Ontological. Relativity. and. Other. Essays. W. V. QUINE This volume consists of the first of the John Dewey Lectures delivered under the auspices of Columbia University's Philosophy Department as well as other essays by the author.
Relativity theory is often said to support something called ‘the four-dimensional view of reality’. But there are at least three different views that sometimes go by this name. One is ‘spacetime unitism’, according to which there is a spacetime manifold, and if there are such things as points of space or instants of time, these are just spacetime regions of different sorts: thus space and time are not separate manifolds. A second is the B-theory of time, according to which (...) the past, present, and future are all equally real and there is nothing metaphysically special about the present. A third is perdurantism, according to which persisting material objects are made up of different temporal parts located at different times. We sketch routes from relativity to unitism and to the B-theory. We then discuss some routes to perdurantism, via the B-theory and via unitism. (shrink)
This high-level study discusses Newtonian principles and 19th-century views on electrodynamics and the aether. Additional topics include Einstein's electrodynamics of moving bodies, Minkowski spacetime, gravitational geometry, time and causality, and other subjects. Highlights include a rich exposition of the elements of the special and general theories of relativity.
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)
In this short but meaty book, Peter Unger questions the objective answers that have been given to central problems in philosophy. As Unger hypothesizes, many of these problems are unanswerable, including the problems of knowledge and scepticism, the problems of free will, and problems of causation and explanation. In each case, he argues, we arrive at one answer only relative to an assumption about the meaning of key terms, terms like "know" and like "cause," even while we arrive at an (...) opposite answer relative to quite different assumptions, but equally arbitrary assumptions, about what the key terms mean. (shrink)
This paper looks at the relationship between spacetime functionalism and Harvey Brown’s dynamical relativity. One popular way of reading and extending Brown’s programme in the literature rests on viewing his position as a version of relationism. But a kind of spacetime functionalism extends the project in a different way, by focussing on the account Brown gives of the role of spacetime in relativistic theories. It is then possible to see this as giving a functional account of the concept of (...) spacetime which may be applied to theories that go beyond relativity. This paper explores the way in which both the relationist project and the functionalist project relate to Brown’s work, despite being incompatible. Ultimately, these should not be seen as two conflicting readings of Brown, but two different directions in which to take his project. (shrink)
It is common to distinguish moral rules, reasons, or values that are agent-relative from those that are agent-neutral. One can also distinguish moral rules, reasons, or values that are moment-relative from those that are moment-neutral. In this article, I introduce a third distinction that stands alongside these two distinctions—the distinction between moral rules, reasons, or values that are patient-relative and those that are patient-neutral. I then show how patient-relativity plays an important role in several moral theories, gives us a (...) better understanding of agent-relativity and moment-relativity, and provides a novel objection to Derek Parfit’s “appeal to full relativity” argument. (shrink)
Abstract objects are standardly taken to be causally inert, however principled arguments for this claim are rarely given. As a result, a number of recent authors have claimed that abstract objects are causally efficacious. These authors take abstracta to be temporally located in order to enter into causal relations but lack a spatial location. In this paper, I argue that such a position is untenable by showing first that causation requires its relata to have a temporal location, but second, that (...) if an entity is temporally located then it is spatiotemporally located since this follows from the theory of Relativity. Since abstract objects lack a spatiotemporal location, then if something is causally efficacious, it is not abstract. (shrink)
A standard objection to the moving spotlight theory of time is that it is incompatible with special relativity. I show how to formulate the moving spotlight theory so that it is perfectly compatible with special relativity. There is no need to re-interpret the physics or add to it a notion of absolute simultaneity.
Relativity is the most important scientific idea of the twentieth century. Albert Einstein is the unquestioned founder of modern physics. His Special and General theories of Relativity introduced the idea to the world. In this classic short book he explains clearly, using the minimum amount of mathematical terms, the basic ideas and principles of his theory of Relativity. Unsurpassed by any subsequent books on Relativity, this remains the most popular and useful exposition of Einstein's immense contribution (...) to human knowledge. (shrink)
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)
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)
Physical Relativity explores the nature of the distinction at the heart of Einstein's 1905 formulation of his special theory of relativity: that between kinematics and dynamics. Einstein himself became increasingly uncomfortable with this distinction, and with the limitations of what he called the 'principle theory' approach inspired by the logic of thermodynamics. A handful of physicists and philosophers have over the last century likewise expressed doubts about Einstein's treatment of the relativistic behaviour of rigid bodies and clocks in (...) motion in the kinematical part of his great paper, and suggested that the dynamical understanding of length contraction and time dilation intimated by the immediate precursors of Einstein is more fundamental. Harvey Brown both examines and extends these arguments, after giving a careful analysis of key features of the pre-history of relativity theory. He argues furthermore that the geometrization of the theory by Minkowski in 1908 brought illumination, but not a causal explanation of relativistic effects. Finally, Brown tries to show that the dynamical interpretation of special relativity defended in the book is consistent with the role this theory must play as a limiting case of Einstein's 1915 theory of gravity: the general theory of relativity.Appearing in the centennial year of Einstein's celebrated paper on special relativity, Physical Relativity is an unusual, critical examination of the way Einstein formulated his theory. It also examines in detail certain specific historical and conceptual issues that have long given rise to debate in both special and general relativity theory, such as the conventionality of simultaneity, the principle of general covariance, and the consistency or otherwise of the special theory with quantum mechanics. Harvey Brown' s new interpretation of relativity theory will interest anyone working on these central topics in modern physics. (shrink)
Does the real difference between non-consequentialist and consequentialist theories lie in their approach to value? Non-consequentialist theories are thought either to allow a different kind of value (namely, agent-relative value) or to advocate a different response to value ('honouring' rather than 'promoting'). One objection to this idea implies that all normative theories are describable as consequentialist. But then the distinction between honouring and promoting collapses into the distinction between relative and neutral value. A proper description of non-consequentialist theories can only (...) be achieved by including a distinction between temporal relativity and neutrality in addition to the distinction between agent-relativity and agent-neutrality. (shrink)
The Reichenbach-Grunbaum thesis of the conventionality of simultaneity is clarified and defended by developing the consequences of the Special Theory when assumptions are not made concerning the one-way speed of light. It is first shown that the conventionality of simultaneity leads immediately to the conventionality of all relative speeds. From this result, the general-length-contraction and time-dilation relations are then derived. Next, the place of time-dilation and length-contraction effects within the Special Theory is examined in the light of the conventionality thesis. (...) The slow-transport method of synchrony is then examined in the light of these results and is shown not to provide an adequate method of uniquely determining the one-way speed of light. Finally, the general ε -Lorentz transformations for events along the x-axis are derived from three principles: the round-trip light principle, the principle of equal passage times, and the linearity principle. These principles are shown to be independent of one-way velocity assumptions, and thus may form the basis of a Special Theory of Relativity without distant simultaneity assumptions. (shrink)
We investigate whether standard counterfactual analyses of causation imply that the outcomes of space-like separated measurements on entangled particles are causally related. Although it has sometimes been claimed that standard CACs imply such a causal relation, we argue that a careful examination of David Lewis’s influential counterfactual semantics casts doubt on this. We discuss ways in which Lewis’s semantics and standard CACs might be extended to the case of space-like correlations.
But this picture of a ‘block universe’, composed of a timeless web of ‘world-lines’ in a four-dimensional space, however strongly suggested by the theory of relativity, is a piece of gratuitous metaphysics. Since the concept of change, of something happening, is an inseparable component of the common-sense concept of time and a necessary component of the scientist's view of reality, it is quite out of the question that theoretical physics should require us to hold the Eleatic view that nothing (...) happens in ‘the objective world’. Here, as so often in the philosophy of science, a useful limitation in the form of representation is mistaken for a deficiency of the universe. (shrink)
In this paper I expound an argument which seems to establish that probabilism and special relativity are incompatible. I examine the argument critically, and consider its implications for interpretative problems of quantum theory, and for theoretical physics as a whole.
In the first part of this contribution, we review the development of the theory of scale relativity and its geometric framework constructed in terms of a fractal and nondifferentiable continuous space-time. This theory leads (i) to a generalization of possible physically relevant fractal laws, written as partial differential equation acting in the space of scales, and (ii) to a new geometric foundation of quantum mechanics and gauge field theories and their possible generalisations. In the second part, we discuss some (...) examples of application of the theory to various sciences, in particular in cases when the theoretical predictions have been validated by new or updated observational and experimental data. This includes predictions in physics and cosmology (value of the QCD coupling and of the cosmological constant), to astrophysics and gravitational structure formation (distances of extrasolar planets to their stars, of Kuiper belt objects, value of solar and solar-like star cycles), to sciences of life (log-periodic law for species punctuated evolution, human development and society evolution), to Earth sciences (log-periodic deceleration of the rate of California earthquakes and of Sichuan earthquake replicas, critical law for the arctic sea ice extent) and tentative applications to systems biology. (shrink)
Some well-known metaphysical arguments against relativism rest on the claim that relativity somehow must be accompanied by relationality. I argue otherwise, and trace the consequences for some prominent disputes between relativists and absolutists.
The Reichenbach-Grunbaum thesis of the conventionality of simultaneity is clarified and defended by developing the consequences of the Special Theory when assumptions are not made concerning the one-way speed of light. It is first shown that the conventionality of simultaneity leads immediately to the conventionality of all relative speeds. From this result, the general-length-contraction and time-dilation relations are then derived. Next, the place of time-dilation and length-contraction effects within the Special Theory is examined in the light of the conventionality thesis. (...) The slow-transport method of synchrony is then examined in the light of these results and is shown not to provide an adequate method of uniquely determining the one-way speed of light. Finally, the general ε -Lorentz transformations for events along the x-axis are derived from three principles: the round-trip light principle, the principle of equal passage times, and the linearity principle. These principles are shown to be independent of one-way velocity assumptions, and thus may form the basis of a Special Theory of Relativity without simultaneity assumptions. (shrink)
This book offers a close and rigorous examination of the arguments for and against scientific realism and introduces key positions in the scientific realism/antirealism debate, which is one of the central debates in contemporary philosophy of science. On the one hand, scientific realists argue that we have good reasons to believe that our best scientific theories are approximately true because, if they were not even approximately true, they would not be able to explain and predict natural phenomena with such impressive (...) accuracy. On the other hand, antirealists argue that the success of science does not warrant belief in the approximate truth of our best scientific theories. This is because the history of science is a graveyard of theories that were once successful but were later discarded. The author eventually settles on a middle ground position between scientific realism and antirealism called "relative realism.". (shrink)
In this paper, I defend a theory of local temporality, sometimes referred to as a point-present theory. This theory has the great advantage that it allows for the possibility of an open future without requiring any alterations to our standard understanding of special relativity. Such theories, however, have regularly been rejected out of hand as metaphysically incoherent. After surveying the debate, I argue that such a transformation of temporal concepts (i) is suggested by the indexical semantics of tense in (...) a relativistic universe, (ii) when properly understood easily withstands the usual accusations of metaphysical incoherence and (iii) leads naturally to a meta-philosophical position from which we can understand and escape the increasing sterility of debates between radical Parmenideans and radical Heracliteans in the philosophy of time. (shrink)
This collection of original papers on the special and general theories of relativity constitutes an indispensable part of a library on relativity. Here are the 11 papers that forged the general and special theories of relativity: seven papers by Einstein, plus two papers by Lorentz and one each by Minkowski and Weyl.
This excellent, semi-technical account includes a review of classical physics (origin of space and time measurements, Ptolemaic and Copernican astronomy, laws of motion, inertia, and more) and coverage of Einstein’s special and general theories of relativity, discussing the concept of simultaneity, kinematics, Einstein’s mechanics and dynamics, and more.
N. Maxwell (1985) has claimed that special relativity and "probabilism" are incompatible; "probabilism" he defines as the doctrine that "the universe is such that, at any instant, there is only one past but many alternative possible futures". Thus defined, the doctrine is evidently prerelativistic as it depends on the notion of a universal instant of the universe. In this note I show, however, that there is a straightforward relativistic generalization, and that therefore Maxwell's conclusion that the special theory of (...)relativity should be amended is unwarranted. I leave open the question whether or not probabilism (or the related doctrine of the flow of time) is true, but argue that the special theory of relativity has no fundamental significance for this question. (shrink)
Is conceptual relativity a genuine phenomenon? If so, how is it properly understood? And if it does occur, does it undermine metaphysical realism? These are the questions we propose to address. We will argue that conceptual relativity is indeed a genuine phenomenon, albeit an extremely puzzling one. We will offer an account of it. And we will argue that it is entirely compatible with metaphysical realism. Metaphysical realism is the view that there is a world of objects and (...) properties that is independent of our thought and discourse (including our schemes of concepts) about such a world. Hilary Putnam, a former proponent of metaphysical realism, later gave it up largely because of the alleged phenomenon that he himself has given the label ‘conceptual relativity’. One of the key ideas of conceptual relativity is that certain concepts—including such fundamental concepts as object, entity, and existence—have a multiplicity of different and incompatible uses (Putnam 1987, p. 19; 1988, pp. 110 14). According to Putnam, once we recognize the phenomenon of conceptual relativity we must reject metaphysical realism: The suggestion . . . is that what is (by commonsense standards) the same situation can be described in many different ways, depending on how we use the words. The situation does not itself legislate how words like “object,” “entity,” and “exist” must be used. What is wrong with the notion of objects existing “independently” of conceptual schemes is that there are no standards for the use of even the logical notions apart from conceptual choices.” (Putnam 1988, p. 114) Putnam’s intriguing reasoning in this passage is difficult to evaluate directly, because conceptual  relativity is philosophically perplexing and in general is not well understood. In this paper we propose a construal of conceptual relativity that clarifies it considerably and explains how it is possible despite its initial air of paradox. We then draw upon this construal to explain why, contrary to Putnam and others, conceptual relativity does not conflict with metaphysical realism, but in fact comports well with it.. (shrink)
In a recent paper, Howard Stein makes a number of criticisms of an earlier paper of mine ('Are Probabilism and Special Relativity Incompatible?', Phil. Sci., 1985), which explored the question of whether the idea that the future is genuinely 'open' in a probabilistic universe is compatible with special relativity. I disagree with almost all of Stein's criticisms.
Debates about the ethics and effects of placebos and whether ‘placebos’ in clinical trials of complex treatments such as acupuncture are adequate rage. Yet there is currently no widely accepted definition of the ‘placebo’. A definition of the placebo is likely to inform these controversies. Grünbaum’s characterization of placebos and placebo effects has been touted by some authors as the best attempt thus far, but has not won widespread acceptance largely because Grünbaum failed to specify what he means by a (...) therapeutic theory and because he does not stipulate a special role for expectation effects. Grünbaum claims that placebos are treatments whose ‘characteristic features’ do not have therapeutic effects on the target disorder. I show that with four modifications, Grünbaum’s definition provides a defensible account of placebos for the purpose of constructing placebo controls within clinical trials. The modifications I introduce are: adding a special role for expectations, insisting that placebo controls control for all and only the effects of the incidental treatment features, relativizing the definition of placebos to patients, and introducing harmful interventions and nocebos to the definitional scheme. I also provide guidance for classifying treatment features as characteristic or incidental. (shrink)