Fall 2005. Tuesday and Thursdays, 11:15-12:30, Herter 119.
Prof. Brad Skow. (follow link for contact information.)
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.
To give you a good working knowledge of the philosophical debates about space and time and how physics bears on those debates.
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).
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.
Although this class meets twice a week, it is organized around weekly topics. You should do the entire week's reading before Tuesday's class, and come prepared to ask questions about and discuss the reading.
To facilitate discussion each week you must write three discussion questions on that week's reading. These questions must be emailed to me before 12:01am on Tuesday each week. (Send the email with "593S" in the subject line.) They will help determine what topics we discuss on Thursday's class. This is not required on weeks we read from General Relativity from A to B or on the first week's reading, on Descartes. (I wrote some questions for the Descartes reading; they are posted on the reading schedule, so you can get a sense for what I'm looking for.) But if you don't send questions on even one required week, you will not receive credit for class participation. You may collaborate on the questions. Collaboration requires a face-to-face meeting to discuss the reading. One person should send email for the group with names of all members in the email. Please no groups of more than three people.
Once during the semester you must choose three from all of the questions you have submitted during the semester, and write up short (no more than 2 pages, single-spaced) answers to them. These answers are due in class on November 22nd, unless you chose questions written for 11/22 or later. (In that case they are due on the last day of class.) This assignment will be graded, and (provided you submitted questions every week) will make up half your class participation grade.
This exam will cover only the material we read in General Relativity from A to B. It will be on December 13th.
An essay of about 17-20 pages (for graduate students) or about 12-15 pages (for undergraduates) on a topic covered in class.
A useful resources is Jim Pryor's Guidelines on Writing a Philosophy Paper. I can't emphasize this enough, especially for undergraduates: read these guidelines several times while writing your paper.
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.