Gone Till November: A Disagreement in Einstein Scholarship

Part of the Boston Studies in the Philosophy and History of Science book series (BSPS, volume 319)


The present paper examines an episode from the historiography of the genesis of general relativity. Einstein rejected a certain theory in the so-called “Zurich notebook” in 1912–13, but he reinstated the same theory for a short period of time in the November of 1915. Why did Einstein reject the theory at first, and why did he change his mind later? The group of Einstein scholars who reconstructed Einstein’s reasoning in the Zurich notebook disagree on how to answer these questions. According to the “majority view”, Einstein was unaware of so-called “coordinate conditions”, and he relied on so-called “coordinate restrictions”. John Norton, on the other hand, claims that Einstein must have had coordinate conditions all along, but that he committed a different mistake, which he would repeat in the context of the famous “hole argument”. After an account of the two views, and of the reactions by the respective opponents, I will probe the two views for weaknesses, and try to determine how we might settle the disagreement. Finally, I will discuss emerging methodological issues.


Field Equation Ricci Tensor Coordinate Condition Independent Reality Newtonian Limit 
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.



I thank John Norton and Raphael Scholl for comments on previous drafts of the paper, and Tilman Sauer for comments and fruitful discussions concerning the genesis of GR.


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© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Universität Konstanz, FB PhilosophieKonstanzGermany

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