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Against Pointillisme about Geometry and about Mechanics

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Jeremy Nicholas Butterfield.

This talk corresponds to two papers which form part of a wider campaign: to deny {\em pointillisme}. That is 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, one paper argues against {\em pointillisme} about the structure of space and-or spacetime itself, especially a paper by Bricker (1993). The other paper argues against {\em pointillisme} about the concept of velocity in classical mechanics; especially against proposals by Tooley, Robinson and Lewis.

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, and even quantum, physics.

The papers are available on the Pittsburgh e-arXive for philosophy of science; at: And at

This talk is part of the Philosophy of Physics series.

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