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action at a distance

Subject Philosophy

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405106795.2004.x


M etaphysics, philosophy of physics Action at a distance is contrasted to action by contact or local action. Whether one thing can act on another at a distance without postulating some kind of intervening medium as involved in the interaction has been a topic of debate in physics and philosophy since ancient Greece. The dominant tendency is to reject any such possibility. Atomism claims that atoms cannot interact without contact. Aristotle believes that every object in local motion must have a conjoined mover. This is also the main attitude in physics and philosophy of the seventeenth and eigh-teenth centuries. Descartes , Newton , Locke , and Leibniz all reduce actions at a distance to actions through a medium of some sort, yielding actions that are continuous, although there is no agreement about what the medium is. In contemporary field theory the question is still disputed. The problem of action at a distance is related to the question of whether causality is something more than correlation. “The formula by which we determine what will happen in a given region will contain references to distant regions, and it may be said that this is all we can mean by ‘action at a distance’.” Russell, The Analysis of Matter ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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