John Earman

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John Earman (born 1942) is a philosopher of physics. He is an emeritus professor in the History and Philosophy of Science department at the University of Pittsburgh. He has also taught at UCLA, the Rockefeller University, and the University of Minnesota, and was president of the Philosophy of Science Association. He received his PhD from Princeton in 1968.[1]


John Earman was born in Washington, D.C. in 1942 and earned his Ph.D. at Princeton University in 1968 with a dissertation on temporal asymmetry directed by Carl Gustav Hempel and Paul Benacerraf. After holding professorships at UCLA, the Rockefeller University, and the University of Minnesota, he joined the faculty of the History and Philosophy of Science department of the University of Pittsburgh in 1985.[2] He remained at Pittsburgh for the rest of his career, recently retiring to become Professor Emeritus. Earman is a former president of the Philosophy of Science Association and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and of the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences.[3] He is a member of the Archive Board of the Phil-Sci Archive.[4]

The hole argument[edit]

For more details on this topic, see hole argument.

Earman has notably contributed to debate about the "hole argument". The hole argument was invented for slightly different purposes by Albert Einstein late in 1913 as part of his quest for the general theory of relativity (GTR). It was revived and reformulated in the modern context by John3 (a short form for the "three Johns": John Earman, John Stachel, and John Norton).

With the GTR, the traditional debate between absolutism and relationalism has been shifted to whether or not spacetime is a substance, since the GTR largely rules out the existence of, e.g., absolute positions. The "hole argument" offered by John Earman is a powerful argument against manifold substantialism.

This is a technical mathematical argument but can be paraphrased as follows:

Define a function as the identity function over all elements over the manifold , excepting a small neighbourhood (topology) belonging to . Over , comes to differ from identity by a smooth function.

With use of this function we can construct two mathematical models, where the second is generated by applying to proper elements of the first, such that the two models are identical prior to the time , where is a time function created by a foliation of spacetime, but differ after .

These considerations show that, since substantialism allows the construction of holes, that the universe must, on that view, be indeterministic. Which, Earman argues, is a case against substantialism, as the case between determinism or indeterminism should be a question of physics, not of our commitment to substantialism.


A complete bibliography, including links to articles and books, can be found at Earman's personal website.


  • A Primer on Determinism
  • World Enough and Spacetime: Absolute vs. Relational Theories of Space and Time
  • Bayes or Bust: A Critical Examination of Bayesian Confirmation Theory
  • Bangs, Crunches, Whimpers and Shrieks: Singularities and Acausalities in Relativistic Spacetimes
  • Hume's Abject Failure: The Argument Against Miracles[5]

Selected/Recent Publications[edit]

  • "The ‘Past Hypothesis’: Not Even False," Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 37 (2006): 399-430.
  • "In the Beginning, At the End, and All in Between: Cosmological Aspects of Time," F. Stadler and M. Stöltzner (eds.), Time and History: Proceedings of the 28th International Ludwig Wittgenstein Symposium (Ontos-Verlag, 2006).
  • "Aspects of Determinism in Modern Physics" in J. Butterfield and J. Earman (eds.), Handbook of the Philosophy of Science. Philosophy of Physics (Elsevier, 2007).
  • "Essential Self-Adjointness: Implications for Determinism and the Classical-Quantum Correspondence," Synthese. 169 (1) p. 27-50.
  • "Do the Laws of Physics Forbid the Operation of Time Machines?" (coauthored with Christopher Smeenk and Christopher Wüthrich), Synthese. 169 (1) p. 91-124.
  • "Superselection Rules for Philosophers," Erkenntnis. 69 (3) p. 377-414.
  • "The Unruh Effect for Philosophers," Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B. 42 (2) p. 81-97.

See also[edit]