Literal vs. careful interpretations of scientific theories: the vacuum approach to the problem of motion in general relativity

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Lehmkuhl, Dennis
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conference paper description
The problem of motion in general relativity is about how exactly the gravitational field equations, the Einstein equations, are related to the equations of motion of material bodies subject to gravitational fields. This paper compares two approaches to derive the geodesic motion of (test) matter from the field equations: `the T approach' and `the vacuum approach'. The latter approach has been dismissed by philosophers of physics because it apparently represents material bodies by singularities. I shall argue that a careful interpretation of the approach shows that it does not depend on introducing singularities at all, and that it holds at least as much promise as the T approach. I conclude with some general lessons about careful vs. literal interpretations of scientific theories.