Forces in a true and physical sense: from mathematical models to metaphysical conclusions

Synthese 198 (2):1109-1122 (2019)
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Wilson [Dialectica 63:525–554, 2009], Moore [Int Stud Philos Sci 26:359–380, 2012], and Massin [Br J Philos Sci 68:805–846, 2017] identify an overdetermination problem arising from the principle of composition in Newtonian physics. I argue that the principle of composition is a red herring: what’s really at issue are contrasting metaphysical views about how to interpret the science. One of these views—that real forces are to be tied to physical interactions like pushes and pulls—is a superior guide to real forces than the alternative, which demands that real forces are tied to “realized” accelerations. Not only is the former view employed in the actual construction of Newtonian models, the latter is both unmotivated and inconsistent with the foundations and testing of the science.

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Corey Dethier
University of Minnesota


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