How to make reflectance a surface property

Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics 70:19-27 (2020)
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Reflectance physicalists define reflectance as the intrinsic disposition of a surface to reflect finite-duration light pulses at a given efficiency per wavelength. I criticize the received view of dispositional reflectance (David R. Hilbert’s) for failing to account for what I call “harmonic dispersion,” the inverse relationship of a light pulse's duration to its bandwidth. I argue that harmonic dispersion renders reflectance defined in terms of light pulses an extrinsic disposition. Reflectance defined as the per-wavelength efficiency to reflect the superimposed, infinite-duration, Fourier harmonics of pulses can be an intrinsic disposition of surfaces. This conclusion raises questions about mathematical realism, about which I nevertheless remain neutral.

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Nicholas Danne
University of South Carolina


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