Space and Time: Inertial Frames

Abstract

A “frame of reference” is a standard relative to which motion and rest may be measured; any set of points or objects that are at rest relative to one another enables us, in principle, to describe the relative motions of bodies. A frame of reference is therefore a purely kinematical device, for the geometrical description of motion without regard to the masses or forces involved. A dynamical account of motion leads to the idea of an “inertial frame,” or a reference frame relative to which motions have distinguished dynamical properties. For that reason an inertial frame has to be understood as a spatial reference frame together with some means of measuring time, so that uniform motions can be distinguished from accelerated motions. The laws of Newtonian dynamics provide a simple definition: an inertial frame is a reference-frame with a time-scale, relative to which the motion of a body not subject to forces is always rectilinear and uniform, accelerations are always proportional to and in the direction of applied forces, and applied forces are always met with equal and opposite reactions. It follows that, in an inertial frame, the center of mass of a system of bodies is always at rest or in uniform motion. It also follows that any other frame of reference moving uniformly relative to an inertial frame is also an inertial frame. For example, in Newtonian celestial mechanics, taking the “fixed stars” as a frame of reference, we can determine an inertial frame whose center is the center of mass of the solar system; relative to this frame, every acceleration of every planet can be accounted for as a gravitational interaction with some other planet in accord with Newton 's laws of motion

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Robert Disalle
Western University

Citations of this work

Classical Spacetime Structure.James Owen Weatherall - 2022 - In Eleanor Knox & Alastair Wilson (eds.), The Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Physics. London, UK: Routledge.
Time in the special theory of relativity.Steven Savitt & Roberto Torretti - 2011 - In Craig Callender (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Time. Oxford University Press. pp. 546--570.
On Mach on time.Karim P. Y. Thébault - 2021 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 89 (C):84-102.

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