The force of Newtonian cosmology: Acceleration is relative

Philosophy of Science 62 (4):511-522 (1995)
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1. Introduction. David Malament has described a natural and satisfying resolution of the traditional problems of Newtonian cosmology—natural in the sense that it effects the escape by altering Newtonian gravitation theory in a way that leaves its observational predictions completely unaffected. I am in full agreement with his approach. There is one part of his account, however, over which Malament has been excessively modest. The resolution requires a modification to Newtonian gravitation theory. Malament presents the modification as so straightforward as to be automatic. This trivializes the crucial postulate, which I shall call the “relativity of acceleration.” It is a significant physical statement in its own right and requires careful justification. Moreover the postulate proved easy to overlook for decades of discussion of the paradox. It really only becomes natural from the perspective of the newer geometric methods Malament exploits. There the postulate has become a commonplace. My purpose here is to develop the following: While Newtonian cosmology can be repaired satisfactorily, in its traditional form it remains deeply troubled. These troubles can be expressed most vividly as the paradoxical contradictions indicated below. They persist in both the integral and differential formulations of Newtonian gravitation theory. Malament's careful geometric treatment is necessarily dense. By taking some liberties with precision, his core result can be expressed in a far simpler form. Attempts to avoid the resolution Malament describes do lead to disaster. Therefore this episode can be inverted and used as the strongest extant argument for the relativity of acceleration in Newtonian gravitation theory.



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John D. Norton
University of Pittsburgh

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Is Newtonian cosmology really inconsistent?David B. Malament - 1995 - Philosophy of Science 62 (4):489-510.

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