Review of 'Space, Time, and Spacetime' by Lawrence Sklar
Malament (David)
Source: Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 73, No. 11 (Jun. 10, 1976), pp. 306-323
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Introduction

  1. Despite reservations, I think this is a valuable book. Indeed, it is the best survey of philosophical problems of space and time with which I am familiar.
  2. Two principles shape the work. Our ideas about space, time, and space-time have been changed radically by developments in modern physics. Sklar insists, first, that it is just not possible to do serious philosophical work in ignorance of these developments. ["You can't do good philosophy unless you get your physics right" (417).] For this reason, and because he wants his book to be accessible to philosophers without technical training, Sklar devotes almost half of it to informal exposition of relevant mathematics and physics.
  3. But he also insists, second, that getting the physics right is only part of the job. Many of the traditional philosophical debates about space and time survive reformulation in the context of relativity theory. Their resolution cannot simply be "read off" the physics. Quite the contrary, they bring one back to the most basic issues in the philosophy of science, e.g., conventionalism and the nature of reduction in science. Sklar does not take it as his task to resolve these issues. But he does try to map out the various positions that might be taken, sketch what he takes to be the best arguments for and against them, and systematically trace their interconnection with the questions about space and time which are his primary concern. In this way he hopes to correct a lack of philosophical sophistication that has too often marred technically competent work. ["The philosophy of physics has frequently suffered from wrongly or partially understood science. It has suffered even more ... from an extraordinarily myopic view of possible philosophical positions and of the arguments for and against them" (4).]
  4. The background technical and philosophical material that Sklar surveys is brought to bear on three central issues:
    • (i) the epistemic status of our ascriptions of geometric structure to space (or spacetime), i.e., the "epistemology of geometry";
    • (ii) "absolute vs. relative" concepts of space (or space-time); and
    • (iii) reductionist accounts of temporal relations.
    His principal concern throughout is with the structure of the various debates and the pattern of their interconnections. But in some cases he does take sides. In particular, he rejects the view of Reichenbach, Grunbaum, van Fraassen, et al. that temporal order relations can be fully analyzed in terms of more primitive physical relations (see section IV below).
  5. None of my reservations about the book apply to its basic conception. The emphasis on the "interdependence of science and philosophy" (2) and on the unavoidable confrontation with mainstream philosophical questions seems to me exactly right. Nor do they arise from dissatisfaction with what conclusions Sklar does allow himself. More often than not I am sympathetic. Rather, the reservations concern the page-to-page quality of both exposition and original philosophical argument.
  6. For organizational convenience, what follows is divided into four sections. The first deals with Sklar's handling of technical material. The next three outline his treatment of the three topics in the philosophy of space and time listed above. Needless to say, the outline is fragmentary. Only a few of Sklar's points are examined in any detail, and many are not touched at all.
Final Paragraph
    I am troubled by quite a few points in Sklar's discussion which I cannot discuss here. Still I think that his critique of the reductionist position is the most successful part of the book. At least in broad outline, it seems to me sound. The views of Reichenbach, Grunbaum, van Fraassen, et al. remain dogma in some circles. It is to be hoped that Sklar's heresy will be influential.

Comment:

Review of "Sklar (Lawrence) - Space, Time and Spacetime"

Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)

  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2018
  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)



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