PHIL 750.001 – Philosophy of Physics
Instructor: John T. Roberts. This course meets W 1:00 – 3:30 p.m. via synchronous remote instruction.
This course will be an introductory survey of the philosophy of space and time, intended for graduate students in philosophy and some advanced undergraduates. Today, the topics of space and time are treated by many different sub-fields of philosophy, including philosophy of mind, philosophy of cognitive science, and metaphysics; this course, however, will focus on the philosophy of space and time qua branch of the philosophy of physics. (Though of course, we will not be able to avoid brushing against some issues concerning metaphysics and the mind.)
No particular background in physics will be presupposed. We will go over some of the basics of classical mechanics, special relativity, and general relativity in a relatively non-technical manner. I recommend that all students taking the course (except for those who have already studied relativity theory in a physics course) read the wonderful short book _General Relativity from A to B_ by Robert Geroch by the fourth week of the semester. If you would like a preview of the level of technicality to be encountered in this course before deciding whether to take it, have a look at this book by Geroch: If you don’t find it too tough, then you won’t find the math-and-physics aspects of the course too tough.
The topics we cover will include all or most of the following: Absolutism and relativism about motion; substantivalism and relationalism about the ontology of space and time; Newton’s arguments about space and time; the Leibniz-Clarke correspondence; Kant’s argument for the non-relationality of space based on incongruent counterparts; the ontological implications of special relativity and general relativity; the status of ‘the present’ and the propsects for ‘dynamic’ or ‘tensed’ theories of time given special and general relativity; the ‘Hole argument’ and the prospects for substantivalism and relationalism in the context of general relativity; the issue of whether spacetime might be ’emergent’ from some kind of more fundamental structure that is non-spatiotemporal; the question of whether time travel is logically and physically possible.
Each student taking the course for credit will give one class presentation (unless so many students register that this is impracticable), complete one homework assignment consisting of several short essay questions, write a term paper, and take an essay-based final exam.
For our textbook we will use _Philosophy of Physics: Space and Time_ by Tim Maudlin (Princeton University Press, 2012); we will also read many articles that are available online.
Please note: This course counts toward the “logic and philosophy of science” distribution requirement for PHIL grad students.