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Against Pointillisme about Mechanics

Jeremy Butterfield
The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science
Vol. 57, No. 4 (Dec., 2006), pp. 709-753
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4489092
Page Count: 45
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Against Pointillisme about Mechanics
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Abstract

This paper forms part of a wider campaign: to deny pointillisme, the doctrine that a physical theory's fundamental quantities are defined at points of space or of spacetime, and represent intrinsic properties of such points or point-sized objects located there; so that properties of spatial or spatiotemporal regions and their material contents are determined by the point-by-point facts. More specifically, this paper argues against pointillisme about the concept of velocity in classical mechanics; especially against proposals by Tooley, Robinson and Lewis. A companion paper argues against pointillisme about (chrono)-geometry, as proposed by Bricker. To avoid technicalities, I conduct the argument almost entirely in the context of "Newtonian" ideas about space and time, and the classical mechanics of point-particles, i.e. extensionless particles moving in a void. But both the debate and my arguments carry over to relativistic physics.

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