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Title: The dynamical approach to relativity as a form of regularity relationalism
Author: Stevens, Syman
ISNI:       0000 0004 7234 0952
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2014
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This thesis investigates the interplay between explanatory issues in special relativity and the theory's metaphysical foundations. Special attention is given to the 'dynamical approach' to relativity, promoted primarily by Harvey Brown and collaborators, according to which the symmetries of dynamical laws are explanatory of relativistic effects, inertial motion, and even the Minkowskian geometrical structure of a specially relativistic world. The thesis begins with a review of Einstein's 1905 introduction to special relativity, after which brief historical introductions are given for the standard 'geometrical' approach to relativity and the unorthodox 'dynamical' approach. After a critical review of recent literature on the topic, the dynamical approach is shown to be in need of a metaphysical package that would undergird the explanatory claims mentioned above. It is argued that the dynamical approach is best understood as a form of relationalism - in particular, as a relativistic form of 'regularity relationalism', promoted recently by Nick Huggett. According to this view, some portion of a world's geometrical structure actually supervenes upon the symmetries of the best-system dynamical laws for a material ontology endowed with a primitive sub-metrical structure. To explore the plausibility of this construal of the dynamical approach, a case study is carried out on solutions to the Klein-Gordon equation. Examples are found for which the field values, when purged of all spatiotemporal structure but their induced topology, are still arguably best-systematized by the Klein-Gordon equation itself. This bolsters the plausibility of the claim that some system of field values, endowed with mere sub-metrical structure, might have as its best-systems dynamical laws a (set of) Lorentz-covariant equation(s), on which Minkowski geometrical structure would supervene. The upshot is that the dynamical approach to special relativity can be defended as what might be called an ontologically and ideologically relationalist approach to Minkowski spacetime structure. The chapters refer regularly to three appendices, which include a brief introduction to topological and differentiable spaces.
Supervisor: Pooley, Oliver ; Timpson, Chris Sponsor: Clarendon Fund
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Philosophy of Physics ; Philosophy of Space and Time ; special relativity ; lorentz covariance ; spacetime ; dynamical approach ; minkowski geometry ; explanation ; space-time ; lorentz invariance