Philosophy 129

Spring 2014

Number Title Instructor Days/time Room
129 Special Topics in the Philosophy of Science: The Philosophy of Space and Time Ryckman TuTh 11-12:30 78 Barrows

I. TOPICS: Absolute and relational theories of space, time, and motion: the problem of motion from Descartes, Newton and Leibniz to Einstein and beyond. How the principle of relativity leads from space and time to space-time. Mach’s attempt to ‘relativize’ inertia and its influence on Einstein in formulating the general theory of relativity. Space-time substantivalism and relationism. The problem of determinism in Einstein’s “Hole Argument”, and the physical meaning of general covariance. Background independence as a requirement for fundamental physical theory, including quantum gravity.

II. PREREQUISITES: Some background in philosophy, physics or mathematics will be helpful. While no detailed knowledge of relativity physics or higher mathematics is presumed, discussion of the philosophical issues will occasionally necessitate introducing small doses of reasonably advanced mathematics (the mathematics of the general theory of relativity). However, most of the central concepts can be explained in pictures (as mappings) with a bit of set theory. Leave math anxiety at the door.


– In addition to the following books (first three in paper editions), there will be a course reader, containing readings from Descartes, Berkeley, Euler, Mach, Poincaré, and Einstein.

• Newton: Philosophical Writings. Edited by Andrew Janiak. Cambridge University Press, 2004.

• G.W. Leibniz and Samuel Clarke: Correspondence. Edited by Roger Ariew. Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Co., 2000.

• Robert Geroch. General Relativity from A to B. University of Chicago Press, 1978.

• Tim Maudlin. Philosophy of Physics: Space and Time. Princeton UP, 2012.