Date of Award

May 2013

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts



First Advisor

Robert Schwartz

Committee Members

Stephen Leeds, Michael Liston


Identity of Indiscernibles, Indiscernibility, Instrumentalism, Pragmatism, Quantum Mechanics, W.V. Quine


Permutation symmetries which arise in quantum mechanics pose an intriguing problem. It is not clear that particles which exhibit permutation symmetries (i.e. particles which are indiscernible, meaning that they can be swapped with each other without this yielding a new physical state) qualify as "objects" in any reasonable sense of the term. One solution to this puzzle, which I attribute to W.V. Quine, would have us eliminate such particles from our ontology altogether in order to circumvent the metaphysical vexations caused by permutation symmetries. In this essay I argue that Quine's solution is too rash, and in its place I suggest a novel solution based on altering some of the language of quantum mechanics. Before launching into the technical details of indiscernible particles, however, I begin this essay with some remarks on the methodology - instrumentalism - which motivates my arguments.