Bluff Your Way in the Second Law of Thermodynamics

Jos Uffink

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143 Scopus citations


The aim of this article is to analyse the relation between the second law of thermodynamics and the so-called arrow of time. For this purpose, a number of different aspects in this arrow of time are distinguished, in particular those of time-reversal (non-)invariance and of (ir)reversibility. Next I review versions of the second law in the work of Carnot, Clausius, Kelvin, Planck, Gibbs, Carathéodory and Lieb and Yngvason, and investigate their connection with these aspects of the arrow of time. It is shown that this connection varies a great deal along with these formulations of the second law. According to the famous formulation by Planck, the second law expresses the irreversibility of natural processes. But in many other formulations irreversibility or even time-reversal non-invariance plays no role. I therefore argue for the view that the second law has nothing to do with the arrow of time.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)305-394
Number of pages90
JournalStudies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B - Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2001


  • Arrow of Time
  • Irreversibility
  • Second Law
  • Thermodynamics
  • Time-Reversal Non-Invariance


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