John Dougherty (LMU): “I ain’t afraid of no ghost”

This paper criticizes the traditional philosophical account of the quantization of gauge theories and offers an alternative. On the received view, gauge theories resist quantization because they feature distinct mathematical representatives of the same physical state of affairs. This resistance is overcome by a sequence of ad hoc modifications, justified in part by reference to semiclassical electrodynamics. Among other things, these modifications introduce “ghosts”: particles with apparently unphysical properties which do not appear in asymptotic states and which are said to be purely a notational convenience. I argue that this sequence of modifications is unjustified and inadequate, making it a poor basis for the interpretation of ghosts. I then argue that gauge theories can be quantized by the same method as any other theory. On this account, ghosts are not purely notation: they are coordinates on the classical configuration space of the theory—specifically, on its gauge structure. This interpretation does not fall prey to the standard philosophical arguments against the significance of ghosts, due to Weingard. Weingard’s argumentative strategy, properly applied, in fact tells in favor of ghosts’ physical significance.