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Philosophy of Physics 146





This quarter the course will focus on the philosophical foundations of spacetime physics, classical and relativistic.  We will consider some of the questions that have pre-occupied some of the greatest thinkers in physics: Newton, Leibniz, Kant, Reichenbach, Einstein, Goedel, and others.  These questions include: what kind of thing is space (time)?  Is it a substance? Are physical geometry and topology conventional in some sense?  What is a singularity?  Does relativity prove that time does not flow? All the physics/math necessary for the course will be taught in class.  The course should be conceptually challenging to both humanities and science majors.


Instructor: Professor Craig Callender, Rm HSS 8077, 822-4911,


Office hours:        Tues 2:15-3:15and by appt


Place:                   Sequo 148, TuTh 3.30-4:50



Reading.  Most of the reading will be via the library E-reserves.  (Go to and follow the links to the course website)  I have ordered two relatively inexpensive books for the course:


1.Geroch, General Relativity from A to B. This book is accessible to absolutely everyone, but it is still quite sophisticated. It is written by one of the foremost authorities on general relativity in the world today.  In it, you will find an introduction to the basic ideas of classical spacetimes and relativistic spacetimes.


2.Reichenbach, The Philosophy of Space and Time. This nice little Dover book contains one of the first and most influential philosophical discussions of relativity. Its author is one of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century.


If you want to save yourself some printing, you may also wish to purchase Time and Space by Barry Dainton and/or Space From Zeno to Einstein by Nick Huggett.




The grade will be determined by an in-class midterm examination (30%), final examination (40%) and various problem homework, small essays and participation/attendance (30%).  Homework will be assigned in class on amore or less random schedule depending on where we are in the material.  Attendance will be taken.  Much of the material in the course will only appear in lecture, so anything short of regular attendance will probably severely damage your grade.


Background Reading. The following are some good books/chapters in philosophy of spacetime physics.


Introducing Time by Craig Callender, Icon Press, 2001. This is a silly little book; but it is useful background reading for parts of the course.

Time and Space by Barry Dainton, 2001. The four chapters we need will be scanned in, but it is a nice readable book that you may wish to purchase.

Foundations of Spacetime Physics, Michael Friedman. Advanced, but excellent in all ways.

World Enough and Spacetime, John Earman. Advanced on substantivalism issue, but excellent.

Bangs, Whimpers,Crunches and Shrieks, John Earman. Advanced topics in general relativity excellent.

Philosophical Problems of Spacetime Theories, Adolph Grunbaum. A classic.

Space, Time, and Spacetime, Larry Sklar. Medium advanced and excellent about the right level for this course

Space From Zeno to Einstein, Nick Huggett. Classic readings with insightful and readable commentary.

The Shape of Space, Nerhlich. Good and readable.

Introduction to the Philosophy of Science, Salmon et al. Chapter 5 on spacetime by John Norton.

Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy of Science, Machamer and Silberstein. Ch. 9 on spacetime by Craig Callender and Carl Hoefer.



Tentative Schedule


I doubt that we will have time to cover all the following topics, but we will do what we can in more or less in the order described. 


Topic 1.      Absolute versus Relational Space:


Aristotelian and Newtonian Spacetimes


-Geroch, GRAB, pp. 3-36

-The Leibniz-Clarke Correspondence in Huggett , Space From Zeno to Einstein , 1999, pp.143-158.

-Newtons Scholium,


Homework: metric space: notes and homework


Galilean or Neo-Newtonian Spacetime


-Geroch, GRAB, pp. 37-52

-Dainton, chapter 11

-Kant, `Concerning the Ultimate Ground of the Differentiation of Directions in Space'

- Galilean relativity


Minkowski Spacetime


-Geroch, GRAB, pp. 53-112

- Dainton, chapter 12

- Twin paradox, lecture notes


                   General relativistic Spacetimes


-Geroch, GRAB, pp.113-185

-Maudlin, Buckets of Water and Waves of Space: Why Spacetime is Probably a Substance (sections on SR and GR)


Topic 2.      Conventionality of Physical Geometry and Topology


                     Metrical Conventionalism


- Reichenbach, PST Chapter 1, 1-37

- Reichenbach, PST Chapter 2, 113-119


                     Topological Conventionalism


- Reichenbach, PST Chapter 1, 58-80

- Reichenbach, PST Chapter 3, 273-282

-Weingard, Robert.  Realism and the Global Topology of Space-time

- See also: Luminet, Starkman and Weeks, Is Space Finite?



                  General Philosophy of Science


- Psillos, Stathis. Scientific Realism. Forthcoming in EP

- Psillos, Stathis. Undetermination. Forthcoming in EP


MIDTERM: November 3


Special case: Conventionality of Simultaneity


-Reichenbach, pp. 123-135

-Norton, "Philosophy of Space and Time: Malament's Result", section 5.11

-See also: Janis, Allen, Conventionality of Simultaneity


Topic 3.      Black Holes and Cosmology


-Geroch, GRAB, pp. 186ff

-Geroch, R., 1968, What is a Singularity in GR?, Annals of Physics 48: 526-540--just the dialogue.

-Callender and Hoefer, sections on black holes and horizons, Blackwell Guide

-See also: Weingard, Some Philosophical Aspects of Black Holes


Topic 4.      Time Flow and Relativity


-Putnam, Hilary, Time and Physical Geometry in Journal of Philosophy 64 (1967): 240-247

--Savitt, Time and Becoming in Modern Physics (sections 1-3.1)

See also: Time, entry on Stanford Encyclopedia (


                   Time Travel in General Relativity


-Goedel,  A Remark About the Relationship Between Relativity Theory and Idealistic Philosophy

-Lewis, The Paradoxes of Time Travel in his Collected Papers (Vol II): 67-80.

See also:


Spacetime Links:


Sean Carroll's GR notes

Ned Wright's Relativity Tutorial

John Baez's GR Tutorial

William Burke's GR notes

Relativity bookmarks

The Hole Argument