Space and relativity in Newton and Leibniz

British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 45 (1):219-240 (1994)
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In this paper I challenge the usual interpretations of Newton's and Leibniz's views on the nature of space and the relativity of motion. Newton's ‘relative space’ is not a reference frame; and Leibniz did not regard space as defined with respect to actual enduring bodies. Newton did not subscribe to the relativity of intertial motions; whereas Leibniz believed no body to be at rest, and Newton's absolute motion to be a useful fiction. A more accurate rendering of the opposition between them, I argue, leads to a wholly different understanding of Leibniz's theory of space, one which is not susceptible to the objections Newton had raised against Descartes regarding the representation of motion. This in turn suggests a new approach for contemporary theory of space, one which neither hypostatizes space nor tries to reduce it to relations among actual things. * This work was generously supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, with a Fellowship for College Teachers and Independent Scholars (FB-26897-89), and also by a sabbatical leave from my institution, Middlebury College. Iam very grateful to various members of faculty of York University for their appreciative reception of an earlier one-week-old version of this paper. ‘Relative Space in Newton and Leibniz’, read to the Department of Philosophy there in January 1990, and to Robert Rynasiewicz for criticisms of an extract read at the 1991 History of Science meeting



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Richard T. W. Arthur
McMaster University

Citations of this work

Newton's fluxions and equably flowing time.Richard T. W. Arthur - 1995 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 26 (2):323-351.
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Leibniz’s Theory of Space.Richard T. W. Arthur - 2013 - Foundations of Science 18 (3):499-528.
Motion in Leibniz's Middle Years: A Compatibilist Approach.Stephen Puryear - 2012 - Oxford Studies in Early Modern Philosophy 6:135-170.

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