Talking at cross-purposes: how Einstein and the logical empiricists never agreed on what they were disagreeing about

Giovanelli, Marco
November 2013
Synthese;Nov2013, Vol. 190 Issue 17, p3819
Academic Journal
By inserting the dialogue between Einstein, Schlick and Reichenbach into a wider network of debates about the epistemology of geometry, this paper shows that not only did Einstein and Logical Empiricists come to disagree about the role, principled or provisional, played by rods and clocks in General Relativity, but also that in their lifelong interchange, they never clearly identified the problem they were discussing. Einstein’s reflections on geometry can be understood only in the context of his ”measuring rod objection” against Weyl. On the contrary, Logical Empiricists, though carefully analyzing the Einstein–Weyl debate, tried to interpret Einstein’s epistemology of geometry as a continuation of the Helmholtz–Poincaré debate by other means. The origin of the misunderstanding, it is argued, should be found in the failed appreciation of the difference between a “Helmholtzian” and a “Riemannian” tradition. The epistemological problems raised by General Relativity are extraneous to the first tradition and can only be understood in the context of the latter, the philosophical significance of which, however, still needs to be fully explored.


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