent science? Principia 13, 233–250 (2009)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    Pais, A.: Niels Bohr’s Times, in Physics, Philosophy and Polity. Clarendon Press, Oxford (1991)Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Laudan, L.: Progress and its Problems. University of California Press, Berkeley (1977)Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Suppe, F.: The Structure of Scientific Theories. University of Illinois, Chicago (1974)Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Bokulich, A.: Reexamining the Quantum-Classical Relation. Beyond Reductionism and Pluralism. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (2008)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    Bokulich, A. Explanatory fictions. In: Suarez M. (ed.) Fictions in Science: Philosophical Essays on Modeling and Idealization, 91–109. Routledge, London (2009)Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    Ghins, M.: Putnam’s no-miracle argument: a critique. In: Clarke, S., Lyons, T. (eds.) Recent Themes in the Philosophy of Science: Scientific Realism and Commonsense, Australasin Studies in the Philosophy of Science, 17, Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, 121–138 (2002)Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Ghins, M.: Scientific realism and invariance. In: Proceedings of the Third SOFIA Conference on Epistemology. Campinas 30 July–1 Aug 1990. Philosophical Issues, Vol. 2: Rationality in Epistemology, pp. 249–262. Ridgeview, California (1992)Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Ghins, M.: Can common sense realism be extended to theoretical physics? Log. J. IGPL 13, 95–111 (2005). (Oxford UP)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. 28.
    Perrin, J.: Les atomes. Alcan, Paris (1913)Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    Chakravartty, A.: A Metaphysics for Scientific Realism. Knowing the Unobservable. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (2007)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. 30.
    Van Fraassen, B.: The Scientific Image. Oxford University Press, Oxford (1980)CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre Philosophie des Sciences et Sociétés (CEFISES)Institut Supérieur de PhilosophieLouvain-la-NeuveBelgium

Personalised recommendations