Substantivalists believe that spacetime and its parts are fundamental constituents of reality. Relationalists deny this, claiming that spacetime enjoys only a derivative existence. I begin by describing how the Galilean symmetries of Newtonian physics tell against both Newton's brand of substantivalism and the most obvious relationalist alternative. I then review the obvious substantivalist response to the problem, which is to ditch substantival space for substantival spacetime. The resulting position has many affinities with what are arguably the most natural interpretations of (...) special and general relativity. I move on to consider and reject two recent antisubstantivalist lines of thought. The interim conclusion is that the best argument for relationalism is an appeal to Ockham's razor. However, for this to be successful there must be genuine relationalist theories that share the theoretical virtues of their substantivalist rivals but without the additional ontological commitment. The bulk of the paper is therefore an investigation of various concrete relationalist proposals. I distinguish three options for the relationalist in the face of the success of Galilean invariant physics and trace how these generalise to relativistic physics. One of the options is particularly promising but, since its basic objects end up being spacetime points, this does not help the prospects of relationalism as traditionally conceived. I end with some reflections on the fate of substantivalism in the aftermath of the Hole Argument, concluding that we have as yet to be given good reasons to abandon the natural, substantivalist interpretation of current physics. (shrink)
It is argued that Minkowski space-time cannot serve as the deep structure within a ``constructive'' version of the special theory of relativity, contrary to widespread opinion in the philosophical community.
In his paper ``What is Structural Realism?'' James Ladyman drew a distinction between epistemological structural realism and metaphysical (or ontic) structural realism. He also drew a suggestive analogy between the perennial debate between substantivalist and relationalist interpretations of spacetime on the one hand, and the debate about whether quantum mechanics treats identical particles as individuals or as `non-individuals' on the other. In both cases, Ladyman's suggestion is that an ontic structural realist interpretation of the physics might be just what is (...) needed to overcome the stalemate. The main thesis of this paper is that, whatever the interpretative difficulties of generally covariant spacetime physics are, they do not support or suggest structural realism. In particular, I hope to show that there is in fact no analogy that supports a similar interpretation of the metaphysics of spacetime points and of quantum particles. (shrink)
Is the objective passage of time compatible with relativistic physics? There are two easy routes to an affirmative answer: (1) provide a deflationary analysis of passage compatible with the block universe, or (2) argue that a privileged global present is compatible with relativity. (1) does not take passage seriously. (2) does not take relativity seriously. This paper is concerned with the viability of views that seek to take both passage and relativity seriously. The investigation proceeds by considering how traditional A-theoretic (...) conceptions of passage might be generalized to relativistic space-times without incorporating a privileged global present. I argue that the most promising position marries the idea that open possibilities for the future are settled as time passes with a ‘non-standard’ interpretation of the relevant formal models. (shrink)
We make some remarks on the mathematics and metaphysics of the hole argument, in response to a recent article in this journal by Weatherall (). Broadly speaking, we defend the mainstream philosophical literature from the claim that correct usage of the mathematics of general relativity `blocks' the argument.
We have two aims in this paper. The first is to provide the reader with a critical guide to recent work on relativity and persistence by Balashov, Gilmore and others. Much of this work investigates whether endurantism can be sustained in the context of relativity. Several arguments have been advanced that aim to show that it cannot. We find these unpersuasive, and will add our own criticisms to those we review. Our second aim, which complements the first, is to demarcate (...) the most defensible form of relativistic endurantism. A recurring theme of this paper is that even those philosophers who do worry about relativity have not taken it seriously enough. (shrink)
Diffeomorphism invariance is sometimes taken to be a criterion of background independence. This claim is commonly accompanied by a second, that the genuine physical magnitudes (the ``observables'') of background-independent theories and those of background-dependent (non-diffeomorphism-invariant) theories are essentially different in nature. I argue against both claims. Background-dependent theories can be formulated in a diffeomorphism-invariant manner. This suggests that the nature of the physical magnitudes of relevantly analogous theories (one background free, the other background dependent) is essentially the same. The temptation (...) to think otherwise stems from a misunderstanding of the meaning of spacetime coordinates in background-dependent theories. (shrink)
The purpose of this paper is to evaluate the `Lorentzian Pedagogy' defended by J.S. Bell in his essay ``How to teach special relativity'', and to explore its consistency with Einstein's thinking from 1905 to 1952. Some remarks are also made in this context on Weyl's philosophy of relativity and his 1918 gauge theory. Finally, it is argued that the Lorentzian pedagogy---which stresses the important connection between kinematics and dynamics---clarifies the role of rods and clocks in general relativity.
The implications for the substantivalist–relationalist controversy of Barbour and Bertotti's successful implementation of a Machian approach to dynamics are investigated. It is argued that in the context of Newtonian mechanics, the Machian framework provides a genuinely relational interpretation of dynamics and that it is more explanatory than the conventional, substantival interpretation. In a companion paper (Pooley [2002a]), the viability of the Machian framework as an interpretation of relativistic physics is explored. 1 Introduction 2 Newton versus Leibniz 3 Absolute space versus (...) an affine connection 4 Anti-relationalist arguments 5 Rehabilitating relationalism 6 Dynamics on the relative configuration space 7 Intrinsic particle dynamics 8 Conclusion. (shrink)
In the first part of this paper a relational account of incongruent counterparts is defended against an argument due to Kant. I then consider a more recent attack on such an account, due to John Earman, which alleges that the relationalist cannot account for the lawlike left--right asymmetry manifested in parity-violating phenomena. I review Hoefer's, Huggett's and Saunders' responses to Earman's argument and argue that, while a relationalist account of parity-violating laws is possible, it comes at the cost of non-locality.
John Earman's recent proposal that a substantive version of general covariance consists in the requirement that diffeomorphism invariance be a gauge symmetry is critically assessed. I argue that such a principle does not serve to differentiate general relativity from pre-relativistic theories. A model-theoretic characterization of two formulations of specially-relativistic theories is suggested. Diffeomorphisms are symmetries of only one such style of formulation and, I argue, Earman's proposal does not provide a reason to deny diffeomorphisms the status of gauge transformations relative (...) to this formulation. Carlo Rovelli's distinction between "passive" and "active" diffeomorphism invariance is also clarified. (shrink)
Doubts are raised concerning Rickles' claim that ``an exact analog of the hole argument can be constructed in the loop representation of quantum gravity'' (Rickles, `A new spin on the hole argument', Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics 36 (2005) 415–434).
In a companion paper (Pooley & Brown 2001) it is argued that Julian Barbour's Machian approach to dynamics provides a genuinely relational interpretation of Newtonian dynamics and that it is more explanatory than the conventional, substantival interpretation. In this paper the extension of the approach to relativistic physics is considered. General relativity, it turns out, can be reinterpreted as a perfectly Machian theory. However, there are difficulties with viewing the Machian interpretation as more fundamental than the conventional, spacetime interpretation. Moreover, (...) this state of affairs provides little solace for the relationist for, even when interpreted along Machian lines, general relativity is a substantival theory although the basic entity is space, not spacetime. (shrink)
I argue that notions of relative fundamentality need to be invoked if there is to be something substantive at stake in the debate between proponents of Harvey Brown's dynamical approach to relativity and defenders of a more traditional interpretation of spacetime. I will review some problems that stand in the way of the advocate of the dynamical approach making good on their claim that dynamical symmetries are more fundamental than spacetime symmetries.
Brian Pitts has recently claimed to show via straightforward calculation that, at least in the case of Hamiltonian electromagnetism, an arbitrary first-class constraint ``generates not a gauge transformation, but a bad physical change'' (Annals of Physics 351 (2014) pp.382-406; arXiv:1310.2756). We show, via a straightforward calculation, that a transformation generated by an arbitrary first-class constraint relates gauge-equivalent phase space points, vindicating orthodoxy. Pitts, however, is primarily concerned with transformations of entire histories, rather than of instantaneous states. We show that, even (...) in this context, a transformation generated by an arbitrary first-class constraint is also a gauge transformation, once the empirically observed electric field is correctly identified via its dynamical interactions with charge, and not simply given stipulatively as a certain combination of the potential and its derivatives. (shrink)
Julian Barbour's approach to dynamics is reviewed. With a particular focus on questions of explanation and confirmation, the approach is contrasted with standard formulations of dynamics. This paper expands upon my commentary on Lawrence Sklar's paper at the Philosophy of Time Society meeting at the APA's Central Division meeting in Chicago, April 2004. Although a commentary, the current paper is comprehensible without reference to Sklar's paper.