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Cartesianism in Physics and Holism about Space Or Space-Time

  • Michael Esfeld
Chapter
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Part of the Synthese Library book series (SYLI, volume 298)

Summary

To what extent does holism in the philosophy of today’s physics break with the Cartesian tradition in modern philosophy of nature? To prepare the ground for an answer to this question, I show in this chapter that Cartesian philosophy of physics admits of a sort of holism. I take up the interpretation according to which Descartes and Spinoza consider matter and the continuum of physical, three-dimensional Euclidean space to be the same thing [6.1, 6.2]. Based on this identification we reach a holism which can be called “holism about matter as holism about space”: the parts of matter are identical with the points or regions of space. All physical properties are properties of points or regions of space. What makes something a point or a region of space is relational properties or relations to other points or regions within the whole of space. If the physical things are the points or regions of space, then any physical property can only be instantiated if there are many material things (points or regions of space) which extend as far as the whole material realm (the whole space) [6.3]. A theory of motion and change can be included in holism about space [6.4]. Finally, I examine whether holism about space (or space-time) can be directly applied to today’s physics. It is suggestive to try this holism out on general relativity. There is a programme for a further development of general relativity that amounts to a concrete elaboration of this holism, namely the geometrodynamics of Wheeler. However, this programme failed. We do not have a physics at our disposal which is not committed to physical systems over and above space-time. Even if we lay stress on the fact that Descartes’ and Spinoza’s philosophy of physics admits of a sort of holism, we cannot avoid a revision of Cartesianism in today’s philosophy of nature [6.5].

Keywords

Relativity Physic Absolute Space Block Universe Physical Realm Corporeal Substance 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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References

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael Esfeld
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.University of KonstanzGermany
  2. 2.University of HertfordshireEngland

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