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Two Challenges to the Requirement of Substantive General Covariance

J. Earman
Synthese
Vol. 148, No. 2 (Jan., 2006), pp. 443-468
Published by: Springer
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20118700
Page Count: 26
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Two Challenges to the Requirement of Substantive General Covariance
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Abstract

It is generally acknowledged that the requirement that the laws of a space-time theory be covariant under a general coordinate transformation is a restriction on the form but not the content of the theory. The prevalent view in the physics community holds that the substantive version of general covariance -- exhibited, for example, by Einstein's general theory of relativity -- consists in the requirement that diffeomorphism invariance is a gauge symmetry of the theory. This conception of general covariance is explained and confronted by two challenges. One challenge claims, in effect, that substantive general covariance is not deserving of the name since, just as it is possible to rewrite any spacetime so that it satisfies formal general covariance, so it is also possible to rewrite the theory so that it satisfies the proffered version of substantive general covariance. The other challenge claims that the proffered version of substantive general covariance is not strong enough to guarantee the intended meaning of general covariance. Both challenges are discussed in terms of concrete examples. It is argued that both challenges fail but, at the same time, that they help to clarify what is at stake on the seemingly never ending dispute over the nature and status of general covariance.

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