Embedding and uniqueness in relationist theories

Philosophy of Science 58 (1):102-124 (1991)
Abstract
Relationist theories of space or space-time based on embedding of a physical relational system A into a corresponding geometrical system B raise problems associated with the degree of uniqueness of the embedding. Such uniqueness problems are familiar in the representational theory of measurement (RTM), and are dealt with by imposing a condition of uniqueness of embeddings up to composition with an "admissible transformation" of the space B. Friedman (1983) presents an alternative treatment of the uniqueness problem for embedding relationist theories, developed independently of RTM. Friedman's approach differs from that of RTM in securing uniqueness by adding new primitives to the physical system A in contrast to the RTM approach which adds new axioms. Friedman's proposal has recently been developed and defended by Catton and Solomon (1988). This method of solving the uniqueness problem is here argued to be substantially inferior to the RTM method, both in practice and in principle. In practice we find that in none of the concrete examples offered to illustrate the method is the uniqueness problem actually solved in general. Moreover we find that in the most interesting case (addition to the system A of a finite number of relations of finite degree) the method is in principle incapable of success for mathematical reasons. In addition to these technical difficulties there are compelling methodological reasons for preferring the RTM method to the method of adding primitives
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