General Relativity and Spacetime Relationism

Dissertation, Stanford University (1992)

Carl Hoefer
Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona
This dissertation takes up the project of showing that, in the context of the general theory of relativity , spacetime relationism is not a refuted or hopeless view, as many in the recent literature have maintained . Most of the challenges to the relationist view in General Relativity can be satisfactorily answered; in addition, the opposing absolutist and substantivalist views of spacetime can be shown to be problematic. The crucial burden for relationists concerned with GTR is to show that the realistic cosmological models, i.e. those that may be roughly accurate representations of our universe, satisfy Mach's ideas about the origin of inertia. This dissertation clears the way for and begins such a demonstration. ;After a brief discussion of the problem of the nature of spacetime and its history in the Introduction, chapters 2 and 3 provide conceptual analysis and criticism of contemporary philosophical arguments about relationism, absolutism, and particularly substantivalism. The current best arguments in favor of substantivalism are shown to be flawed, with the exception of the argument from inertial and metrical structure; and on this issue, it is shown that both relationism and substantivalism need to argue for modifications of GTR in order to have a non-trivial explanation of inertial and metrical structure. For relationists, a Machian account of the origin of inertia in some models of GTR is required. Chapter 4 demonstrates that such a Machian account is equivalent to the demand for a truly general relativity of motion. Chapter 5 explores the history of Einstein's commitment to Mach's ideas in his work on GTR. Through an examination of the history of Einstein's attempts to impose Machian constraints on the models of General Relativity, further insight into the nature of this problem is obtained, as are reasons to believe that the project is by no means hopeless
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