The Real Problem with Perturbative Quantum Field Theory

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The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, ISSN: 0007-0882

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James D Fraser
Oxford University Press (OUP)
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article description
The perturbative approach to quantum field theory (QFT) has long been viewed with suspicion by philosophers of science. This paper offers a diagnosis of its conceptual problems. Drawing on Norton's ([2012]) discussion of the notion of approximation I argue that perturbative QFT ought to be understood as producing approximations without specifying an underlying QFT model. This analysis leads to a reassessment of common worries about perturbative QFT. What ends up being the key issue with the approach on this picture is not mathematical rigour, or the threat of inconsistency, but the need for a physical explanation of its empirical success.