Philosophy of spacetime

This course is intended as an introduction to the philosophy of space and time. This course is an introduction to the philosophy of physics, focusing on issues concerning space, time, and motion. We will consider these issues in the context of Newtonian and special-relativistic physics, through a combination of historical, contemporary, and formal considerations. Major topics include the role that space and time play in physical theory; the criteria for preferring one interpretation of a theory over another; and the relationship between philosophical interpretation and formal representation in such theories. The syllabus for the course is below.

On this page, you can access the handouts (generally available) and the readings (password-protected).

Week 2: Newton on space and time (Oct 24)

Week 3: Leibniz on space and time (Oct 31)

Week 4: The bucket argument (Nov 7)

Handout

Required reading:

  • Remainder of Newton’s Scholium, and Huggett’s commentary. PDF.
  • Maudlin, chap 2, “Newton’s Second Law and the Bucket Experiment” and “Arithmetic, Geometry, and Coordinates”. PDF.

Suggested reading:

  • Rynasiewicz, Robert. “By Their Properties, Causes and Effects: Newton’s Scholium on Time, Space, Place and motion—I. The Text.” Studies In History and Philosophy of Science Part A 26, no. 1 (1995): 133–53.
  • Rynasiewicz, Robert. “By Their Properties, Causes and Effects: Newton’s Scholium on Time, Space, Place and motion—II. The Context.” Studies In History and Philosophy of Science Part A 26, no. 2 (1995): 295–321.
  • Stein, Howard. “Some Philosophical Prehistory of General Relativity.” Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science Minneapolis, Minn. 8 (1977): 3–49.

Week 5: Sophisticated substantivalism (Nov 14)

Handout

Required reading:

  • Maudlin, chap 2, “The symmetries of space and the Leibniz-Clarke debate”. PDF.
  • Rickles, D. Symmetry, Structure and Spacetime (Elsevier, 2008), §§2.2–2.4 (pp. 31–39). PDF (of the whole of chapter 2)

Suggested reading:

  • Dasgupta, Shamik. “Inexpressible Ignorance.” Philosophical Review 124, no. 4 (October 1, 2015): 441–80. doi:10.1215/00318108-3147001.
    Greaves, Hilary. “In Search of (Spacetime) Structuralism.” Philosophical Perspectives 25, no. 1 (2011): 189–204. doi:10.1111/j.1520-8583.2011.00211.x.
  • Kaplan, David. “How to Russell a Frege-Church.” The Journal of Philosophy 72, no. 19 (1975): 716–29. doi:10.2307/2024635.
  • Maudlin, Tim. “Buckets of Water and Waves of Space: Why Spacetime Is Probably a Substance.” Philosophy of Science 60, no. 2 (June 1, 1993): 183–203. doi:10.2307/188350.
  • Pooley, Oliver. “Points, Particles, and Structural Realism.” In The Structural Foundations of Quantum Gravity, edited by Dean Rickles, Steven French, and Juha Saatsi, 83–120. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2006. http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/id/eprint/2939.

Week 6: Galilean spacetime (Nov 21)

Handout

Required reading:

  • Maudlin, chap 3. PDF
  • Arntzenius, Frank. “The Structure of Time and Space in Newtonian Physics.” §1.2 pp. 7-12) of Space, Time, and Stuff. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2012. PDF

Suggested reading:

  • Brown, Harvey R. “The Physics of Coordinate Transformations”. Chapter 2 of Physical Relativity: Space-Time Structure from a Dynamical Perspective. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.
  • Dasgupta, Shamik. §6-7 (pp. 611-6) of “Substantivalism vs Relationalism About Space in Classical Physics.” Philosophy Compass 10, no. 9 (September 2015): 601–24. doi:10.1111/phc3.12219.
  • Pooley, Oliver. §§4.1-4.2 of “Substantivalist and Relationalist Approaches to Spacetime.” In The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Physics, 531–536. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2013.
  • Sklar, L. Neo-NewtonianSpacetime. §III.D.3 (pp.202–206) of Space, Time and Space-time (University of California Press, 1974).
  • Wallace, David. “Who’s Afraid of Coordinate Systems? An Essay on Representation of Spacetime Structure”. http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/11988/.

Week 7: Spacetime and symmetry (Nov 28)

Required reading:

  • Earman, J., §§1-4 of “Choosing a Classical Space-Time”, chapter 3 of World Enough and Space-Time: Absolute versus Relational Theories of Space and Time. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1989. PDF
  • Dasgupta, Shamik. “Symmetry as an Epistemic Notion (Twice Over).” The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 67, no. 3 (2016): 837–78. doi:10.1093/bjps/axu049.

Suggested reading:

  • Belot, Gordon. “Symmetry and Equivalence.” In The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Physics, edited by Robert W. Batterman. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013. http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/id/eprint/9275.
  • Brading, Katherine, and Elena Castellani, eds. Symmetries in Physics: Philosophical Reflections. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
  • Brown, Harvey R., and Roland Sypel. “On the Meaning of the Relativity Principle and Other Symmetries.” International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 9, no. 3 (1995): 235–53. doi:10.1080/02698599508573522.
  • Caulton, Adam. “The Role of Symmetry in the Interpretation of Physical Theories.” Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics 52 (November 2015): 153–62. doi:10.1016/j.shpsb.2015.08.002.
  • Dewar, Neil. “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 (November 2015): 317–27. doi:10.1016/j.shpsb.2015.09.004.
  • Earman, John. “Laws, Symmetry, and Symmetry Breaking: Invariance, Conservation Principles, and Objectivity.” Philosophy of Science 71, no. 5 (December 1, 2004): 1227–41. doi:10.1086/428016.
  • Healey, Richard. “Symmetry and the Scope of Scientific Realism.” In Physical Theory and Its Interpretation, edited by William Demopoulos and Itamar Pitowsky, 143–60. The Western Ontario Series in Philosophy of Science 72. Springer Netherlands, 2006. http://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/1-4020-4876-9_7.
  • Ismael, Jenann, and Bas C. van Fraassen. “Symmetry as a Guide to Superfluous Theoretical Structure.” In Symmetries in Physics: Philosophical Reflections, edited by Katherine Brading and Elena Castellani, 371–92. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
  • Redhead, Michael. “Symmetry in Intertheory Relations.” Synthese 32, no. 1–2 (March 1, 1975): 77–112. doi:10.1007/BF00485113.
  • Redhead, Michael. “The Interpretation of Gauge Symmetry.” In Symmetries in Physics: Philosophical Reflections, edited by Katherine Brading and Elena Castellani, 124–39. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
  • Roberts, John T. “A Puzzle about Laws, Symmetries and Measurability.” The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 59, no. 2 (June 1, 2008): 143–68. doi:10.1093/bjps/axn009.
  • Saunders, Simon. “Physics and Leibniz’s Principles.” In Symmetries in Physics: Philosophical Reflections, edited by Katherine Brading and Elena Castellani, 289–308. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Week 8: Einstein’s revolution (Dec 5)

Required reading:

  • Brown, Harvey R. “The Trailblazers”. Chapter 4 of Physical Relativity: Space-Time Structure from a Dynamical Perspective. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. PDF.
  • Einstein, A. §§1-3 of “Zur Elektrodynamik Bewegter Körper.” Annalen Der Physik 322, no. 10 (1905): 891–921. doi:10.1002/andp.19053221004. Translation (as “On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies”) available here.

Suggested reading:

  • Brown, Harvey R. “The Origins of Length Contraction: I. The FitzGerald–Lorentz Deformation Hypothesis.” American Journal of Physics 69, no. 10 (October 1, 2001): 1044–54. doi:10.1119/1.1379733.
  • Brown, Harvey R. “Einstein’s Principle-Theory Approach”. Chapter 5 of Physical Relativity: Space-Time Structure from a Dynamical Perspective. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.
  • Diaz, Aaaron. “Traversing the Luminiferous Aether”. Dresden Codak (August 30, 2006). Available at http://dresdencodak.com/2006/08/30/traversing-the-luminiferous-aether/.
  • Janssen, Michel, and John J. Stachel. The Optics and Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies. Max-Planck-Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte, 2004. http://www.mpiwg-berlin.mpg.de/Preprints/P265.PDF.
  • Janssen, Michel. “Reconsidering a Scientific Revolution: The Case of Einstein versus Lorentz.” Physics in Perspective 4, no. 4 (2002): 421–446.
  • Janssen, Michel. “The Trouton Experiment, E= Mc 2, and a Slice of Minkowski Space-Time.” In Revisiting the Foundations of Relativistic Physics, 27–54. Springer, 2003. http://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-94-010-0111-3_3.
  • Janssen, Michel, and Matthew Mecklenburg. “Electromagnetic Models of the Electron and the Transition from Classical to Relativistic Mechanics,” 2004. http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/1990/.
  • Stachel, John. “Special Relativity from Measuring Rods.” In Physics, Philosophy and Psychoanalysis, edited by R. S. Cohen and L. Laudan, 255–72. Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science 76. Springer Netherlands, 1983. doi:10.1007/978-94-009-7055-7_13.

Weeks 9 and 10: Minkowski spacetime and relativistic effects (Dec 19, 10:00-14:00)

Week 9 handout

Week 10 handout

Required reading:

  • Maudlin, chapter 4 (pp. 67–83). PDF (pp. 67-83) and PDF (pp. 83-105).
  • Sklar, L. The Spacetime of Special Relativity and Absolute Acceleration. §III.D.4 (pp. 206–209) of Space, Time and Spacetime (University of California Press, 1974).
  • Einstein, A. §§4 of “Zur Elektrodynamik Bewegter Körper.” Annalen Der Physik 322, no. 10 (1905): 891–921. doi:10.1002/andp.19053221004. Translation (as “On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies”) available here.

Suggested reading:

  • Malament, D. Notes on Geometry and Spacetime, §§3.1–3.2. Available at http: //www.socsci.uci.edu/~dmalamen/courses/geometryspacetimedocs/GST.pdf

Week 11: Spacetime and explanation (Jan 16)

Handout

Required reading:

  • Maudlin, chapter 5 (pp. 106-126). PDF
  • Brown, Harvey R., and Oliver Pooley. “The origin of the spacetime metric: Bell’s ‘Lorentzian pedagogy’and its significance in general relativity.” In Callender and Huggett (eds.), Physics meets philosophy at the Planck scale, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (2001). Available at https://arxiv.org/pdf/gr-qc/9908048.pdf.

Suggested reading:

  • Bell, John S. “How to teach special relativity”. Progress in Scientific Culture 1, no. 2 (summer 1976). Reprinted in Speakable and Unspeakable in Quantum Mechanics, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (1987).

Week 12: Relativity and the philosophy of time (Jan 23)

Handout

Required reading:

  • Putnam, H. (1967). Time and physical geometry. The Journal of Philosophy, 240-247.
  • Brading, K. 2015. Physically locating the present: a case of reading physics as a contribution to philosophy. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, 50, 13-19.

Suggested reading:

  • Deng, N. (forthcoming). Temporal Experience and the A versus B debate. In Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Temporal Experience. Available at http://nataljadeng.weebly.com/uploads/9/6/8/2/96826966/on_expl_why_time_seems_to_pass.pdf
  • Zimmerman, D. (2008). The Privileged Present : Defending an “a-Theory” of Time. In T. Sider, J. Hawthorne, & D. W. Zimmerman (Eds.), Contemporary Debates in Metaphysics (pp. 211–225). Blackwell.
  • Norton, J. D. (2015). The burning fuse model of unbecoming in time. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics, 52, Part A, 103–105. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.shpsb.2014.07.004
  • Prior, A. N. (1959). Thank Goodness That’s over. Philosophy, 34(128), 12–17.
  • Skow, B. (2009). Relativity and the moving spotlight. The Journal of Philosophy, 106(12), 666–678.
  • Pooley, O. (2013). Relativity, the Open Future, and the Passage of Time. In Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society (Vol. 113, pp. 321–363). The Oxford University Press.
  • Paul, L. A. (2010). Temporal Experience. The Journal of Philosophy, 107(7), 333–359.

Week 13: General Relativity (Jan 30)

Handout

Required reading:

  • Maudlin, chap. 6. PDF
  • Geroch, Robert. Chapter 7 of General Relativity from A to B, Chicago: University of Chicago Press (1981).

Week 14: Differential geometry and general covariance (Feb 6)

Handout

Required reading: