Albert Einstein (1879–1955) was the most influential physicist of the 20th century. Less well known is that fundamental philosophical problems, such as concept formation, the role of epistemology in developing and explaining the character of physical theories, and the debate between positivism and realism, played a central role in his thought as a whole.
Thomas Ryckman shows that already at the beginning of his career - at a time when the twin pillars of classical physics, Newtonian mechanics and Maxwell’s electromagnetism were known to have but limited validity - Einstein sought to advance physical theory by positing certain physical principles as secure footholds. That philosophy produced his greatest triumph, the general theory of relativity, and his greatest failure, an unwillingness to accept quantum mechanics. This book shows that Einstein’s philosophy grew from a lifelong aspiration for a unified theoretical representation encompassing all physical phenomena. It also considers how Einstein’s theories of relativity and criticisms of quantum theory shaped the course of 20th-century philosophy of science.
Including a chronology, glossary, chapter summaries, and suggestions for further reading, Einstein is an ideal introduction to this iconic figure in 20th-century science and philosophy. It is essential reading for students of philosophy of science, and is also suitable for those working in related areas such as physics, history of science, or intellectual history.
Table of Contents
1. Life and Works
Part 1: Quantum theory
2. On the road to Planck 1900
3. Contributions to the old quantum theory
4. Quantum mechanics
Part 2: Relativity
5. Special relativity
6. General relativity
Part 3: Geometry and philosophy
7. Geometry and experience
8. Philosophy of science – realism
9. Philosophy of science – constructivism
10. Philosophy of science – rationalism
11. Influence and Legacy
Thomas Ryckman is Professor of Philosophy at Stanford University, USA. He is author of The Reign of Relativity: Philosophy in Physics 1915–1925 (2005).
"In this well-written and thoroughly researched book, Thomas Ryckman presents Albert Einstein as both a physicist and a philosopher. The discussion of Einstein's often neglected work in statistical mechanics and the brilliant description of the famous Bohr-Einstein debates are the best I've seen anywhere. I learned a lot from this book, and you will too." - James Trefil, George Mason University, USA
"Ryckman’s book is a thoroughly researched and very clearly presented guide to Einstein's evolving philosophy of science. It offers illuminating insights into how Einstein constantly reformulated his philosophical views about science in the light of the revolutionary developments within theoretical physics itself." - Lawrence Sklar, University of Michigan, USA
"A masterful book. Ryckman discusses how Einstein’s philosophical positions were forged in his struggle with classical physics, relativity and quantum theory. He describes the history and philosophical significance of these struggles in a way that is accessible to students of philosophy without a background in physics, yet stays away from oversimplifications. I can only marvel at how Ryckman achieved this feat!" - Dennis Lehmkuhl, California Institute of Technology, USA