Substantivalism vs Relationism.docx

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PHIL 225
Cei Maslen

Substantivalism and Relationism Do time and space exist independently of their contents o Substantivalism asserts that timespace exist independently of events in time or objects in space It is coherent on the substantivalist picture to have empty space or empty time o Relationism asserts that timespace only exist as a system of relations between events in time or objects in space It is incoherent on the relationist picture to have empty time but empty space is problematic The relationist has to grant that there is empty space between objects and that empty space is only incoherent in situations where there are no objects at all Substantivalism has an initial advantage o Firstly it looks like substantivalism is our more intuitive view That would be a startingpoint and a tiebreaker but not a strong reason in general to accept it o Relationism also has a greater explanatory burden they have to work harder to accommodate empty space into their view This gives substantivalism an upper hand in case of space and it may be that this can be translated into an advantage in terms of time In fact if Relativity is correct in asserting that time and space are two sides to the same coin then this generalisation may be quite legitimate o However it is worth noting that there is some intuitive weight to relationism This is because when we speak of locations they generally only make sense on relationist terms If I say I will meet you on the corner I mean a location defined consistently through time in relation to the streets and buildings But of course the objective location on substantivalist terms is a fixed point in space and since the earth and whole universe is moving it would require a complicated astronomical calculation to determine just where the corner will be at the time at which I intend to meet you It makes more sense to say that I mean to meet you at a location defined in relation to objects rather than at a substantival point in space An important line of argument for relationism precedented by Leibniz is that the substantivalism is trivial Because time and space can be reduced to a system of relations the substantivalist conception of them is unnecessary and ontologically burdensome o There are two things needed for this strategy to succeed Firstly it needs to be shown that time and space really can be reduced to relations Secondly it needs to be shown that time and space should be reduced relational concepts Hence the triviality strategy for relationism involves both a descriptive and a normative task o The most common way of attempting the normative task is by asserting Ockhams razor that because time and space are unnecessary explaining nothing we should get rid of them So this is an appeal to an epistemic ontological and methodological principle o A potential response to that strategy though would be to assert that a degree of effort is required in order to explain space and time in relationist terms assuming that we take substantivalism as a startingpoint It may be that we should reduce space and time to relations in the sense that we want to exclude the unnecessary but it may also be that we should retain them in the sense that it is simply intuitively easier if we keep themo There is also a directionofreasoning strategy we could use here If substantivalist conceptions of space and time are reducible to relationist ones then relationist conceptions are similarly reducible to substantivalist ones So it is no argument to assert that we should simply make the translation from substantivalism to relationism especially if we take substantivalism as a starting point Rather it may be that easeofunderstanding would dispose us towards the reverse reducing relationism to a trivial and unnecessary theory o Hence although the relationist triviality strategy appeals to Ockhams razor as an ontological epistemic and methodological principle what is being appealed to more deeply is easeofunderstanding And it looks likely that when we put things in perspective ease of understanding favours the reverse of what relationism attempts If so then rather than giving us a reason to switch from substantivalism to relationism triviality strategies simply furnish us with even more reason to reject relationism o Of course it is an empirical intuitive and perhaps psychological question whether our intuitions favour substantivalism Mine do though and I hope to have provided a sketch of a response to relationism for those who share the same How exactly might spacetime be reduced to relations o A time is simply a set of events simultaneous with a given event o We run into an early trouble though since relativity claims that there is no absolute simultaneity Relativity also looks like it favours substantivalism in general o Relationism is a reductionist position That is it claims that space and time exist but that they are not fundamental entities in their own right and can and should instead be reduced to more fundamental entities
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