Jill North, Rutgers University
The Structure of Spacetime: A New Approach to the Spacetime Ontology Debate
The debate about spacetime ontology should not be understood as being simply about
whether spacetime exists. Properly understood, it is a debate about the fundamental nature of
the physical world; in particular, it is about whether spatiotemporal structure is fundamental.
The substantivalist says that spatiotemporal structure is fundamental. The relationalist says
that spatiotemporal structure is not fundamental, but holds in virtue of the relations among
material objects. This is a new way of framing the debate, which captures the spirit of the
traditional one. At the same time, this new conception of the dispute clarifies the point of
contention between the two views, and offsets worries that the dispute is irremediably
stagnant or non-substantive. It also unearths a novel argument for substantivalism, given
much of current physics. Nonetheless, that conclusion can be overridden by future physics. I
conclude that the debate about spacetime ontology, properly understood, is a substantive
dispute, which the substantivalist is currently winning.