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Relationalism about mechanics based on a minimalist ontology of matter

Type of publication Peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Original article (peer-reviewed)
Author Vassallo Antonio , Deckert Dirk-André , Esfeld Michael ,
Project The metaphysics of physics: natural philosophy
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Original article (peer-reviewed)

Journal European Journal for Philosophy of Science
Volume (Issue) 7
Page(s) 299 - 318
Title of proceedings European Journal for Philosophy of Science
DOI 10.1007/s13194-016-0160-2


This paper elaborates on relationalism about space and time as motivated by a minimalist ontology of the physical world: there are only matter points that are individuated by the distance relations among them, with these relations changing. We assess two strategies to combine this ontology with physics, using classical mechanics as example: the Humean strategy adopts the standard, non-relationalist physical theories as they stand and interprets their formal apparatus as the means of bookkeeping of the change of the distance relations instead of committing us to additional elements of the ontology. The alternative theory strategy seeks to combine the relationalist ontology with a relationalist physical theory that reproduces the predictions of the standard theory in the domain where these are empirically tested. We show that, as things stand, this strategy cannot be accomplished without compromising a minimalist relationalist ontology.