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Heat, temperature, and thermal equilibrium regarded as jointly primitive notions

Before the rigorous mathematical definition of heat based on Carathéodory's 1909 paper, recounted just above, historically, heat, temperature, and thermal equilibrium were presented in thermodynamics textbooks as jointly primitive notions. Carathéodory introduced his 1909 paper thus: "The proposition that the discipline of thermodynamics can be justified without recourse to any hypothesis that cannot be verified experimentally must be regarded as one of the most noteworthy results of the research in thermodynamics that was accomplished during the last century." Referring to the "point of view adopted by most authors who were active in the last fifty years", Carathéodory wrote: "There exists a physical quantity called heat that is not identical with the mechanical quantities (mass, force, pressure, etc.) and whose variations can be determined by calorimetric measurements." James Serrin introduces an account of the theory of thermodynamics thus: "In the following section, we shall use the classical notions of heat, work, and hotness as primitive elements, ... That heat is an appropriate and natural primitive for thermodynamics was already accepted by Carnot. Its continued validity as a primitive element of thermodynamical structure is due to the fact that it synthesizes an essential physical concept, as well as to its successful use in recent work to unify different constitutive theories." This traditional kind of presentation of the basis of thermodynamics includes ideas that may be summarized by the statement that heat transfer is purely due to spatial non-uniformity of temperature, and is by conduction and radiation, from hotter to colder bodies. It is sometimes proposed that this traditional kind of presentation necessarily rests on "circular reasoning"; against this proposal, there stands the rigorously logical mathematical development of the theory presented by Truesdell and Bharatha (1977).

This alternative approach to the definition of quantity of energy transferred as heat differs in logical structure from that of Carathéodory, recounted just above.

This alternative approach admits calorimetry as a primary or direct way to measure quantity of energy transferred as heat. It relies on temperature as one of its primitive concepts, and used in calorimetry.[59] It is presupposed that enough processes exist physically to allow measurement of differences in internal energies. Such processes are not restricted to adiabatic transfers of energy as work. They include calorimetry, which is the commonest practical way of finding internal energy differences. The needed temperature can be either empirical or absolute thermodynamic.

In contrast, the Carathéodory way recounted just above does not use calorimetry or temperature in its primary definition of quantity of energy transferred as heat. The Carathédory way regards calorimetry only as a secondary or indirect way of measuring quantity of energy transferred as heat. As recounted in more detail just above, the Carathéodory way regards quantity of energy transferred as heat in a process as primarily or directly defined as a residual quantity. It is calculated from the difference of the internal energies of the initial and final states of the system, and from the actual work done by the system during the process. That internal energy difference is supposed to have been measured in advance through processes of purely adiabatic transfer of energy as work, processes that take the system between the initial and final states. By the Carathéodory way it is presupposed as known from experiment that there actually physically exist enough such adiabatic processes, so that there need be no recourse to calorimetry for measurement of quantity of energy transferred as heat. This presupposition is essential but is explicitly labeled neither as a law of thermodynamics nor as an axiom of the Carathéodory way. In fact, the actual physical existence of such adiabatic processes is indeed mostly supposition, and those supposed processes have in most cases not been actually verified empirically to exist.


In 1856, German physicist Rudolf Clausius defined the second fundamental theorem (the second law of thermodynamics) in the mechanical theory of heat (thermodynamics): "if two transformations which, without necessitating any other permanent change, can mutually replace one another, be called equivalent, then the generations of the quantity of heat Q from work at the temperature T, has the equivalence-value:"

In 1865, he came to define the entropy symbolized by S, such that, due to the supply of the amount of heat Q at temperature T the entropy of the system is increased by

and thus, for small changes, quantities of heat δQ (an inexact differential) are defined as quantities of TdS, with dS an exact differential:

This equality is only valid for a closed system and if no irreversible processes take place inside the system while the heat δQ is applied. If, in contrast, irreversible processes are involved, e.g. some sort of friction, then there is entropy production and, instead of the above equation, one has

This is the second law of thermodynamics for closed systems.

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