It has been repeatedly argued, most recently by Nicholas Maxwell, that the special theory of relativity is incompatible with the view that the future is in some degree undetermined; and Maxwell contends that this is a reason to reject that theory. In the present paper, an analysis is offered of the notion of indeterminateness (or "becoming") that is uniquely appropriate to the special theory of relativity, in the light of a set of natural conditions upon such a notion; and reasons (...) are given for regarding this conception as (not just formally consistent with relativity theory, but also) philosophically reasonable. The bearings upon Maxwell's program for quantum theory are briefly considered. (shrink)
This paper argues that the much discussed issue between "scientific realism" and "instrumentalism" has not been clearly drawn. Particular attention is paid to the claim that only realism can "explain" the success of scientific theories and---more especially---the progressively increasing success of such theories in a coherent line of inquiry. This claim is used to attempt to reach a clearer conception of the content of the realist thesis that underlies it; but, it is here contended, that attempt fails, and the claim (...) itself hangs in the air. A series of increasingly sophisticated versions of the "instrumentalist" thesis is considered, and both these and the contentions of realism are placed in relation both to particular examples of scientific development and positions historically maintained by philosophers and by scientists. The author’s conclusion is that, when the positions are assessed against the background of the actual history of science, each of the contrary doctrines, interpreted with excessive simplicity, is inadequate as a theory of the dialectic of scientific development; each, so interpreted, has contributed in important instances to actual damage to investigations by great scientists ; whereas in both the theoretical statements and the actual practice of the most sophisticated philosophers/scientists, important aspects of realism and instrumentalism are present together in such a way that the alleged contradiction between them vanishes. (shrink)
Descartes begins his philosophy with metaphysics; immediately after the cogito, with God, upon whom, he maintains, all of his physics rests. Newton introduces into the beginning of his natural philosophy only just that part of what I have called his metaphysics that he regards as adequately supported by prior evidence, and necessary for the development of physics. The rest, in so far as it appears at all in his scientific work, does so at the end of his works.
The paper begins with consideration of Plato and Aristotle, but the question addressed in this essay is the following: What has been meant--and what role has been played--in the succession of doctrines of physics we have had since the seventeenth century, by notions of “power” and of “cause”? The essay concludes with consideration of field theories set in relativistic space-time.
Gödel's conclusion that time-travel is possible in his models of Einstein's gravitational theory has been questioned by Chandrasekhar and Wright, and treated as doubtful in the recent philosophical literature. The present note is intended to remove this doubt: a review of Gödel's construction shows that his arguments are entirely correct; and the objection is seen to rest upon a misunderstanding. Computational points treated succinctly by Gödel are here presented in fuller detail. The philosophical significance of Gödel's results is briefly considered, (...) and a set of technical questions is posed whose answers would clarify this significance. (shrink)
This paper examines Newton's argument from the phenomena to the law of universal gravitation-especially the question how such a result could have been obtained from the evidential base on which that argument rests. Its thesis is that the crucial step was a certain application of the third law of motion-one that could only be justified by appeal to the consequences of the resulting theory; and that the general concept of interaction embodied in Newton's use of the third law most probably (...) evolved in the course of the very investigation that led to this theory. (shrink)
Poincaré is a pre-eminent figure: as one of the greatest of mathematicians; as a contributor of prime importance to the development of physical theory at a time when physics was undergoing a profound transformation; and as a philosopher. However, I think that Poincaré, with all this virtue, made a serious philosophical mistake. In Poincaré’s own work, this error seems to me to have kept him from several fundamental discoveries in physics. The hypothesis that Poincaré would have made these discoveries if (...) he had not been misled by a philosophical error is not one that lends itself to conclusive assessment; but what I wish to do is to lay out the main circumstances of the case so as to make clear, at least, that the issue of philosophic principle involved, and the questions of fundamental physics under discussion, are of considerable mutual relevance. (shrink)
1. The principal question I want to raise is that of the interpretation of what you call Parmenides' "wildly paradoxical conclusions about the impossibility of plurality and change." An argument that leads to a truly paradoxical conclusion is always open to construction as a reductio ad absurdum. And the biographical tradition represents Parmenides--quite unlike Heraclitus, for instance--as a reasonable and even practically effective man, not at all a fanatic. It therefore seems natural to ask, if he maintained a paradoxical doctrine, (...) whether it did not possess for him an interpretation that made some sense. Further, setting aside this not very weighty prima facie argument, I think the search for plausible interpretations is worthwhile in any case: for to make a rational assessment of the historical evidence one needs the widest possible survey of hypotheses to choose among; since conclusions in such matters are always uncertain, a list of possibilities may retain a kind of permanent value, as the best we can do; and readings which are even dismissed as unsound on adequate critical grounds may still be of interest, both for the understanding of historical influence--I have in mind in the present case especially Parmenides' influence on Plato--and for our own philosophical edification. (shrink)
Discussion at the symposium, and subsequent correspondence with participants, have raised a series of critical questions that seem to me to merit discussion. The issues raised have also led me to consider further some of the literature commenting on Newton’s work and on related matters in the history of optics. What was initially intended as a brief supplement to the foregoing paper [On Metaphysics and Method in Newton, item 10631] has thus evolved into a new article of considerable length.
It is suggested that the true physical significance of the Hilbert space structure in quantum mechanics remains (despite the undoubted significance of the elucidation given early by von Neumann, and further clarified by later discussions) less well understood than is usually supposed. Reasons are given for this view from considerations internal to the theory; a (remote) analogy is considered to the role, and presumed physical significance, of the notion of "ether" in nineteenth-century physics; the issues of measurement (or, more generally, (...) application of the theory) are touched on, as well as the significance of Bell's results concerning locality, and the difficulties confronting the application of quantum mechanics to the whole cosmos. (shrink)
Ab quibusdam naævibus, not ab omni naæro: Warts and all is a good rule and Newton did have blemishes--but not by any means all those that have been ascribed to him; and of those in some sense properly attributed, not all have been rightly diagnosed. The present paper is concerned, then, not to argue that Newton's work is without fault but to attempt to rectify some faults of his critics.
On Newton’s view understanding of the fundamental character of anything can only come from knowledge about that thing, gained from experience, he sought experimental knowledge of light, for example, that would provide, not in the first instance support for a prior theory of its nature, but some systematic basis for further investigation--and--possibly--an eventual more fundamental theory. Among the things to hope for as results of an investigation is the discovery both of new questions that may be profitably pursued and new (...) instrumentalities for conducting further investigations. In Newton’s account of the nature of body, lawsplay a central role; and it is regularities--laws of behavior--that he primarily sought in his study of phenomena. It is these that make the results of the investigations what I have called “systematic.”. (shrink)