Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Professor Robert DiSalle


This thesis is a contribution to the foundations of space-time theories. It examines the proper understanding of the Newtonian and 1905 inertial frame concepts and the critical analysis of these concepts that was motivated by the equivalence principle. This is the hypothesis that it is impossible to distinguish locally between a homogeneous gravitational field and a uniformly accelerated frame.

The three essays that comprise this thesis address, in one way or another, the criteria through which the inertial frame concepts are articulated. They address the place of these concepts in the conceptual framework of physics and their significance for our understanding of space and time.

In Chapter 2, I examine two claims that arise in Brown’s (2005) account of inertia. Brown claims there is something objectionable about the way in which the motions of free particles in Newtonian theory and special relativity are coordinated. Brown also claims that since a geodesic principle can be derived in Einsteinian gravitation the objectionable feature is explained away. I argue that there is nothing objectionable about inertia and that, while the theorems that motivate Brown’s claim can be said to figure in a deductive-nomological explanation, their main contribution lies in their explication rather than their explanation of inertial motion.

In Chapter 3, I examine Friedman’s recent approach to the analysis of physical theories (2001; 2010a; 2010b; 2011). Friedman argues that the identification of certain principles as ‘constitutive’ is essential to the correct methodological analysis of physics. I explicate Friedman’s characterisation of a constitutive principle and his account of the constitutive principles that Newtonian and Einsteinian gravitation presuppose for their formulation. I argue that something very close to Friedman’s view is defensible.

In Chapter 4, I examine the so-called background-independence that Einsteinian gravitation is said to exemplify. This concept has figured in the work of Rovelli (2001; 2004), Smolin (2006), Giulini (2007), and Belot (2011), among others. I propose three ways of fixing the extension of background-independence, and I argue that there is something chimaerical about the concept. I argue, however, that there is a proposal that clarifies the feature of Einsteinian gravitation that motivates the concept.