More problems for Newtonian cosmology

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David Wallace
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I point out a radical indeterminism in potential-based formulations of Newtonian gravity once we drop the condition that the potential vanishes at infinity (as is necessary, and indeed celebrated, in cosmological applications). This indeterminism, which is well known in theoretical cosmology but has received little attention in foundational discussions, can be removed only by specifying boundary conditions at all instants of time, which undermines the theory's claim to be fully cosmological, i.e., to apply to the Universe as a whole. A recent alternative formulation of Newtonian gravity due to Saunders (Philosophy of Science 80 (2013) pp.22-48) provides a conceptually satisfactory cosmology but fails to reproduce the Newtonian limit of general relativity in homogenous but anisotropic universes. I conclude that Newtonian gravity lacks a fully satisfactory cosmological formulation.

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