On the ontology of particle mass and energy in special relativity

Synthese 198 (11):10817-10846 (2020)


Einstein claimed that the fundamental dynamical insight of special relativity was the equivalence of mass and energy. I disagree. Not only are mass and energy not equivalent but talk of such equivalence obscures the real dynamical insight of special relativity, which concerns the nature of 4-forces and interactions more generally. In this paper I present and defend a new ontology of special relativistic particle dynamics that makes this insight perspicuous and I explain how alleged cases of mass–energy conversion can be accommodated within that ontology.

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Kevin Coffey
New York University, Abu Dhabi

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