The Hole Argument Against Everything

Research paper by Joshua Norton

Indexed on: 17 Sep '19Published on: 03 May '19Published in: Foundations of Physics


The Hole Argument was originally formulated by Einstein and it haunted him as he struggled to understand the meaning of spacetime coordinates in the context of the diffeomorphism invariance of general relativity. This argument has since been put to philosophical use by Earman and Norton (Br J Philos Sci 515–525, 1987) to argue against a substantival conception of spacetime. In the present work I demonstrate how Earman and Norton’s Hole Argument can be extended to exclude everything and not merely substantival manifolds. These casualties of the hole demonstrate that the Hole Argument hinges essentially on our notion of determinism and not on the diffeomorphic freedom of general relativity. Just as Earman and Norton argue that we should not let our metaphysics run roughshod over the structure of our physical theories, so I will argue that, in particular, we should not uncritically allow our metaphysics to dictate what our physical theories must determine. The central conviction which drives the arguments of this paper is that deterministic theories are not required to determine for future moments what they cannot determine for any present or past moments. I provide two arguments to the effect that a physically informed notion of determinism does not require general relativity to determine substantival facts. Consequently the Hole Argument cannot be used against substantival spacetime. The position that I advocate is an instance of “sophisticated determinism.”