Time in the Special Theory of Relativity

Steven Savitt

in The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Time

Published in print April 2011 | ISBN: 9780199298204
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191728372 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Philosophy

Time in the Special Theory of Relativity

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Restricted to special relativity, this chapter observes that the most significant change in the concept of time is certainly the relativity of simultaneity. What events are simultaneous with some event for one observer are different from those that are simultaneous with respect to an object traveling in a different inertial frame. Many believe that this relativity can play a role in an argument for eternalism. This chapter critically surveys these arguments before taking on the implications of relativity for the metaphysics of time. It also tackles the conventionality of simultaneity. Many philosophers of science, especially during the early days of relativity, felt that simultaneity is not only relative but also conventional—there is a crucial element of choice in deciding what events are simultaneous for any other in a given inertial reference frame, so that there is no fact of the matter about what is simultaneous.

Keywords: special relativity; simultaneity; concept of time; inertial frame; metaphysics of time; conventionality; eternalism

Article.  13031 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Science ; Metaphysics

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