Philosophy 593S: Philosophy of Space and Time

Fall 2005. Tuesday and Thursdays, 11:15-12:30, Herter 119.

Prof. Brad Skow. (follow link for contact information.)

Course Syllabus

Reading Schedule

Course Description

This course will look at connections between developments in physics and questions in metaphysics about space and time. The first part of the course will be devoted to debates over two doctrines that go by the name 'relationalism.' According to the first doctrine, relationalism about motion, all motion is the relative motion of bodies. According to the second doctrine, relationalism about ontology, space and time do not exist; instead, our world is a world of spatiotemporal relations among material bodies. This first part of the course is set in the context of pre-relativistic, pre-quantum physics. The second part of the course looks at questions in metaphysics about space and time from the point of view of relativistic physics. What bearing does the advent of the theory of relativity have on the debates over relationalism? Does relativity really teach us that nothing can travel faster than light? Is relativity incompatible with the idea that time passes? In the second part of the course we will cover the geometry of Minkowski spacetime; it will be more technically demanding.

This course, then, has two goals.

  1. To give you a good working knowledge of the philosophical debates about space and time and how physics bears on those debates.

  2. To give you the ability to think about these debates (and other, related, debates we won't have time to discuss) from the spacetime point of view. By the end of the course you should understand the difference between Newtonian and Galilean spacetime, and understand the geometrical structure of Minkowski spacetime.


I have ordered copies of the following books at Amherst books:

There is also a course packet, available at copycat print shop in Amherst (ask for CP# 032). Other readings are available on the internet (see links on the reading schedule).

Presuppositions and Prerequisites

Undergraduates must have taken two previous philosophy courses. I will presuppose that you are already good at analyzing arguments and writing philosophy papers. No specific knowledge of physics or mathematics beyond high-school algebra is required for this course. Background in both will be helpful. If you are averse to mathematics in general, and to geometry and algebra in particular, then you should not take this course.

Course Requirements


Late papers will not be accepted without an acceptable (usually medical) excuse. Final papers are due on December 16th. Standard rules on the granting of incompletes apply to graduate students.

If you plagiarize you will receive an 'F' in this class and be reported to the dean.