Correspondence, Invariance and Heuristics in the Emergence of Special Relativity

  • Harvey R. Brown
Part of the Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science book series (BSPS, volume 148)


“It is particularly interesting to point to progress in science towards new, better theories, entirely guided by factors internal to the old theory.” In his provocative 1971 essay on the ‘rationale’ of scientific discovery (Post 1971), Heinz Post gave this as one of the reasons for embarking on such a study. In the case of the emergence of special relativity, one of the four scientific revolutions Post discussed in defending his rationale of ‘conservative induction’, the observation is particularly apt. In the present paper, I want first to elaborate on this theme. Einstein’s 1905 postulates have larger “footprints” — to borrow Post’s term — in the “old theory” (if by this is meant the assortment of Maxwell-Lorentz ether electrodynamics, classical mechanics and thermodynamics) than is perhaps still widely appreciated.


Special Relativity Inertial Frame Lorentz Transformation Classical Electrodynamic Relativity Principle 
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.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Anandan, J. (1980), ‘On the Hypotheses Underlying Physical Geometry’, Foundations of Physics, 10, pp. 601–629.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Anandan, J. (1991), ‘A Geometric Approach to Quantum Mechanics’, Foundations of Physics, 21, pp. 1265–1284.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Anderson, J.L. (1967), Principles of Relativity Physics, Academic Press, New York.Google Scholar
  4. Barbour, J.B. (1989), Absolute or Relative Motion? Vol. I: The Discovery of Dynamics, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.Google Scholar
  5. Bell, J.S. (1976), ‘How to Teach Special Relativity’, Progress in Scientific Culture, 1 (2); also in J.S. Bell, Speakable and Unspeakable in Quantum Mechanics, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 67–80.Google Scholar
  6. Berzi, V. and Gorini, V. (1969), ‘Reciprocity Principle and the Lorentz Transformations’, Journal of Mathematical Physics, 10, pp. 1518–1524.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bogoslovsky, G.Y. (1977), ‘A Special-Relativistic Theory of the Locally Anisotropic Space-Time’, Il Nuovo Cimento, 40B, pp. 99–115, 116–133.Google Scholar
  8. Brown, H.R. (1990), ‘Does the Principle of Relativity Imply Winnie’s (1970) Equal Passage Times Principle?’, Philosophy of Science, 57, pp. 313–324.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Brown, H.R. and Maia, A. (1992), ‘Light-speed Constancy versus Light-Speed Invariance in the Derivation of Relativistic Kinematics’, British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, forthcoming.Google Scholar
  10. Budden, T. (1992), ‘The Relativity Principle and the Isotropy of Boosts’, in D. Hull, M. Forbes and K, Okruhlik (eds.), PSA 1992, Volume 1, Philosophy of Science Association, East Lansing, Michigan, 1992, pp. 528–541.Google Scholar
  11. Earman, J. (1974), ‘Covariance, Invariance, and the Equivalence of Frames’, Foundations of Physics, 4, pp. 267–289.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Earman, J. (1989), ‘Locality, Nonlocality and Action at a Distance: a Skeptical Review of Some Philosophical Dogmas’, in R. Kargon and P. Achinstein (eds.), Kelvin’s Baltimore Lectures and Modern Theoretical Physics, MIT Press, Cambridge, pp. 449–490.Google Scholar
  13. Earman, J. (1990), World Enough and Space-Time, Absolute versus Relational Theories of Space and Time, The MIT Press, Cambridge.Google Scholar
  14. Ehlers, J., Pirani, F.A.E., and Schild, A. (1972), ‘The Geometry of Free Fall and Light Propagation’ in L. O’Raifeartaigh (ed.), General Relativity: Papers in Honour of J.L. Synge, Clarendon, Oxford, pp. 63–84.Google Scholar
  15. Einstein, A. (1905), ‘Zur Electrodynamik bewegter Körper’, Annalen der Physik, 17 (4), pp. 891–921.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Einstein, A (1907), ‘Relativitätsprinzip und die aus demselben gezogenen Folgerungen’, Jahrbuch der Radioaktivität, 4, pp. 411–462; 5, pp. 98–99 (Berichtigungen).Google Scholar
  17. Einstein, A. (1969), ‘Autobiographical Notes’, in P.A. Schilpp (ed.), Albert Einstein: Philosopher-Scientist, Open Court, La Salle Illinois, 3rd ed.Google Scholar
  18. Fock, V. (1959), The Theory of Space, Time and Gravitation, Pergamon, London.Google Scholar
  19. Friedman, M. (1983), Foundations of Space-Time Theories, Princeton University Press, Princeton.Google Scholar
  20. Hirosige, T. (1969), ‘Origins of Lorentz’ Theory of Electrons and the Concept of the Electromagnetic Field’, Historical Studies in the Physical Sciences, 1, pp. 1561–269.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hirosige, T. (1976), ‘The Ether Problem, the Mechanistic Worldview, and the Origins of the Theory of Relativity’, Historical Studies in the Physical Sciences, 7, pp. 3–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Hoffman, B. (1982), ‘Some Einstein Anomalies’, in G. Holton and Y. Elkana (eds.), Albert Einstein; Historical and Cultural Perspectives, The Centennial Symposium in Jerusalem, Princeton University Press, Princeton.Google Scholar
  23. Jackson, J.D. (1967), Classical Electrodynamics, John Wiley and Sons, New York.Google Scholar
  24. Lucas, J.R. and Hodgson, P.E. (1990), Spacetime and Electromagnetism, Clarendon Press, Oxford.Google Scholar
  25. Marzke, R.F. and Wheeler, J.A. (1964), ‘Gravitation as Geometry–I: The Geometry of SpaceTime and the Geometrodynamical Standard Meter’, in H. Y. Chiu, and W. F. Hoffman (eds.), Gravitation and Geometry, Benjamin, New York, pp. 40–64.Google Scholar
  26. Miller, A.I. (1981), Albert Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity, Addison-Wesley, Mass.Google Scholar
  27. Newton, I. (1934), Sir Isaac Newton’s Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy and his System of the World, trans. by A. Motte 1729, revised by F. Cajori, University of California Press, Berkeley.Google Scholar
  28. Norton, J. (1989), ‘Coordinates and Covariance: Einstein’s View of Space-Time and the Modern View’, Foundations of Physics, 19, pp. 1215–1263.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Nugaev, R.M. (1988), ‘Special Relativity as a Stage in the Development of Quantum Theory’, Historia Scientiarum, 34, pp. 57–79.Google Scholar
  30. Panofsky, W.K.H. and Phillips, M. (1962), Classical Electricity and Magnetism, Addison-Wesley, Reading, Mass.Google Scholar
  31. Pauli, W. (1981), Theory of Relativity, Dover; English translation of ‘Relativitätstheorie’, Encyclopädie der matematischen Wissenschaften, Vol. V19, B.G. Teubner, Liepzig, 1921.Google Scholar
  32. Penrose, R. (1987), ‘Newton, Quantum theory and Reality’, in S. Hawking and W. Israel (eds.), Three Hundred Years of Gravitation, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 17–49.Google Scholar
  33. Post, H. (1971), ‘Correspondence, Invariance and Heuristics; In Praise of Conservative Induction’, Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science, 2, pp. 213–255.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Rindler, W. (1985), Introduction to Special Relativity, Oxford University Press, Oxford.Google Scholar
  35. Saunders, S.W. and Brown, H.R. (1991), ‘Reflections on ether’, in S.W. Saunders and H.R. Brown (eds.), The Philosophy of Vacuum, Clarendon Press, Oxford, pp. 27–63.Google Scholar
  36. Sklar, L. (1977), ‘Facts, Conventions, and Assumptions in the Theory of Spacetime’, in J. Earman, C. Glymour, and J. Stachel (eds.), Foundations of Space-Time Theories, Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science, Vol. 8, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, pp. 206–274; also in L. Sklar, Philosophy and Spacetime Physics, University of California Press, 1985, Chapter 3.Google Scholar
  37. Stachel, J. (1982), ‘Einstein and Michelson, the Context of Discovery and the Context of Justification’, Astronomische Nachrichten, 303, pp. 47–53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Stiegler, K.D. (1952), ‘Sur le principe de la constance de la vitesse de la lumière’, Comptes Rendus, 234, pp. 1250–1252.Google Scholar
  39. Synge, J.L. (1965), Relativity: The Special Theory, North Holland, Amsterdam.Google Scholar
  40. Sypel, R., and Brown, H.R. (1992), ‘When is a Physical Theory Relativistic?’, in D. Hull, M.Google Scholar
  41. Forbes and K. Okruhlik (eds.), PSA 1992, Volume 1, Philosophy of Science Association, East Lansing, Michigan, 1992, pp. 507–514.Google Scholar
  42. Taylor, E.F. and Wheeler, J.A. (1966), Spacetime Physics, W. H. Freeman and Company. Torretti, R. (1983), Relativity and Geometry, Pergamon, Oxford.Google Scholar
  43. Torretti, R. (1990), Creative Understanding: Philosophical Reflections on Physics, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.Google Scholar
  44. Tzanakis, C. and Kyritsis, C. (1984), ‘On Special Relativity’s Second Postulate’, Annales de la Fondation Louis de Broglie, 9, pp. 343–352.Google Scholar
  45. Weingard, R. and Smith, G. (1986), ‘Critical Notice: Michael Friedman’s Foundations of Space-Time Theories’, Philosophy of Science, 53, pp. 286–299.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Winnie, J. (1970), ‘Special Relativity without One Way Velocity Assumptions’, Philosophy of Science, 37, pp. 81–99, 223–238.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  • Harvey R. Brown
    • 1
  1. 1.Sub-Faculty of PhilosophyUniversity of OxfordUK

Personalised recommendations