Absolute versus relational spacetime: For better or worse, the debate goes on

Abstract
The traditional absolutist-relationist debate is still clearly formulable in the context of General Relativity Theory (GTR), despite the important differences between Einstein's theory and the earlier context of Newtonian physics. This paper answers recent arguments by Robert Rynasiewicz against the significance of the debate in the GTR context. In his (1996) (‘Absolute vs. Relational Spacetime: An Outmoded Debate?’), Rynasiewicz argues that already in the late nineteenth century, and even more so in the context of General Relativity theory, the terms of the original Descartes–Newton–Leibniz dispute about space are not to be found. Nineteenth-century ether theories of electromagnetism, and the metric field of GTR, he claims, do not lend themselves to being interpreted clearly as either absolute space à la Newton, or relational structures à la either Descartes or Leibniz. I argue that, while in some imaginable theories Rynasiewicz's claim that the classical debate dissolves would be correct, in fact in the most important historical theories he discusses, this is not the case. In particular, I argue that in both Lorentz's ether theory and General relativity theory, there is a clear and compelling way to establish connections to the classical absolutist-relationist disputes, and that in both these theories it is the absolutist position that is prima facie victorious. To support my arguments and give a clear overview of the whole debate, I end by offering definitional sketches of relationism and absolutism (substantivalism) about spacetime in the context of contemporary physics. The sketches show the clear connections between these views today and their ancestors in Newton and Leibniz. But at the same time, they indicate how both views are not just claims about existing physical theories, but rather also bets about how future physics will clarify the ontological picture.
Keywords No keywords specified (fix it)
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1093/bjps/49.3.451
Options
 Save to my reading list
Follow the author(s)
My bibliography
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Revision history
Request removal from index
Download options
Our Archive


Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 29,520
Through your library
References found in this work BETA

No references found.

Add more references

Citations of this work BETA
On the Existence of Spacetime Structure.Erik Curiel - forthcoming - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science:axw014.
Spacetime, Ontology, and Structural Realism.Edward Slowik - 2005 - International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 19 (2):147 – 166.
Review: Kant, Natural Science.Marius Stan - 2014 - Metascience 23 (1):65-70.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles
Added to PP index
2009-01-28

Total downloads
113 ( #44,557 of 2,180,777 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
3 ( #104,640 of 2,180,777 )

How can I increase my downloads?

Monthly downloads
My notes
Sign in to use this feature


Discussion
Order:
There  are no threads in this forum
Nothing in this forum yet.

Other forums