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Max Planck’s physics argument for social justice (1936)

May 12, 2021

Max Planck (1858-1947) is one of history’s most original physicists. He is credited with being the first to propose quantum theory which he developed in his studies of black-body radiation at the beginning of the 20th century. Planck was also very much interested in philosophy and wrote much for public outreach about the implications of quantum theory to our understanding of nature. In the passage below he even extends his views about physics to the realm of social justice. These words were written in 1936 Germany, a very difficult time when social justice was deteriorating.


“Justice is inseparable from truthfulness: justice, after all, simply means the consistent application in practice of the ethical judgments which we pass on opinions and actions. the laws of nature remain fixed and unchanged whether applied to great or to small phenomena, and similarly the communal life of men requires equal right for all, for great and small, for rich and poor. All is not well with the State if doubts arise about the certainty of the law, if rank and family are respected in the courts, if defenseless persons feel that they are no longer protected from the rapacity of powerful neighbors, and if the law is openly wrenched on grounds of so-called expediency. … Such principles made Germany and Prussia great; it is to be hoped that they will never be lost, and it is the duty of every patriot to work for their preservation and consolidation.”

-Max Planck, “Physics and World Philosophy”, 1936 [Reprinted in M. Planck. The Philosophy of Physics. Norton, 1963.]

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