Physically locating the present: A case of reading physics as a contribution to philosophy


Journal Article

© 2014 Elsevier Ltd. By means of an example, special relativity and presentism, I argue for the importance of reading history of physics as a contribution to philosophy, and for the fruitfulness of this approach to doing integrated history and philosophy of science. Within philosophy of physics, presentism is widely regarded as untenable in the light of special relativity. I argue that reading Newton's Principia as a contribution to philosophy reveals a law-constitutive approach to the unity of what there is, from which an alternative approach to presentism within physics emerges. This view respects the methodological and epistemological commitments of philosophy of physics in "taking special relativity seriously", but proposes an alternative approach to the status of spacetime (as epistemic) and to the ground of what is real (law-constitution). While this approach to presentism does not preserve all of the contemporary presentist desiderata, it offers the possibility that the spatiotemporal extent of an existing thing is less than its entire history as represented in the block universe. I argue that the approach warrants further philosophical investigation.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Brading, K

Published Date

  • January 1, 2015

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 50 / 1

Start / End Page

  • 13 - 19

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1879-2510

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0039-3681

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1016/j.shpsa.2014.09.007

Citation Source

  • Scopus