Relationalism about mechanics based on a minimalist ontology of matter

  • Antonio Vassallo
  • Dirk-André Deckert
  • Michael Esfeld
Original Paper in Philosophy of Physics


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 an 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 theoretical 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.


Relationalism Parsimony Atomism Matter points Ontic structural realism Humeanism Classical mechanics 



We are grateful to Vincent Lam, Dustin Lazarovici, Andrea Oldofredi and Christian Wüthrich for helpful discussions. A. Vassallo’s work on this paper was supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation, grant no. 105212_149650, while D.-A. Deckert’s work was funded by the junior research group grant Interaction between Light and Matter of the Elite Network of Bavaria.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculté des Lettres, Section de PhilosophieUniversité de LausanneLausanneSwitzerland
  2. 2.Mathematisches InstitutLudwig-Maximilians-Universität MünchenMünchenGermany

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