On Mach On Time

Karim P Y Thebault*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Mach’s views on the nature of time have been unduly neglected. They are both more defensible in their own historical context and more relevant to our own contemporary context than has been appreciated. This essay provides an extended and comprehensive discussion of Mach’s writings on time offering novel analysis and interpretation. Contra the prevailing current in the secondary literature, Mach’s views on time are shown to be largely vindicated in the context of late nineteenth century physics. Then, building upon this more historical project, we conclude with a critical evaluation of the modern Machian view of time due to Barbour within the context of relativistic chronometry as instantiated via pulsar clocks and atomic clocks. Once more, considered analysis serves to support the Machian view. About time we go back to Mach.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)84-102
Number of pages19
JournalStudies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A
Early online date16 Aug 2021
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
I am deeply indebted to Ric Arthur, Julian Barbour, Ana-Maria Cre?u, Richard Dawid, Sam Fletcher, Sean Gryb, James Read, Bryan Roberts, and Tzu Chien Tho for insightful comments and discussions which have been invaluable in the development of this essay. Particular thanks also to Tzu Chien Tho for help with Latin and German translations and Richard Dawid and Radin Dardashti for help with German translations. ?Thanks also to David Cobb for valuable discussions regarding 'methodological empiricism'. I am also extremely grateful to members of reading groups at the University of California San Diego and the Rotman Institute of Philosophy for their kind invitation to discuss a draft version of the manuscript. The final manuscript undoubtedly profited hugely from these exchanges. Finally, I am grateful to a reviewer for providing helpful typographical and linguistic corrections. I take full credit for any errors, inaccuracies, or omissions.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Elsevier Ltd

Structured keywords

  • Centre for Science and Philosophy


  • mach
  • time
  • clocks


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