PHIL 146: Philosophy of Physics



This quarter the course will focus on spacetime physics, classical and relativistic.  (Last year we did foundations of quantum mechanics.)  Topics will include: is space(time) a substance? Is simultaneity conventional?  Is physical geometry and topology conventional?  What is a singularity, really?  Does relativity prove that time doesn’t flow?  These fascinating topics and others have enjoyed extensive treatment in the physics and philosophical literature.  Along the way we will learn about various classical spacetimes, Minkowski spacetime and then even a few interesting general relativistic spacetimes.  All the physics/math necessary for the course will be taught in class; the class will definitely be accessible to humanities students and conceptually challenging to both humanities and science majors.


Instructor:              Dr Craig Callender

Contact details:                Rm HSS 8072




Office hours:                      Wed 11-12 and by appt


Place:                                    WLH 2209, 10-10.50am, MWF



Reading.  I have ordered two 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, we’ll 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. 


The remainder of the readings will consist of:


3. Articles/chapters available electronically on the E-reserves associated with this course.  Go to and follow the links to the course web site (using either my name or the subject).


            4. my notes




The grade will be determined by a major research paper (30%), a take home final exam (30%), homework sets worth 30%, and a research paper outline (explained in class) worth 10%.  The first paper is due May 19th .  The outline of the topic chosen and path to pursue is due May 5th.  Late papers will be penalized 5% per day late.  Homework will be assigned in class on a more or less random schedule depending on where we are in the material.  Guidelines and paper topics are posted here.  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 Spacetime


Events, Spacetime and Aristotle, Geroch, pp. 3-36

Dainton, “Conceptions of Void”, pp. 132-150

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

Newton’s Scholium,

Concept of metric space: notes and homework


Topic 2.          Absolute versus Relational Space: Galilean


                        Galilean relativity

Galilean View and Problems, Geroch, pp. 37-52

Dainton, 181-199


Topic 3.          Special Relativity


                        The Interval, Physics and Geometry of Intervals, Geroch, 53-112

                        Twin paradox, lecture notes


Topic 4.          General Relativity


                        Einstein’s Equation, Curvature and General Relativity, Geroch, 113-185

                        Lecture notes


Topic 5.          Absolute versus Relational Spacetime: Relativistic


Maudlin, “Buckets of Water and Waves of Space: Why Spacetime is Probably a Substance”

Dainton, e-reserves chapters

Lecture notes


Topic 6.          Conventionality of Physical Geometry and Topology


                        Reichenbach, Chapter 1

                        Weingard, Robert.  "Realism and the Topology of Spacetime", on e-reserves

                        Reichenbach, “the number of dimensions of space” 273-282

                        Jean-Pierre Luminet , Glenn D. Starkman and Jeffrey R. Weeks “Is Space Finite? 



Topic 7.          Conventionality of Simultaneity


                        Reichenbach, pp. 123-135

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

                        Janis, Allen, “Conventionality of Simultaneity”


Topic 8.          Time’s Flow and Relativity


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

Stein, Howard,  On Relativity Theory and the Openness of the Future,” in Philosophy of Science 58 (1991): 147-167.*

Callender, C. “Shedding Light on Time” Philosophy of Science (Proceedings), 67, 2000, S587-S599.

Kurt Gödel, “ A Remark About the Relationship Between Relativity Theory and Idealistic Philosophy”

Savitt, S. “Being and Becoming in Modern Physics”

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

                        Nahin, technical note from Time Machines.*


                        * = not required



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