Exclusion principle and the identity of indiscernibles: A response to Margenau's argument

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This paper concerns the question of whether Pauli's Exclusion Principle (EP) vindicates the contingent truth of Leibniz's Principle of the Identity of Indiscernibles (PII) for fermions as H. Weyl first suggested with the nomenclature 'Pauli-Leibniz principle'. This claim has been challenged by a time-honoured argument, originally due to PI. Margenau and further articulated and championed by other authors. According to this argument, the Exclusion Principle-far from vindicating Leibniz's principle-would refute it, since the same reduced state, viz. an improper mixture, can be assigned as a separate state to each fermion of a composite system in antisymmetric state. As a result, the two fermions do have the same monadic state-dependent properties and hence are indiscernibles. PII would then be refuted in its strong version (viz. for monadic properties).

I shall argue that a misleading assumption underlies Margenau's argument: in the case of two fermions in antisymmetric state, no separate states should be invoked since the states of the two particles are entangled and the improper mixture-assigned to each fermion by reduction-cannot be taken as an ontologically separate state nor consequently as encoding monadic properties. I shall then conclude that the notion of monadic properties together with the strong version of PII are inapplicable to fermions in antisymmetric state and this undercuts Margenau's argument.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)303-330
Number of pages28
JournalThe British Journal for the Philosophy of Science
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2001


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