Universally recognized as bringing about a revolutionary transformation of the notions of space, time, and motion in physics, Einstein's theory of gravitation, known as "general relativity," was also a defining event for 20th century philosophy of science. During the decisive first ten years of the theory's existence, two main tendencies dominated its philosophical reception. This book is an extended argument that the path actually taken, which became logical empiricist philosophy of science, greatly contributed to the current impasse over realism, whereas (...) new possibilities are opened in revisiting and reviving the spirit of the more sophisticated tendency, a cluster of viewpoints broadly termed transcendental idealism, and furthering its articulation. It also emerges that Einstein, while paying lip service to the emerging philosophy of logical empiricism, ended up siding de facto with the latter tendency. Ryckman's work speaks to several groups, among them philosophers of science and historians of relativity. Equations are displayed as necessary, but Ryckman gives the non-mathematical reader enough background to understand their occurrence in the context of his wider philosophical project. (shrink)
Determinismus und Indeterminismus in der modernen Physik is one of Cassirer’s least known and studied works, despite his own assessment as “one of his most important achievements”. A prominent theme locates quantum mechanics as a yet further step of the tendency within physical theory towards the purely functional theory of the concept and functional characterization of objectivity. In this respect DI can be considered an “update”, like the earlier monograph Zur Einsteinschen Relativitätstheorie: Erkenntnistheoretische Betrachtungen, to Substanzbegriff und Funktionsbegriff, a seminal (...) work considering only classical and pre-relativistic physics. But how does DI cohere with the three volumes of The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms providing a systematic survey of symbolic meanings in diverse aspects of culture, each with its own mode of “objectification” via self-created signs and images? Cassirer’s “phenomenology of cognition” via distinct types of symbolic form locates Dirac’s Principles of Quantum Mechanics as an exemplar within physical theory of purely symbolic thought, a realm of pure relations and their correlated meanings. In particular, Dirac’s characterization of the new notion of “physical state” in quantum mechanics by a “symbolic algebra of observables” severed from particular representations points to a limiting pole of the Bedeutungsfunktion, the third and highest mode of symbolic formation. (shrink)
Albert Einstein was the most influential physicist of the twentieth century. Less well-known is that fundamental philosophical problems, such as concept formation, the role of epistemology in developing and explaining the character of physical theories, and the debate between positivism and realism, played a central role in his thought as a whole. Thomas Ryckman shows that already at the beginning of his career, at a time when the twin pillars of classical physics, Newtonian mechanics and Maxwell’s electromagnetism, were known to (...) have but limited validity, Einstein sought to advance physical theory by positing certain physical principles as secure footholds. That philosophy produced his greatest triumph, the general theory of relativity, and his greatest failure, an unwillingness to accept quantum mechanics. This book shows that Einstein’s philosophy grew from a lifelong aspiration for a unified theoretical representation encompassing all physical phenomena. It also considers how Einstein’s theories of relativity and criticisms of quantum theory have shaped the course of twentieth-century philosophy of science. Including a chronology, glossary, chapter summaries, and suggestions for further reading, _Einstein_ is an ideal introduction to this iconic figure in twentieth-century science and philosophy. It is essential reading for students of philosophy of science, and also suitable for those working in related areas such as physics, history of science, or intellectual history. (shrink)
Eugene Wigner's several general discussions of symmetry and invariance principles are among the canonical texts of contemporary philosophy of physics. Wigner spoke from a position of authority, having pioneered for recognition of the importance of symmetry principles from nuclear to molecular physics. But perhaps recent commentators have not sufficiently stressed that Wigner always took care to situate the notion of invariance principles with respect to two others, initial conditions and laws of nature. Wigner's first such general consideration of invariance principles, (...) an address presented at Einstein's 70th birthday celebration, held in Princeton on 19 March 1949, began by laying out just this distinction, and in a way that seems to suggest that the three notions arise through abstraction in an analysis of the general problem of cognition in the natural sciences: The world is very complicated and it is clearly impossible for the human mind to understand it completely. Man has therefore devised an artifice which permits the complicated nature of the world to be blamed on something which is called accidental and thus permits him to abstract a domain in which simple laws can be found. The complications are called initial conditions; the domain of regularities, laws of nature. the underlying abstraction is probably one of the most fruitful the human mind has made. It has made the natural sciences possible. (shrink)
Naturalized metaphysics remains a default presupposition of much contemporary philosophy of physics. As metaphysics is supposed to be about the general structure of reality, so a naturalized metaphysics draws upon our best physical theories: Assuming the truth of such a theory, it attempts to answer the “foundational question par excellence “, “how could the world possibly be the way this theory says it is?“ It is argued that attention to historical detail in the development and formulation of physical theories serves (...) as an ever-relevant hygienic corrective to the “sentiment of rationality“ underlying the naturalistic impulse to read ontology off of physics. (shrink)
An examination of Carnap's Aufbau in the context of Schlick's Allgemeine Erkenntnislehre of ten years earlier, suggests that Carnap's focus there on the sign-relation (Zeichenbeziehung) is an effort to retrieve a verificationist account of the meaning of individual scientific statements from the abyss of meaning-holism entailed by Schlick's proposal that scientific concepts be implicitly defined. The Aufbau's antipodal aspects, its reductive phenomenalism and quasi-Kantian concern with the constitution of objectivity, are seen as complementary moments of the marriage of empiricism and (...) a new emphasis on scientific concepts as "free creations of the human mind". (shrink)
A number of authors have recently argued that the mathematical insights of "chaos theory" offer a promising formal model or significant analogy for understanding at least some historical events. We examine a representative claim of each kind regarding the application of chaos theory to problems of historical explanation. We identify two lines of argument. One we term the Causal Thesis, which states that chaos theory may be used to plausibly model, and so explain, historical events. The other we term the (...) Convergence Thesis, which holds that, once the analogy between history and chaos theory is properly appreciated, any temptation to divide history from the rest of science should be greatly lessened. We argue that the proffered analogy between chaos theory and history falls apart upon closer analysis. The promised benefits of chaos theory vis-à-vis history are either fantastic or, at best, an extremely loose heuristic which, while retaining nothing of the considerable intrinsic interest of nonlinear dynamics, easily seduces the unwary into taking at face value terms and concepts that have a specifically precise meaning only within the confines of mathematical theory. (shrink)
Examines the connections among believing, saying, and expressing in situations where the sentence used is a declarative sentence containing at least one proper name. Proposes a new way of understanding these connections. Develops an argument for the thesis that, although we typically believe the singular propositions expressed by our uses of name sentences, we rarely use such sentences because we believe those propositions.
I shall argue that those who hold that there are factual complexes, or facts, and who subscribe to a correspondence theory of truth, according to which truth is analyzed in terms of correspondence to facts, need not hold that, in addition to facts, there are propositions.