Philosophy Space and Time
by
Alasdair Richmond
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 September 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 10 May 2010
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0115

Introduction

The nature of space and time has provided a focus for sustained philosophical debate for centuries and has inspired some fascinating interactions between metaphysics and physics. Although many of the entries presented herein could easily be expanded into bibliographies in their own right, the included will observe certain restrictions and will not, for example, deal with significant related areas such as personal identity, causation, freedom, or mereology. It would be easy to let issues about time predominate to the virtual exclusion of space, and this bibliography inevitably offers more coverage of issues to do with time than space. However, in an attempt to ensure that key topics in the philosophy of space are not entirely neglected, considerations of balance have dictated that only minimal references are made here to debates over, for example, the directionality of time or time as construed in quantum theory. The works selected for this bibliography concentrate primarily on current work in space and time but also include some pointers to earlier significant discussions such as the absolutist/relationalist debate and arguments for antirealism about space and time. Recent work has focused especially on the metaphysical and semantic problems posed by time, but live issues in the philosophy of space still attract discussion, including the nature of space as substance or ontological commitment and the impact of higher-dimensional spaces on physical and metaphysical issues. One area of rapidly expanding interest concerns the impact that different varieties of space-time might have on the scope of computation. Some relativistic space-times seem to offer the prospect of allowing one observer to access in a finite time the proceeds of another observer’s infinite-time task. In such space-times, the effectively computable outstrips the Turing-computable and the Church–Turing thesis fails. Another issue of recently growing popularity is time travel, increasingly being considered under diverse physical and metaphysical aspects and not just as a source of logical paradoxes.

General Overviews

The best overviews in book form are listed in Textbooks—notably Dainton 2001 and Turetzky 1990. A number of good survey articles may be found in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. For example, Hawley 2008 provides an ideal introduction to several key debates in and around the topic of persistence, and Savitt 2008 situates classic debates over the status of temporal becoming in the often tangled deliverances of modern physics. Reichenbach 1958 is an effective introduction to the philosophy of space and time from a logical empiricist perspective. Le Poidevin 1999 surveys some of the most important areas in the metaphysics of time during a crucial renaissance of that field. Richmond 2003 tries to survey all the major strands in the philosophical time-travel debate from about 1976 to 2002. Swinburne 1968 manages, without taking a partisan stance on matters of substance, to offer illuminating thoughts on a large number of distinct issues.

  • Hawley, Katherine. “Temporal Parts.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. Stanford, CA: Stanford University, 2008.

    E-mail Citation »

    Comprehensive and evenhanded survey of the issues between endurantists and perdurantists, including useful sketches of these doctrines plus stage theory. Contains a very useful bibliography. (Essay written in 2004.)

  • Le Poidevin, Robin. “Recent Work on Time.” Philosophical Books 40 (1999): 1–9.

    DOI: 10.1111/1468-0149.00128E-mail Citation »

    Survey article on the preceding five years’ worth of work on (mainly) metaphysical issues centering on tense, directionality, and space-time.

  • Reichenbach, Hans. The Philosophy of Space & Time. Translated by Maria Reichenbach and John Freund. New York: Dover Publications, 1958.

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    Focusing primarily on (1) the impact of the discovery of non-Euclidean geometries and (2) the methods and implications of relativity. Includes classic logical-empiricist accounts of conventionality of simultaneity, clock transport, and Lorentz equivalence.

  • Richmond, Alasdair. “Recent Work: Time Travel.” Philosophical Books 44 (2003): 297–309.

    DOI: 10.1111/1468-0149.00308E-mail Citation »

    Survey of the time-travel debate from David Lewis 1976 onward, sketching links with debates in persistence, philosophy of space-time, and temporal topology.

  • Savitt, Steven. “Being and Becoming in Modern Physics.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. Stanford, CA: Stanford University, 2008.

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    Places the debates over, for example, the status of temporal becoming and John M. E. McTaggart’s views on the unreality of time (see McTaggart 1921–1927), among others, in the contexts provided by modern physics. Good coverage and a helpful bibliography. (Essay written in 2001.)

  • Swinburne, Richard. Space and Time. 2d ed. London: Macmillan, 1980.

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    An attempt to elucidate both the logical and physical structure of space and time. Perhaps more controversial than a textbook but of remarkable coverage. Originally printed in 1968 (also in London, by Macmillan).

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