Special Relativity, Time and Cause

Graduate Program (& Advanced Certificate) Status

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Course Description: 

Einstein’s development of the theory of Special Relativity changed the way we think of temporal concepts generally and of simultaneity specifically. One central debate revolves around the conventionality or otherwise of simultaneity and temporal order (Reichenbach, Malament). Another important debate is on the reality of becoming in Special Relativity (Rietdijk, Putnam, Stein). The concepts of length, rigid body, passage of time and others have been challenged and reconsidered, with many radical claims being made along the way.

The course begins with Einstein’s 1905 first Relativity paper: we shall study in relative detail the kinematics part of this paper, deriving the relativity of simultaneity, time dilation, length contraction, the Twins Paradox, and more. We continue with the philosophical debates mentioned above, emphasising the relations of causal and temporal concepts. We then apply our conclusions and methodology to other philosophical debates: on the possibility of an effect preceding its cause, the possibility of time travel, and more.

Time permitting, we shall consider related topics, primarily the structure of space-time and questions of laws and indeterminacy.

Learning Outcomes: 

Students will acquire good knowledge of basic ideas in the kinematics of Special Relativity, as well as of the philosophical issues and debates surrounding these ideas. They will also become familiar with the specific character of the philosophy of physics, which proceeds with physics and philosophy weaved into each other. And they will also learn on the contributions of ideas and morals from the philosophy of physics to other philosophical debates.


Final paper of approximately 2500 words (students should consult me about the paper's subject). Participation in the seminar can contribute to a higher grade.