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Inertial motion, explanation, and the foundations of classical spacetime theories

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  • Classical Physics
  • Explanation
  • Physics
  • Relativity Theory
  • Structure Of Theories
  • Earth Science
  • Mathematics
  • Physics


I begin by reviewing some recent work on the status of the geodesic principle in general relativity and the geometrized formulation of Newtonian gravitation. I then turn to the question of whether either of these theories might be said to ``explain'' inertial motion. I argue that there is a sense in which both theories may be understood to explain inertial motion, but that the sense of ``explain'' is rather different from what one might have expected. This sense of explanation is connected with a view of theories---I call it the ``puzzleball view''---on which the foundations of a physical theory are best understood as a network of mutually interdependent principles and assumptions.

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