The philosophy of space-time physics is currently in high gear, with outstanding and long-awaited books recently published by Harvey Brown (Physical Relativity) and Robert DiSalle, and others forthcoming soon from Nick Huggett and Oliver Pooley. All of these authors approach their work primarily as philosophers, yet each incorporates historical exegesis quite essentially in the course of making his philosophical case (each, I should add, in a different style and with different aims). This review is about DiSalle’s Understanding Space-Time (US), but due to their overlapping topics and temporal proximity, some comparisons with Brown’s book will be made in passing. (See Brad Skow’s NDPR review of Brown, http://ndpr.nd.edu/review.cfm?id=6603.) Despite the topical overlap, US and Physical Relativity are very different works — different, but largely complementary.
DiSalle’s goals are very ambitious, and in broad terms they are threefold. He wants to (1) direct philosophers away from the canonical absolute/relational disputes, (2) reshape our understanding of the motivations, arguments, and achievements of the two giants of space-time physics (Newton and Einstein), and (3) refute, in passing, the Kuhnian view that the main paradigm changes in space-time physics are essentially arational and impossible to justify via non-circular arguments.
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