Whitehead was critical with respect to Poincaré’s conventionalism. However, Whitehead stood closer to Poincaré than Bertrand Russell when Russell invoked Poincaré’s conventionalism to highlight that the choice between Arthur Eddington’s orthodox interpretation of Einstein’s general theory of relativity on the one hand, and Whitehead’s alternative interpretation on the other, is not a matter of empirical fact, but a matter of convention. Whitehead shared two of the premises of Poincaré’s conventionalism: the physics-independence of geometry, and the choice of a physical geometry amongst geometries of constant curvature. This contributed significantly to his philosophical critique of Einstein, who held that the geometry of space-time depends on the physical distribution of matter, and that the non-homogeneity of this distribution (e.g., at the scale of the solar system) implies that the appropriate physical geometry is variably curved. Russell’s conventionalism, contrary to Whitehead’s view, did not take Poincaré’s premises into account, was shared by the logical positivists, and led to a philosophical defense of Einstein.

The text of this article is only available as a PDF.
You do not currently have access to this content.