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Einstein, Albert (1879–1955)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-Q028-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved March 25, 2019, from

Article Summary

Albert Einstein was a German-born Swiss and American naturalized physicist and the twentieth century’s most prominent scientist. He produced the special and general theories of relativity, which overturned the classical understanding of space, time and gravitation. According to the special theory (1905), uniformly moving observers with different velocities measure the same speed for light. From this he deduced that the length of a system shrinks and its clocks slow at speeds approaching that of light. The general theory (completed 1915) proceeds from Hermann Minkowski’s geometric formulation of special relativity as a four-dimensional spacetime. Einstein’s theory allows, however, that the geometry of spacetime may vary from place to place. This variable geometry or curvature is associated with the presence of gravitational fields. Acting through geometrical curvature, these fields can slow clocks and bend light rays.

Einstein made many fundamental contributions to statistical mechanics and quantum theory, including the demonstration of the atomic character of matter and the proposal that light energy is organized in spatially discrete light quanta. In later life, he searched for a unified theory of gravitation and electromagnetism as an alternative to the quantum theory developed in the 1920s. He complained resolutely that this new quantum theory was not complete. Einstein’s writings in philosophy of science developed a conventionalist position, stressing our freedom to construct theoretical concepts; his later writings emphasized his realist tendencies and the heuristic value of the search for mathematically simple laws.

Citing this article:
Fine, Arthur et al. Einstein, Albert (1879–1955), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-Q028-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2019 Routledge.

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