28/10/2021 – Thomas Ryckman: Substantivalism vs. relationism about space (and spacetime): historical overview and contemporary ramifications


The controversy over substantivalism vs. relationism essentially dates from the rise of modern science in the 17th century. While Newton and Leibniz, Mach and Einstein, are widely known participants in this debate, several surprising figures made influential philosophical contributions, among them Bishop Berkeley, Leonhard Euler, James Clerk Maxwell, and Henri Poincaré. I shall briefly review this history and try to show that a semblance of the old controversy remains, though considerably transformed, in contemporary research programs of quantum gravity.

Biographical information:

Thomas Ryckman is Professor of Philosophy at Stanford University (US). He is the author of Einstein (2017), The Reign of Relativity: Philosophy in Physics 1915-1925 (2005), and co-author (with Zellig Harris and Michael Gottfried) of The Form of Information in Science (Boston Studies in Philosophy of Science, 1987). Among his notable articles are “Hilbert’s ’Foundations of Physics: Gravitation and Electromagnetism within the Axiomatic Method” published in Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics v. 39 (2008); “Analytic and Continental Traditions: Frege, Husserl, Carnap and Heidegger” published in The History of Continental Philosophy, v. 3 (2009); and “Worlds Without Number and Without End”, a catalogue essay for the exhibition “The Island Universe” by Josiah McElheny at the White Cube Gallery in London (October, 2008) and the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid (January, 2009).

Meeting information:

  • Thursday the 28th of October, at 17:00 CEST, at this Zoom link (special time!)

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