Maxwell gravitation

Forthcoming in Philosophy of Science

This paper gives an explicit presentation of Newtonian gravitation on the backdrop of Maxwell spacetime, giving a sense in which acceleration is relative in gravitational theory. However, caution is needed: assessing whether this is a robust or interesting sense of the relativity of acceleration depends upon some subtle technical issues, and upon substantive philosophical questions over how to identify the spacetime structure of a theory.


Interpretation and equivalence; or, equivalence and interpretation

Forthcoming in Curiel and Lutz (eds.), The Semantics of Theories

Philosophers of science spend a lot of time “interpreting” scientific theories. In this paper, I try to get a handle on what it is they might be up to. My main contention is that a certain picture of interpretation is widespread (though implicit) in contemporary philosophy of science: a picture according to which interpretation of theories is relevantly analogous to the interpretation of foreign literature. On this picture, which we might call the external account of theory-interpretation, meaning is to be imported into the equations by putting them in correspondence with some discourse whose signs and symbols are already endowed with significance. However, there is an alternative way of thinking about interpretation—what we can call the “internal” account of interpretation—which instead takes interpretation to be a matter of delineating a theory’s internal semantic architecture.


Sophistication about symmetries

Forthcoming in The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science

Suppose that one thinks that certain symmetries of a theory reveal “surplus structure”. What would a formalism without that surplus structure look like? The conventional answer is that it would be a reduced theory: a theory which traffics only in structures invariant under the relevant symmetry. In this paper, I argue that there is a neglected alternative: one can work with a sophisticated version of the theory, in which the symmetries act as isomorphisms.


Symmetries and the philosophy of language

Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics, 52, Part B, 317–327. doi: 10.1016/j.shpsb.2015.09.004

In this paper, I consider the role of exact symmetries in theories of physics, working throughout with the example of gravitation set in Newtonian spacetime. First, I spend some time setting up a means of thinking about symmetries in this context; second, I consider arguments from the seeming undetectability of absolute velocities to an anti-realism about velocities; and finally, I claim that the structure of the theory licences (and perhaps requires) us to interpret models which differ only with regards to the absolute velocities of objects as depicting the same physical state of affairs. In defending this last claim, I consider how ideas and resources from the philosophy of language may usefully be brought to bear on this topic.

Preprint | Published version