Fundamental and Emergent Geometry in Newtonian Physics

British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 71 (1):1-32 (2020)
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Using as a starting point recent and apparently incompatible conclusions by Saunders and Knox, I revisit the question of the correct spacetime setting for Newtonian physics. I argue that understood correctly, these two versions of Newtonian physics make the same claims both about the background geometry required to define the theory, and about the inertial structure of the theory. In doing so I illustrate and explore in detail the view—espoused by Knox, and also by Brown —that inertial structure is defined by the dynamics governing subsystems of a larger system. This clarifies some interesting features of Newtonian physics, notably the distinction between using the theory to model subsystems of a larger whole and using it to model complete universes, and the scale-relativity of spacetime structure. _1_ Introduction _2_ Newtonian Mechanics and Galilean Spacetime _3_ Vector Relationism and Maxwellian Spacetime _4_ Recovering the Galilei Group: Dynamics of Subsystems _5_ Knox on Inertial Structure _6_ Connections on Maxwellian Spacetime _7_ Knox on Newtonian Gravity _8_ Vector Relationism and Newton–Cartan Theory _9_ Inertial Structure in Newton–Cartan Gravity _10_ Reconciling Knox and Saunders _11_ Conclusions

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David Wallace
University of Pittsburgh


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