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Annali di Matematica Pura ed Applicata

, Volume 57, Issue 1, pp 257–282 | Cite as

The special theory of relativity as a case study of the importance of the philosophy of science for the history of science

  • Adolf Grünbaum
Article

Summary

1. The philosophical justification of Einstein's conception of distant simultaneity as conventional depends on two cardinal physical assumptions which are stated. Awareness of these two assumptions poses the following historical problem: On what grounds didEinstein feel entitled to make them in 1905? In an endeavor to answer this question, the contribution of experimental results to Einstein's postulational achievement in the Special Theory of Relativity («RT») is examined. As a consequence, the author rejects (i)M. Polanyi's recent citation of the history of RT as evidence against an empiricist account of scientific knowledge, and (ii)G. Holton's assessment of the relevance of knowledge of the history of RT to the philosophical mastery of its logical foundations.

2. An analysis of theKennedy-Thorndike experiment is used to provide a refutation of the widespread belief that the aether-theoreticLorentz-Fitzgerald contraction hypothesis was ad hoc in the logical sense. A distinction is drawn between a logical and a psychological sense in which an auxiliary hypothesis can be ad hoc.

3.E. T. Whittaker's disparaging estimate ofEinstein's contributions to RT vis -à -vis those ofLorentz andPoincare is shown to rest on fundamental philosophical misunderstandings ofEinstein's conception of theLorentz transformations.Holton's maxim for the study of the history of RT is then tested in the light of his evaluation ofWhittaker's belittlement ofEinstein's role.

Keywords

Scientific Knowledge Special Theory Logical Foundation Widespread Belief Physical Assumption 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Literatur

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Copyright information

© Nicola Zanichelli Editore 1962

Authors and Affiliations

  • Adolf Grünbaum
    • 1
  1. 1.University of PittsburghU.S.A.

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