A pragmatist view of the metaphysics of entanglement

Richard Healey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Quantum entanglement is widely believed to be a feature of physical reality with undoubted (though debated) metaphysical implications. But Schrödinger introduced entanglement as a theoretical relation between representatives of the quantum states of two systems. Entanglement represents a physical relation only if quantum states are elements of physical reality. So arguments for metaphysical holism or nonseparability from entanglement rest on a questionable view of quantum theory. Assignment of entangled quantum states predicts experimentally confirmed violation of Bell inequalities. Can one use these experimental results to argue directly for metaphysical conclusions? No. Quantum theory itself gives us our best explanation of violations of Bell inequalities, with no superluminal causal influences and no metaphysical holism or nonseparability—but only if quantum states are understood as objective and relational, though prescriptive rather than ontic. Correct quantum state assignments are backed by true physical magnitude claims: but backing is not grounding. Quantum theory supports no general metaphysical holism or nonseparability; though a claim about a compound physical system may be significant and true while similar claims about its components are neither. Entanglement may well have have few, if any, first-order metaphysical implications. But the quantum theory of entanglement has much to teach the metaphysician about the roles of chance, causation, modality and explanation in the epistemic and practical concerns of a physically situated agent.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4265-4302
Number of pages38
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1 2020


  • Causation
  • Chance
  • Entanglement
  • Metaphysical holism
  • Nonseparability
  • Quantum state
  • Quantum theory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy
  • General Social Sciences


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