A Brief Intro
major kinds of structural realism can be identified, each with its own
(1) Epistemic Structural Realism, or ESR for short, holds that our
epistemic access is restricted to structural features of the world.
The position can be traced back at least to the beginning of the 20th
century, namely to the independent work of Henri Poincaré and Bertrand
Russell. The latter's structuralist inclinations can be seen as early
Problems of Philosophy (1912). A fully-fledged account only emerged in
The Analysis of Matter (1927). There he argued that there are external
causes to our perception, admitting that we should “not expect to find
a demonstration that perceptions have external causes” (1927, 198). The
twentieth chapter of this book is devoted to a causal theory of
perception, rejecting “the view that perception gives direct knowledge
of external objects” (1927, 197). We only have direct epistemic access
to percepts, i.e. the items of our perception. The only way to attain
knowledge of the external world is to draw inferences from our
perceptions. To underwrite such inferences Russell employed a number of
principles. The most important of these are:
Helmholtz-Weyl Principle (H-W): Different effects (i.e. percepts) imply
different causes (i.e. stimuli/physical objects)) (1927, 255).*
Mirroring Relations Principle (MR): Relations between percepts mirror
(i.e. have the same logico-mathematical properties as) relations
between their non-perceptual causes (1927, 252).
Armed with these assumptions Russell argues that from the structure of
our perceptions we can “infer a great deal as to the structure of the
physical world, but not as to its intrinsic character” (1927, 400).
More precisely, he argues that there is at most an isomorphic relation
between the structure of our perceptions and the structure of the
The recent interest in structural realism was instigated by the
publication of John Worrall’s ‘Structural Realism: The Best of Both
Worlds?’ in 1989. The article is inspired by Poincaré's brand of ESR
which is more sensitive to the history of science. Worrall associates
the search for a lasting solution to the scientific realism debate with
the need to take into consideration two warring arguments: the
no-miracles argument (NMA) and the pessimistic meta-induction argument
(PMI). In short, PMI holds that since predictively successful
scientific theories have eventually been discarded, we have inductive
evidence that even our current theories, despite being even more
successful, will also be discarded one day. NMA holds that realism is
the only view that does not make the predictive success of science a
miracle. Worrall offers ESR as a weaker (in terms of epistemic
commitments) but more justifiable realist position that underwrites
both of these arguments, and situates itself midway between
constructive empiricism and traditional scientific realism. It
underwrites the NMA because it argues that the success of science
reflects the fact that we have got the structure of the world right. It
underwrites the PMI because it concedes that although there is radical
discontinuity in theory change, viz. where non-structural descriptions
of the nature of entities are involved, there is also considerable
continuity at the structural level.
Stathis Psillos calls the Russellian approach the ‘upward path’ to
structural realism, in contrast to the Poincaréan/Worrallian approach
or ‘downward path’ to structural realism. One important difference lies
in the way the two views are motivated. The Poincaréan approach takes
the preservation of structure through theory change as indicative of
its truth/approximate truth. The Russellian approach looks not in
history but in perception to provide a reconstruction of our
non-perceptual knowledge about the world. Another related difference
concerns the way in which structure gets demarcated. Worrall and Elie
Zahar (2001) favour the Ramsey sentence approach, while Ioannis Votsis
(2003, 2005) rejects it in favour of the notion of abstract structure
as it is explicated in Michael Redhead (2001). Of course the
disagreement is not merely a question of which formal tools are best
equipped for the job of representing the structure of the world but
also a question of how to draw the line between the structural and the
(2) Ontic Structural Realism, or OSR for short, holds that our ontology
is in some sense primarily structural in nature.
If this sounds sufficiently ambiguous, it is because there are so many
variants of OSR that it is difficult to formulate a commonly shared
view. OSR was proposed by James Ladyman (1998). The view was
developed jointly with Steven French. Together they argue that
structural realism should be understood not just as an epistemic but
also as an ontic position. The motivation for OSR draws on
underdetermination in modern, and particularly in quantum, physics.
Although originally promoted as the view that only structures exist,
i.e. objects can be no more than heuristic vehicles, the position has
mutated into a number of different variants. One such variant, which we
can call the ‘no individuals view’, denies the existence of individuals
but accepts the existence of objects and structures. If you’re
wondering what sort of objects these are, they are those for which the
law of identity does not hold (see, for example, Steven French and
Decio Krause 2006). Another variant, which we can call the ‘no
intrinsic natures view’, holds that there exist no intrinsic natures,
only haecceity-free individuals and structures (e.g. Ladyman et al.
2007). These two as well as the other main OSR alternatives are
wonderfully sketched out in Ladyman’s Structural Realism entry in the
Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy (2007).
(3) Methodological Structural Realism, or MSR for short, concentrates
on the role shared structure plays in characterising
scientific theories, in relating high-level theory to low-level data
and in identifying links between predecessor and successor theories
(see Katherine Brading and Elaine Landry 2006).
* The name 'Helmholtz-Weyl' is given by Stathis Psillos
(2001) because, according to him, it was they "who first enunciated
it". Though I kept the name, the principle goes at least as far back as
Descartes. Hume advertises in the Treatise that “Like causes still
produce like effects” (Book II, Part III, §1). This is the H-W
principle in contrapositive form. Similarly, Descartes in the sixth
Meditation says: "I safely conclude that there are in the bodies from
which the diverse perceptions of the senses proceed, certain varieties
corresponding to them, although, perhaps, not in reality like them; and
since, among these diverse perceptions of the senses, some are
agreeable, and others disagreeable, there can be no doubt that my body,
or rather my entire self, in as far as I am composed of body and mind,
may be variously affected, both beneficially and hurtfully, by
Brading, K. and E. Landry (2006) ‘Scientific Structuralism:
Presentation and Representation’, Philosophy of Science,
French, S. and D. Krause (2006) Identity in Physics: A
Philosophical and Formal Analysis, Oxford: Oxford University
Frigg, R. and I. Votsis (2011) ‘Everything you Always Wanted to Know
about Structural Realism but Were Afraid to Ask’, European
Philosophy of Science, 2011, vol. 1(2): 227–276.
Ladyman, J. (1998) ‘What is Structural Realism?’, Studies in
and Philosophy of Science, vol. 29: 409-424.
Ladyman, J. (2007) ‘Structural Realism’, The Stanford
Philosophy, Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL
Ladyman, J. and D. Ross (with D. Spurrett and J. Collier) (2007) Every
Thing Must Go: Metaphysics Naturalised, Oxford: Oxford
Poincaré, H. (1952) Science and Hypothesis,
New York: Dover.
Psillos, S. (2001) ‘Is Structural Realism Possible?’, Philosophy
Science, vol. 68: S13-24.
Redhead, M.L.G. (2001) ‘The Intelligibility of the Universe’, in
A.O'Hear (ed.) Philosophy at the New Millennium,
Russell, B. (1912) The Problems of Philosophy,
Russell, B. (1927) The Analysis of Matter,
London: George Allen
Votsis, I. (2003) ‘Is Structure not Enough?’, Philosophy of
vol. 70(5): 879-890.
Votsis, I. (2005) ‘The Upward Path to Structural Realism’, Philosophy
of Science, vol. 72(5): 1361-1372.
Worrall, J. (1989) ‘Structural Realism: The Best of Both Worlds?’ in
Papineau, D. (ed.) The Philosophy of Science,
Oxford: Oxford University
Worrall, J. and E. Zahar (2001) ‘Ramseyfication and Structural
Realism’, Appendix IV in E. Zahar, Poincaré's Philosophy:
Conventionalism to Phenomenology, Chicago and La Salle (IL):
I started compiling this bibliography for the Structuralist project at
the Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science when I was
still a PhD student at the London School of Economics. The project is
defunct since 2004 but I continue to conduct research on Structural
Realism so I decided to resuscitate the bibliography with the aim to
facilitate further research. I hope to be able to provide
regular updates. If you think there are relevant references that are
not included in this bibliography please contact me:
Ioannis Votsis - ioannis.votsis
This list was last updated on 29 June 2020
Ainsworth, P. M. (2009) Newman's objection. The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 60(1), 135-171.
Ainsworth, P. M. (2010) What is ontic structural realism? Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics, 41(1), 50-57.
Ainsworth, P. (2011) Ontic structural realism and the principle of the identity of indiscernibles. Erkenntnis, 75(1), 67-84.
Ainsworth, P. M. (2012) The third path to structural realism. HOPOS: The Journal of the International Society for the History of Philosophy of Science, 2(2), 307-320.
Arenhart, J. R. B., & Bueno, O. (2015) Structural realism and the nature of structure. European journal for philosophy of science, 5(1), 111-139.
Asay, J. (2019) Going local: a defense of methodological localism about scientific realism. Synthese, 196(2), 587-609.
Bain, J. (1998) Representations of Spacetime: Formalism
and Ontological Commitment, unpublished Thesis, University
Bain, J. (2013) Category-theoretic structure and radical ontic structural realism. Synthese, 190(9), 1621-1635.
Beni, M. D. (2015) Structural realism without metaphysics: Notes on Carnap’s measured pragmatic structural realism. Organon F, 22(3), 302-324.
Beni, M. D. (2016) Epistemic informational structural realism. Minds and Machines, 26(4), 323-339.
Beni, M. D. (2016) Structural realist account of the self. Synthese, 193(12), 3727-3740.
Beni, M. D. (2017) Reconstructing the upward path to structural realism. European journal for philosophy of science, 7(3), 393-409.
Beni, M. D. (2017) Structural realism, metaphysical unification, and the ontology and epistemology of patterns. International Studies in the Philosophy of Science, 31(3), 285-300.
Beni, M. D. (2018) Syntactical informational structural realism. Minds and Machines, 28(4), 623-643.
Beni, M. D. (2018) The downward path to epistemic informational structural realism. Acta Analytica, 33(2), 181-197.
Berenstain, N., & Ladyman, J. (2012) Ontic structural realism and modality. In Structural Realism (pp. 149-168). Springer, Dordrecht.
Berghofer, P. (2018) Ontic structural realism and quantum field theory: Are there intrinsic properties at the most fundamental level of reality? Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics, 62, 176-188.
Bokulich, A., & Bokulich, P. (Eds.) (2011) Scientific structuralism (Vol. 281). Springer Science & Business Media.
Bradie, M.P. (1977) ‘The Development of Russell's Structural
Postulates’, Philosophy of Science, vol 44:
From 1914 Russell's epistemology was dominated by the attempt to show
how we come by our knowledge of the external world. As he gradually
became aware of the inadequacies of the 'pure empiricist' approach,
Russell realised that his program was viable only insofar as certain
postulates of inference were allowed. In this paper I trace the
development of the structural postulates from Analysis of Matter to
Human Knowledge. The basic continuity of Russell's thought is
established. Certain confusions implicit in the various formulations of
the postulates are brought to light. Finally, it is argued that the
viability of Russell's program rests on a larger number of independent
postulates than he thought were needed. Some implications of Russell's
work for current work in the philosophy of science are briefly
Bradie, M.P. (1988) ‘Russell's Scientific Realism’, Russell,
The entry on 'realism' in Baldwin's Dictionary notes that the term has
two significant but distinct meanings in philosophy. In the older
sense, it is a 'logical-metaphysical' theory about the nature of
universals and their relation to particulars. In the more modern sense,
it is an 'epistemological-metaphysical' theory which holds that
'reality exists apart from its presentation to, or conception by,
consciousness'. Russell was a realist in both senses. In this paper, I
focus, for the most part, on the development of Russell's realism in
the second sense from 1910 to 1915.
After abandoning idealism in 1901, Russell became, and professed to
remain, a realist. But a consistent picture of what he took realism to
entail is not easy to come by. Part of the problem is that Russell used
the term 'realism' in several different senses throughout the period of
interest. In Our Knowledge of the External World, we can discern at
least four distinct notions of 'real'. In the following, I examine what
Russell has to say about the concept of reality and its correlate
'existence', especially with regard to the question of determining the
respective ontological status of sense-data and physical objects. It is
sometimes suggested that Russell abandoned realism, at least with
respect to physical objects, during his constructivist phase. I think
this is a mistake based on a failure to appreciate the
multidimensionality of Russell's view of 'realism'. I do not, however,
pretend that what I have to say here is the final word. It is, at best,
a good beginning.
I shall proceed by examining, in order of publication, five key works
by Russell during the period: 'Knowledge by Acquaintance and Knowledge
by Description', The Problems of Philosophy, Our Knowledge of the
External World, 'The Relation of Sense-Data to Physics', and 'The
Ultimate Constituents of Matter'. The primary object is to try to tease
out Russell's position vis-à-vis scientific realism, which I here take
to be, minimally, the view that theoretical entities of well-confirmed
theories exist and are real. (p195)
Brading, K. and E. Landry (2006) ‘Scientific Structuralism:
Presentation and Representation’, Philosophy of Science,
vol. 73(5): 571-581.
Brading, K., & Skiles, A. (2012) Underdetermination as a path to structural realism. In Structural Realism (pp. 99-115). Springer, Dordrecht.
Brading, K., & Crull, E. (2017) Epistemic structural realism and Poincaré’s philosophy of science. HOPOS: The Journal of the International Society for the History of Philosophy of Science, 7(1), 108-129.
Braithwaite, R.B. (1940) ‘The Philosophy of Physical Science’, Mind,
vol. 49, n. 196: 455-66.
This is a review of Arthur Eddington's book The Philosophy
of Physical Science. Among other things, Braithwaite appeals
to Newman (1928), claiming that Newman's criticism applies equally well
to Eddington's notion of group structure.
Briceño, S., & Mumford, S. (2016) Relations all the way down? Against ontic structural realism. In A. Marmodoro and D. Yates (Eds.), The Metaphysics of Relations, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Bueno, O. (1997) ‘Empirical Adequacy: A Partial Structures Approach’, Studies
in History and Philosophy of Science, vol. 28A(4): 585-610.
Bueno, O. (1999) ‘What is Structural Empiricism? Scientific Change in
an Empiricist Setting’, Erkenntnis, vol. 50(1),
In this paper a constructive empiricist account of scientific change is
put forward. Based on da Costa's and French's partial structures
approach, two notions of empirical adequacy are initially advanced
(with particular emphasis on the introduction of degrees of empirical
adequacy). Using these notions, it is shown how both the
informativeness and the empirical adequacy requirements of an
empiricist theory of scientific change can then be met. Finally, some
philosophical consequences with regard to the role of structures in
this context are drawn.
Bueno, O. (1999) ‘Partial Reference, Partial Structures and Scientific
Change’, paper presented at the University of Hannover Conference
'Incommensurability (and Related Matters)'.
As is well known, scientific change has two important dimensions:
conceptual change and structural change. The formulation of a new
theory involves the introduction of new concepts to explain empirical
phenomena, and this process often leads to substantial reformulations
in the old theory's conceptual framework. As a result, the structures
(in particular, the models) used in the formulation of the old theory
are replaced by new ones. In this way, conceptual change and structural
change go hand to hand. Since the work of Kuhn , this phenomenon
became a crucial factor in the agenda of any reasonable account of
As is also well known, two types of realism have been put forward to
explain scientific change. According to scientific realism, scientific
change is accommodated in terms of the search for approximately true
theories. And although the scientific realist acknowledges that there
might be some sort of loss when the scientific community shifts from
one theory to another, well-established parts of the old framework - in
particular, certain kinds of entities introduced in explanations - are
typically preserved (Popper  and Boyd ). From a structural
realist point of view, what remains stable over scientific change is
not an ontology of entities, but the relevant relations defined over
them - in other words, the structure. It is structure that the realist
should be realist about (Worrall , Ladyman  and French
In this paper, I shall argue, firstly, that these two versions of
realism are undermined by the inadequacy of accommodating the two
dimensions of scientific change. The existence of conceptual change
brings serious difficulties for scientific realism, and the existence
of structural change makes structural realism looks quite implausible.
Secondly, using a framework developed by da Costa and French  and
, in terms of partial structures and quasi-truth, I shall provide
an alternative account of scientific change which is able to handle
both conceptual and structural changes. The account provided is
anti-realist, and it is compatible with van Fraassen's constructive
empiricism (van Fraassen  and ).
Bueno, O. (2000) ‘Empiricism, Scientific Change and Mathematical
Change’, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science,
vol. 31A(2): 269-96.
aim of this paper is to provide a unified account of scientific and
mathematical change in a thoroughly empiricist setting. After providing
a formal modelling in terms of embedding, and criticising it for being
too restrictive, a second modelling is advanced. It generalises the
first, providing a more open-ended pattern of theory development, and
is articulated in terms of da Costa and French's partial structures
approach. The crucial component of scientific and mathematical change
is spelled out in terms of partial embeddings. Finally, an application
of this second pattern is made, with the examination of the early
formulation of set theory (in particular, the works of Cantor, Zermelo
Bueno, O. (2001) ‘Weyl and von Neumann: Symmetry, Group Theory, and
Quantum Mechanics’, draft paper presented in Symmetries in Physics, New
Reflections: Oxford Workshop, January 2001.
this paper, I shall discuss the heuristic role of symmetry in the
mathematical formulation of quantum mechanics. I shall first set out
the scene in terms of Bas van Fraassen's elegant presentation of how
symmetry principles can be used as problem-solving devices (see van
Fraassen  and ). I will then examine in what ways Hermann
Weyl and John von Neumann have used symmetry principles in their work
as a crucial problem-solving tool. Finally, I shall explore one
consequence of this situation to recent debates about structural
realism and empiricism in physics (Worrall , Ladyman , and
Bueno, O. (2008) Structural realism, scientific change, and partial structures. Studia Logica, 89(2), 213-235.
Bueno, O. (2010) Structural empiricism, again. In Scientific structuralism (pp. 81-103). Springer, Dordrecht.
Bueno, O. (2019) Structural realism, mathematics, and ontology. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A, 74, 4-9.
Cao, T.Y. (1997) Conceptual Development of 20th Century
Field Theories, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
purpose of this book is to give a broad synthesis of 20th century field
theories, from the general theory of relativity to quantum, field
theory and gauge theory. These theories are treated primarily as
conceptual schemes, in terms of which our conceptions and integrated
picture of the physical world are formed. The aim is to give a cogent
historico-critical expostion of the conceptual foundations of the
theories to reveal a pattern and direction to the evolution of these
Cao, T.Y. (1999) ‘Structural Realism and the Interpretation of Quantum
Field Theory’ (draft for talk given at a Sigma Club meeting at LSE).
order to address Kuhn's claim, or more generally in order to develop a
realist conception of science and a continuous conception of history of
science, a mere appealing to formal logic or empiricism is not of great
help. According to Rudolf Carnap, formal logic is unable to address
what he calls the external questions that are related with radical
changes of conceptual framework or scientific revolutions. And it is
[a] truism that empiricism has no theoretical resource to deal with the
underdetermination thesis, which challenges the status of empirical
evidence as a bridge connecting theoretical entities and physical
reality. Taking the history of 20th century physics as an example, then
what was required, it seemed to me, was a conceptual analysis of its
theoretical structure and of the evolution of this structure, which
aimed at a clarification of what the basic ontology is for the
discipline and its replacement. Then with a structural understanding of
ontology and a realist understanding of structural knowledge, namely
that they are true and retained across theory changes, we would be able
to, first, make a realist claim that we could have objective knowledge
of even the non-observable ontology; and second, understand the radical
changes of ontology in the development of science, in terms of
accumulation and reconfiguration of recognisable, cumulative and
modifiable structural descriptions of ontology; and third, understand
scientific revolutions in terms of ontological synthesis on the basis
of a Hegelian concept aufhebung (sublation). (pp.1-2).
Cao, T.Y. (2003a) ‘Structural Realism and the Interpretation of Quantum
Field Theory’, Synthese, vol. 136(1): 3-24.
Cao, T.Y. (2003b) ‘Can We Dissolve Physical Entities into Mathematical
Structures?’, Synthese, vol. 136(1): 57-71.
Cao, T. Y. (2010) From current algebra to quantum chromodynamics: A case for structural realism. Cambridge University Press.
Carnap, R. (1929) Der Logisches Aufbau der Welt,
Berlin: Schlachtensee Weltkreis-Verlag.
Carnap, R. (1956) ‘The Methodological Character of Theoretical
Concepts’, in H. Feigl and M. Scriven (eds.) The Foundations
of Science and the Concepts of Psychology and Psychoanalysis,
Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science, vol. 1, Minneapolis:
University of Minnesota Press.
Cassirer, E. (1936) Determinism and Indeterminism in Modern
Physics, New Haven: Yale University Press.
Cassirer, E. (1944) ‘Group Concept and Perception Theory’, Philosophy
and Phenomenological Research, vol 5: 1-36.
essay offers an analysis of the concept of objectivity as a function of
the concept of invariability with relation to a special group of
transformations in order to reveal the existent analogies between the
phenomena of visible constancy and the 'geometrical' properties as they
are defined in group theory. According to the principles of group
theory, only those properties can be considered as geometrically real
which remain invariant under the type of transformation that is
specified by the group which supports the corresponding geometrical
system. In this way, the various cones which are conceptually distinct
with respect to the group defined by Euclidean geometry are
conceptually identical within a system whose defining group contains
afine or projective transformations. This task of 'objectivation' by
dint of the selection of certain rules of transformation appears,
though in rudimentary form, even in the domain of 'pure' perception.
Modern psychological investigations have established the inadequacy of
the traditional sensualist conception of perception, according to which
perception is a process akin to either photographic reproduction or a
reflection of 'given' atomic stimuli. This proves experimentally that,
in Kantian jargon, the possible experience (perception) plays a
constitutive role in the real experience (perception). Provided that
the lighting of our special perspective keeps changing, it would not be
possible later on to perceive the 'real' colour and size of an object
without getting to a selection of properties relatively invariant. As
demonstrated by the Gestaltpsychologie (psychology of shape), we
perceive 'forms' (melodies, for instance) that enjoy a certain
independence from the 'materials' (in the case of a melody this would
be the notes, as far as your absolute positions are concerned) in which
they are incorporated at this transitory moment of being perceived.
This perception of invariables cannot be explained in terms of dubious
hypotheses such as the one of radical memory or 'unconscious inference'
(Helmholtz), but they have to be admitted as an innate function of
Cei, A. (2004) ‘Structural Distinctions: Entities, Structures and
Changes in Science’, Philosophy of Science, vol.
I argue that the pessimistic meta-induction (PMI) seems to point an
ontological priority of the relations over the objects of the
scientific theories of the kind suggested by French and Ladyman (2003).
My strategy will involve a critical examination of epistemic structural
realism (ESR) and an historical case-study: the prediction of Zeeman's
effect in Lorentz's theory of the electron.
Cei, A. (2010) Structural Realism as a Form of Humility. In M. Suárez, M. Dorato and M. Rédei (Eds.), EPSA Philosophical Issues in the Sciences. Launch of the European Philosophy of Science Association, vol. 1, Springer.
Chakravartty, A. (1998) ‘Semirealism’, Studies in History
and Philosophy of Science, vol. 29A(3): 391-408.
realism and structural realism are thought to represent incompatible
variations on traditional scientific realism. Entity realists appear to
sanction belief in the existence of entities, but not the truth of
structural claims; structural realists make the opposite commitment.
This paper focuses on properties we detect, in virtue of which we infer
the existence of entities. Mathematical relations taken to define
theoretical structures are, in fact, relations between detectable
properties. This points to a surprising result: entity and structural
realism, properly construed, entail precisely the same conclusions
regarding the existence and causal behaviours of entities, and
knowledge of their properties. The positions, thus, entail one another;
they are one and the same position: semirealism.
Chakravarrty, A. (2003) ‘The Structuralist Conception of Objects’, Philosophy
of Science, vol. 70(5): 867-878.
Chakravartty, A. (2004) ‘Structuralism as a Form of Scientific
Realism’, International Studies in the Philosophy of Science,
vol. 18, 151-171.
Chakravartty, A. (2012) Ontological priority: The conceptual basis of non-eliminative, ontic structural realism. In Structural Realism (pp. 187-206). Springer, Dordrecht.
Chang, H. (2003) ‘Preservative Realism and Its Discontents: Revisiting
Caloric’, Philosophy of Science, vol. 70(5):
Clement, W.C. (1953) ‘Russell's Structuralist Thesis’, The
Philosophical Review, vol 62(2): 266-75.
this paper I shall examine the arguments which Russell has used in
support of the structuralist thesis in his recent book Human Knowledge.
The conclusion I reach is that Russell's arguments do not establish his
thesis, and that considerations which he himself raises make it likely
that his thesis is, in fact, false. (p 266)
Cordero, A. (2011) Scientific realism and the divide et impera strategy: The ether saga revisited. Philosophy of Science, 78(5), 1120-1130.
Cruse, P. (2005) ‘Ramsey Sentences, Structural Realism and Trivial
Realization’, Studies in the History and Philosophy of
Science, vol. 36A(3): 557-576.
Demopoulos, W. and M. Friedman (1985) ‘Critical Notice: Bertrand
Russell's The Analysis of Matter: Its historical
context and contemporary interest’, Philosophy of Science,
vol. 52: 621-39.
and Friedman consider Russell's structural realism as it was developed
in The Analysis of Matter. They agree with Grover Maxwell that
Russell's position anticipates in several ways the Ramsey-sentence
approach to theories. Furthermore they argue that there are
insurmountable difficulties to this position that were first raised by
MHA Newman in 1928. In particular, they argue that if a theory is
consistent and all its observational consequences true, then the truth
of its Ramsey-sentence follows as a theorem of set theory or
second-order logic. This presumably makes Russell's structural realism
collapse into phenomenalism. To this they add that there are striking
similarities between Newman's point and Putnam's model-theoretic
argument aimed against realist accounts of reference and truth. They
also point out that there are analogous difficulties with Carnap's
Aufbau and, given a certain reading, Wittgenstein's Tractatus.
DiSalle, R. (2006) ‘Mathematical Structure, “World-Structure,” and the
Philosophical Turning-Point in Modern Physics’, in Interactions:
Mathematics, Physics and
Philosophy, 1860-1930 (Boston Studies in the Philosophy of
Science), V. Hendricks et al. (eds.) Dordrecht: Kluwer.
Domski, M. (preprint) ‘The Epistemological Foundations of Structural
Realism: Poincaré and the Structure of Relations’, paper given to the
Research Workshop of the Division of History and Philosophy of Science,
University of Leeds.
However, even with the influence of Worrall's piece, there still
remains a pressing and crucial question: 'what exactly is structural
realism?'. As James Ladyman rightfully pointed out in 1998, it is
unclear from Worrall's presentation whether 'structural realism' is a
metaphysical or an epistemological position. That is, is the structural
realist claiming that our scientific theories only provide knowledge of
'structure' because that is all that exists in the world, or is it
because that is all we are capable of knowing given our own
epistemological constraints (whatever they may be). There are also
other issues that Worrall fails to adequately explain - such as how
'truth' or 'approximate truth' comes to be associated with a theory's
mathematical structure, and also, how the mathematical form of a theory
relates to the content of a theory.
What I wish to focus on are precisely these issues that Worrall does
not fully explore, and in particular, I will turn to Poincaré's
arguments concerning objective knowledge and the form and content of a
theory. My initial hope when I began this project was to gain a better
understanding of how structural realism could be further developed as
an epistemic claim. For although there is some ambiguity in Worrall's
presentation regarding metaphysics and epistemology, there is little
doubt that Poincaré's interests fall on the epistemological side of the
divide. And by appropriating Poincaré's broader epistemology, I believe
that a criticism launched against structural realism by Stathis Psillos
(1995) in regard to the distinction between a theory's form and content
can be evaded. However, in the end, I hope to show that the response
offered to Psillos on the grounds of Poincaré's philosophy is not one a
structural realist could accept, because I don't believe that Poincaré
is a structural realist or any type of realist, for that matter. Even
with the arguments aligning Poincaré with structural realism (as
offered by Worrall, Zahar, and Gower), strikingly absent from
Poincaré's epistemology is the claim that our scientific theories aim
at truth rather than mere empirical adequacy - a claim that both Gower
and Papineau require for any realist position. What I will emphasise
below, is that for Poincaré, theories aim neither at truth nor at 'mere
empirical adequacy'; rather, there is a much more complicated process
of idealisation, experiment, and the choice of conventions that is
involved in the development of our scientific theories. I believe his
position may be better characterised as a form of 'structural
empiricism' or even a 'structural neo-Kantianism'. (pp. 1-2)
Doppelt, G. D. (2011) From standard scientific realism and structural realism to best current theory realism. Journal for general philosophy of science, 42(2), 295-316.
Doppelt, G. (2013) Explaining the success of science: Kuhn and scientific realists. Topoi, 32(1), 43-51.
Doppelt, G. (2014) Best theory scientific realism. European journal for philosophy of science, 4(2), 271-291.
Dorato, M. (1999) ‘Cao on Substantivalism and the Development of 20th
Century Field Theories’, Epistemologia, vol. 22:
philosophical and historiographical options are here critically
discussed by comparing them with the outcomes of the debate between
relationalists and substantivalists on the nature of space-time, within
the so-called 'geometric program'. If, on the one hand, the distinction
traced by Cao between structural realism and entity realism does not
seem sufficiently founded, on the other hand, his also accurate
reconstruction of the philosophical positions historically assumed by
Einstein regarding this problem presents some interpretative
Dorato, M. (2000) ‘Substantivalism, Relationism and Structural
Spacetime Realism’, Foundations of Physics, vol.
about the ontological implications of the general theory of relativity
have long oscillated between spacetime substantialism and relationism.
I evaluate such debates by claiming that we need a third option, which
I refer to as 'structural spacetime realism.' Such a tertium quid sides
with the relationists in defending the relational nature of the
spacetime structure, but joins the substantivalists in arguing that
spacetime exists, at least in part, independently of particular
physical objects and events, the degree of 'independence' being given
by the extent to which geometrical laws exist 'over and above' physical
events exemplifying them. By showing that structural spacetime realism
is the natural outcome of a semantic, model-theoretic approach to the
nature of scientific theories. I conclude by arguing that the notion of
partial isomorphic representation is the most plausible candidate to
connect spacetime models with reality.
Dorato, M. (2008) Is structural spacetime realism relationism in disguise? The supererogatory nature of the substantivalism/relationism debate. Philosophy and Foundations of Physics, 4, 17-37.
Dorr, C. (2010) Review of James Ladyman and Don Ross, every thing must go: Metaphysics naturalized. Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, https://ndpr.nd.edu/news/every-thing-must-go-metaphysics-naturalized/
Duhem, P. ( 1991) The Aim and Structure of Physical
Theory, Princeton (NJ): Princeton University Press.
Eddington, A.S. (1939) The Philosophy of Physical Science,
Cambridge University Press.
the scientific advances of the last decade nor the years of reflection
have altered the general trend of my philosophy. I say 'my philosophy',
not as claiming authorship of ideas which are widely diffused in modern
thought, but because the ultimate selection and synthesis must be a
personal responsibility. If it were necessary to give a short name to
this philosophy, I should hesitate between 'selective subjectivism' and
'structuralism'. The former name refers to the aspect most prominent in
the first eight chapters; the latter refers to a more mathematical
conception which dominates the rest of the book. Both can now be
carried out much farther than in The Nature of the Physical World. The
domain of subjectivity has been extended as a consequence of our better
understanding of quantum mechanics; and the conception of structure has
been made more precise by the connection now recognised between the
foundations of physics and the mathematical theory of groups. (pp.
Eddington, A.S. (1941) ‘Group Structure in Physical Science’, Mind,
vol. 50, n. 99: 268-79.
is Eddington's reply to Braithwaite's review of his book. Eddington
argues, among other things, that Newman's problem does not apply to his
own notion of group-structure.
English, J. (1973) ‘Underdetermination: Craig and Ramsey’, Journal
of Philosophy, vol. 70: 453-62.
proves that two or more Ramsey-sentences with the same observational
consequences (i.e. that are empirically equivalent) cannot be
inconsistent as Quine had argued.
Engler, F.O. (2002) ‘Structure and Heuristic: In Praise of Structural
Realism in the Case of Niels Bohr’, Vienna Circle Institute
Yearbook, vol. 10: 297-309.
Esfeld, M. (2009) The modal nature of structures in ontic structural realism. International Studies in the Philosophy of Science, 23(2), 179-194.
Esfeld, M. (2012) Causal realism. In Probabilities, laws, and structures (pp. 157-168). Springer, Dordrecht.
Esfeld, M. (2013) Ontic structural realism and the interpretation of quantum mechanics. European journal for philosophy of science, 3(1), 19-32.
Esfeld, M. (2015) Review The Structure of the World: Metaphysics and Representation, Mind, 124(493): 334-338.
Esfeld, M. (2017) How to account for quantum non-locality: ontic structural realism and the primitive ontology of quantum physics. Synthese, 194(7), 2329-2344.
Esfeld, M., & Lam, V. (2008) Moderate structural realism about space-time. Synthese, 160(1), 27-46.
Esfeld, M., & Lam, V. (2010) Holism and structural realism. In Worldviews, Science And Us: Studies Of Analytical Metaphysics: A Selection of Topics from a Methodological Perspective (pp. 10-31). London: World Scientific.
Esfeld, M., & Lam, V. (2010) Ontic structural realism as a metaphysics of objects. In Scientific structuralism (pp. 143-159). Springer, Dordrecht.
Esfeld, M., Lazarovici, D., Lam, V., & Hubert, M. (2017) The physics and metaphysics of primitive stuff. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 68(1), 133-161.
Floridi, L. (2008) ‘A Defence of Informational Structural Realism’, Synthese,
vol. 161(2): 219-253.
is the revised version of an invited keynote lecture delivered at the
1st Australian Computing and Philosophy Conference (CAP@AU; the
Australian National University in Canberra, 31 October – 2 November,
2003). The paper is divided into two parts. The first part defends an
informational approach to structural realism. It does so in three
steps. First, it is shown that, within the debate about structural
realism (SR), epistemic (ESR) and ontic (OSR) structural realism are
reconcilable. It follows that a version of OSR is defensible from a
structuralist-friendly position. Second, it is argued that a version of
OSR is also plausible, because not all relata (structured entities) are
logically prior to relations (structures). Third, it is shown that a
version of OSR is also applicable to both sub-observable (unobservable
and instrumentally-only observable) and observable entities, by
developing its ontology of structural objects in terms of informational
objects. The outcome is informational structural realism, a version of
OSR supporting the ontological commitment to a view of the world as the
totality of informational objects dynamically interacting with each
other. The paper has been discussed by several colleagues and, in the
second half, ten objections that have been moved to the proposal are
answered in order to clarify it further.
Floridi, L. (2009) ‘Against Digital Ontology’, Synthese, 168(1): 151-178.
paper argues that digital ontology (the ultimate nature of reality is
digital, and the
universe is a computational system equivalent to a Turing Machine)
should be carefully
distinguished from informational ontology (the ultimate nature of
reality is structural),
in order to abandon the former and retain only the latter as a
promising line of research.
Digital vs. analogue is a Boolean dichotomy typical of our
computational paradigm, but
digital and analogue are only “modes of presentation” of Being (to
that is, ways in which reality is experienced and/or conceptualised by
an epistemic agent
at a given level of abstraction. A preferable alternative is provided
by an informational
approach to structural realism, according to which knowledge of the
world is knowledge
of its structures. The most reasonable ontological commitment turns out
to be in favour
of an interpretation of reality as the totality of structures
dynamically interacting with
each other. The paper is the first part (the pars destruens) of a
two-part piece of
research. The pars construens, entitled “A Defence of Informational
Realism”, is forthcoming in Synthese.
Fraser, J. D. (2018) Renormalization and the formulation of scientific realism. Philosophy of Science, 85(5), 1164-1175.
French, S. (1998) ‘On the Withering Away of Physical Objects’, in E.
Castellani (ed.), Interpreting Bodies: Classical and Quantum
Objects in Modern Physics, Princeton University Press, pp.
In his 1988 presidential address to the Philosophy of Science
Association, Arthur Fine urged the assembled cohorts to 'actively
engage philosophy with ongoing science' and reminded us of the
'potential in science itself for addressing virtually all sorts of
interpretative questions and issues that philosophy traditionally
Someone who has taken this latter naturalistic claim very seriously is
Dudley Shapere, who has argued that science can in fact resolve
traditional philosophical questions concerning, for example, identity
and existence. At the same 1988 meeting, he suggested that 'by being
internalised into the scientific process, even such concepts as
explanation and existence can be subject to alteration in the light of
what we learn'.
I want to point out a problem for this program of 'reading metaphysics
off current physics', to put it crudely, which arises from what might
be called the 'underdetermination' of metaphysics by physics. The piece
of metaphysics that I want to use as an example concerns, of course,
individuality. (p. 93)
French, S. (1999) ‘Models and Mathematics in Physics: The role of group
theory’, in J. Butterfield and C. Pagonis (eds.), From
Physics to Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, pp.
relationship between mathematics and science is clearly of fundamental
concern in both the philosophy of mathematics and the philosophy of
science. How this relationship should be represented is a crucial issue
in this area. One possibility is to employ a model-theoretic framework
in which 'physical' structures are regarded as embedded in
'mathematical' ones. In section two I will briefly outline a form of
this type of account which offers a function space analysis of theories
(Redhead 1975). This function space analysis is then used to represent
the relationship between theoretical and mathematical structures. In
subsequent sections I will consider the role of group theory in physics
from within this metatheoretical framework and then draw some
conclusions for realism in the philosophy of science. (p. 187)
French, S. (2000) ‘The Reasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics: Partial
structures and the Application of Group Theory to Physics’, Synthese,
vol. 125(1-2): 103-20.
famously referred to the 'unreasonable effectiveness' of mathematics in
its application to science. Using Wigner's own application of group
theory to nuclear physics, I hope to indicate that this effectiveness
can be seen to be not so unreasonable if attention is paid to the
various idealising moves undertaken. The overall framework for
analysing this relationship between mathematics and physics is that of
da Costa's partial structures programme.
French, S. (2001) ‘Getting Out of a Hole: Identity, Individuality and
Structuralism in Space-Time Physics’, Philosophica
(Belgium), vol. 67(1): 11-29.
French, S. (2001) ‘Symmetry, Structure and the Constitution of
this paper I focus on the impact on structuralism of the quantum
treatment of objects in terms of symmetry groups and, in particular, on
the question as to how we might eliminate, or better, reconceptualise
such objects in structural terms. With regard to the former, both
Cassirer and Eddington not only explicitly and famously tied their
structuralism to the development of group theory but also drew on the
quantum treatment in order to further their structuralist aims and here
I sketch the relevant history with an eye on what lessons might be
drawn. With regard to the latter, Ladyman has explicitly cited
Castellani's work on the group-theoretical constitution of quantum
objects and I indicate both how such an approach needs to be understood
if it is to mesh with Ladyman's 'ontic' form of structural realism and
how it might accommodate permutation symmetry through a consideration
of Huggett's recent account.
French, S. (2003) ‘Scribbling on the Blank Sheet: Eddington’s
Conception of Objects’, Studies in History and Philosophy of
Modern Physics, vol. 34(2): 227-259.
French, S. (2006) ‘Structure as a Weapon of the Realist’, Proceedings
of the Aristotelian Society,vol. 106, pp. 167-185.
French, S. (2010) The interdependence of structure, objects and dependence. Synthese, 175(1), 89-109.
French, S. (2011) Shifting to structures in physics and biology: A prophylactic for promiscuous realism. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 42(2), 164-173.
French, S. (2012) The presentation of objects and the representation of structure. In Structural Realism (pp. 3-28). Springer, Dordrecht.
French, S. (2012) The Resilience of Laws and the Ephemerality of Objects: Can a Form of Structuralism be Extended to Biology? In Probabilities, laws, and structures (pp. 187-199). Springer, Dordrecht.
French, S. (2012) Unitary inequivalence as a problem for structural realism. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics, 43(2), 121-136.
French, S. (2013) Eschewing entities: outlining a biology based form of structural realism. In EPSA11 perspectives and foundational problems in philosophy of science (pp. 371-381). Springer, Cham.
French, S. (2013) Semi-realism, sociability and structure. Erkenntnis, 78(1), 1-18.
French, S. (2014) The Structure of the World: Metaphysics and Representation, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
French, S. (2017) (Structural) realism and its representational vehicles. Synthese, 194(9), 3311-3326.
French, S. and H. Kamminga (1993) Correspondence,
Invariance and Heuristics: Essays
in Honour of Heinz Post, Boston Studies in the Philosophy of
Science, vol. 148, Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Press.
French, S. and J. Ladyman (2003a) ‘Remodelling Structural Realism:
Physics and the Metaphysics of Structure’, Synthese,
vol. 136(1): 31-56.
outline Ladyman's 'metaphysical' or 'ontic' form of structural realism
and defend it against various objections. Cao, in particular, has
questioned the view of ontology presupposed by this approach and we
argue that by reconceptualising objects in structural terms it offers
the best hope for the realist in the context of modern physics.
French, S. and J. Ladyman (2003b) ‘The Dissolution of Objects: Between
and Phenomenalism’, Synthese, vol. 136(1): 73-77.
French, S. and J. Saatsi (2006) ‘Realism about Structure: The Semantic
View and Non-linguistic Representations’, Philosophy of
Science, vol. 73(5): xx-xx.
French, S. and D. Rickles (2006) ‘Quantum Gravity Meets Structuralism:
Interweaving Relations in the Foundations of Physics’, in D. Rickles,
S. French, and J. Saatsi (eds.), The Structural Foundations
of Quantum Gravity, Oxford: Clarendon Press.
French, S., & Ladyman, J. (2010) In defence of ontic structural realism. In Scientific structuralism (pp. 25-42). Springer, Dordrecht.
Gandy, R. (1973) ‘ “Structure” in Mathematics’ in D. Robey (ed.), Structuralism:
An Introduction, Oxford: Clarendon Press, pp. 138-53.
purpose of this paper is to describe and discuss the notion of
'abstract structure' as it occurs in mathematics. I shall also consider
briefly some of the uses and abuses of this notion by those who are
interested in structuralism. (p. 138)
Frigg, R., & Votsis, I. (2011) Everything you always wanted to know about structural realism but were afraid to ask. European journal for philosophy of science, 1(2), 227-276.
Giedymin, J. (1982) Science and Convention: Essays
on Henri Poincaré’s Philosophy of Science and the
Conventionalist Tradition, Oxford: Pergamon.
Gironi, F. (2014) Naturalizing Badiou: Mathematical Ontology and Structural Realism. Springer.
Glick, D. (2016) The ontology of quantum field theory: Structural realism vindicated? Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A, 59, 78-86.
Glick, D. (2020) Generalism and the Metaphysics of Ontic Structural Realism. The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 71(2), 751-772.
Gower, B.S. (2000) ‘Cassirer, Schlick and “Structural” Realism: The
philosophy of the exact sciences in the background to early logical
empiricism’, British Journal for the History of Philosophy,
vol. 8(1): 71-106.
of the conspicuous features of current philosophy of science is the
bewildering variety of scientific realisms and anti-realisms
confronting us. This is not so very surprising if we bear in mind that
the seeds of the many relevant issues were planted at the beginning of
the 20th century, at a time of unprecedented innovatory research in the
mathematical and physical sciences, by scientists such as Mach, Planck,
Poincaré and Duhem, and that there has been ample opportunity for the
yield of those seeds to be gathered and sifted. We have, though, done
little which would help us to understand how those seeds germinated,
grew and prospered. In this paper I wish to examine just one of those
seeds. It has lately assumed an importance because of its relevance to
ways in which we might restrict the ambitious scope of scientific
realism without curtailing that scope in an anti-realist manner. There
is, I shall argue, a broader context that is usually recognised for
versions of restricted realism and by drawing attention to it I intend
to try to bring into focus some neglected discussions which played a
part in the origins of logical empiricism and which are capable, I
believe, of illuminating those origins as well as some of our present
preoccupations. More particularly, by drawing attention to the
emergence of a version of realism we now call 'structural' realism, I
shall try to support the claim that Schlick's realism and empiricism
contain significant Kantian elements. But before turning to the
historical issues, let me set out some of the chief features of realism
that forms the background to this exploration of those issues. (pp.
Hanson, N.R. (1955) ‘Causal Chains’, Mind, vol.
author discusses the notions of causal chains as indicative of how some
people think. In Human Knowledge Russell says that 'inferences from
experiences to the physical world can… be justified by the assumption
that there are causal chains, each member of which is a complex
structure ordered by the spatio-temporal relation of compresence'. The
author argues that the causal chain theory is unsupportable, although
by virtue of analogy it has some acceptable applications.
Heis, J. (2014) Realism, functions, and the a priori: Ernst Cassirer's philosophy of science. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A, 48, 10-19.
Hoyningen-Huene, P. (2013) The ultimate argument against convergent realism and structural realism: the impasse objection. In EPSA11 perspectives and foundational problems in philosophy of science (pp. 131-139). Springer, Cham.
Hoyningen-Huene, P. (2018) Are there good arguments against scientific realism? In Philosophy of science (pp. 3-22). Springer, Cham.
Isaac, A. M. (2014) Structural realism for secondary qualities. Erkenntnis, 79(3), 481-510.
Ivanova, M. (2011) Friedman’s relativised a priori and structural realism: In search of compatibility. International Studies in the Philosophy of Science, 25(1), 23-37.
Ivanova, M. (2013) Did Perrin’s Experiments Convert Poincaré to Scientific Realism? HOPOS: The Journal of the International Society for the History of Philosophy of Science, 3(1), 1-19.
Ivanova, M. (2015) Conventionalism, structuralism and neo-Kantianism in Poincaré׳ s philosophy of science. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics, 52, 114-122.
Kantorovich, A. (2009) Ontic structuralism and the symmetries of particle physics. Journal for general philosophy of science, 40(1), 73-84.
Ketland, J. (2004) ‘Empirical Adequacy and Ramsification’, British
Journal for the Philosophy of Science, vol. 55(2): 287-300.
Kincaid, H. (2008) Structural realism and the social sciences. Philosophy of Science, 75(5), 720-731.
Kitcher, P. (2001) ‘Real Realism: The Galilean Strategy’, Philosophical
Review, vol. 110(2): 151-197.
Ladyman, J. (1998a) ‘What is Structural Realism?’, Studies
in History and Philosophy of Science, vol. 29: 409-24.
I will argue that structural realism gains no advantage over
traditional scientific realism if it is understood as merely an
epistemological refinement of it, and instead it ought to be developed
as a metaphysical position. I explain why the semantic approach to
scientific theories offers the natural framework for this, and what a
metaphysical structural realism must involve if it is to do justice to
the intuition behind the no-miracles argument.
Ladyman, J. (1998b) Structural Realism and the
Model-Theoretic Approach to Physical Theories, PhD
Dissertation, University of Leeds.
This dissertation addresses the debate about 'scientific realism'. I
first explain what scientific realism entails and then present the most
significant arguments against it, namely the underdetermination
argument and the argument from theory change. I argue that the former
is inconclusive but that the latter presents a serious problem for the
realist. Chapter two explains Bas van Fraassen's alternative to
scientific realism, 'constructive empiricism', which realists have
argued is incoherent on various grounds. I argue that none of these
arguments is compelling, and clarify van Fraassen's position. Chapter
three analyses the debate about constructive empiricism and inference
to the best explanation. I argue that a widespread interpretation of
van Fraassen's epistemology is mistaken and hence that recent
criticisms of constructive empiricism miss their mark. I explain how
van Fraassen's empiricist philosophy should be understood, and conclude
that constructive empiricism is incompatible with his philosophy of
In chapter four I consider problems of underdetermination for
scientific realism originating in actual physical theory. I present
Roger Jones' argument that the realist has no epistemic grounds for
choosing among multiple formulations of classical mechanics, each of
which has different ontological and metaphysical commitments. Quantum
mechanics and general relativity each present further dilemmas for the
realist; in particular, debate has been enjoined about whether the
theories are committed to an ontology of individuals. I argue that this
motivates structural realism. In chapter five, after presenting the
'received' or 'syntactic' view of theories and the difficulties it
faces, I argue for the 'semantic' or 'model-theoretic' alternative
against recent criticisms. Chapter six applies this account of theories
and models to idealisation in quantum mechanics and to the development
of the London and London model of superconductivity.
Ladyman, J. (2001) ‘Science, Metaphysics and Structural Realism’, Philosophica
(Belgium), vol. 67(1): 57-76.
Ladyman, J. (2008) Structural realism and the relationship between the special sciences and physics. Philosophy of Science, 75(5), 744-755.
Ladyman, J. (2011) Structural realism versus standard scientific realism: the case of phlogiston and dephlogisticated air. Synthese, 180(2), 87-101.
Ladyman, J. (2014) ‘Structural Realism’, Stanford
Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, Edward N. Zalta (ed.),
Ladyman, J. (2018) Scientific realism again. Spontaneous Generations: A Journal for the History and Philosophy of Science, 9(1), 99-107.
Ladyman, J. (2019) Introduction: Structuralists of the world unite, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A, Volume 74, April 2019, Pages 1-3.
Ladyman, J. et al. (2007) Every Thing Must Go Metaphysics
Naturalized, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Ladyman, J., & Bigaj, T. (2010) The principle of the identity of indiscernibles and quantum mechanics. Philosophy of Science, 77(1), 117-136.
Lam, V. (2017) Structuralism in the philosophy of physics. Philosophy Compass, 12(6), e12421.
Lam, V., & Esfeld, M. (2012) The structural metaphysics of quantum theory and general relativity. Journal for general philosophy of science, 43(2), 243-258.
Lam, V., & Wüthrich, C. (2015) No categorial support for radical ontic structural realism. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 66(3), 605-634.
Landry, E. (2007) ‘Shared Structure Need Not Be Shared
Set-Structure’, Synthese, 158(1): 1-17.
Landry, E. M. (2012) Methodological structural realism. In Structural Realism (pp. 29-57). Springer, Dordrecht.
Landry, E., & Rickles, D. (Eds.) (2012) Structural realism: Structure, object, and causality (Vol. 77). Springer Science & Business Media.
Lyons, T. D. (2016) Structural realism versus deployment realism: A comparative evaluation. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A, 59, 95-105.
Lyre, H. (2004) ‘Holism and Structuralism in U(1) Gauge Theory’, Studies
in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics, vol. 35B(4):
Lyre, H. (2009) Structural realism and abductive-transcendental arguments. In Constituting Objectivity (pp. 491-501). Springer, Dordrecht.
Lyre, H. (2010) Humean perspectives on structural realism. In The present situation in the philosophy of science (pp. 381-397). Springer, Dordrecht.
Lyre, H. (2011) Is structural underdetermination possible? Synthese, 180(2), 235-247.
Lyre, H. (2012) Structural invariants, structural kinds, structural laws. In Probabilities, laws, and structures (pp. 169-181). Springer, Dordrecht.
Lyre, H. (2013) Must Structural Realism Cover the Special Sciences? In EPSA11 perspectives and foundational problems in philosophy of science (pp. 383-390). Springer, Cham.
Mamchur, E. (2017) The Destiny of Atomism in the Modern Science and the Structural Realism. Social Epistemology, 31(1), 93-104.
Massimi, M. (2010) Structural realism: A neo-Kantian perspective. In Scientific structuralism (pp. 1-23). Springer, Dordrecht.
Matsubara, K. (2013) Realism, underdetermination and string theory dualities. Synthese, 190(3), 471-489.
McArthur, D. (2003) ‘Reconsidering Structural Realism’, Canadian
Journal of Philosophy, vol. 33(4): 517-536.
McArthur,D. (2006) ‘Contra Cartwright: Structural Realism, Ontological
Pluralism and Fundamentalism about Laws’, Synthese,
vol. 151(2): 233-255.
McArthur, D. (2008) Theory change, structural realism, and the relativised a priori. International Studies in the Philosophy of Science, 22(1), 5-20.
McArthur, D. J. (2011) Discovery, theory change and structural realism. Synthese, 179(3), 361-376.
McKenzie, K. (2013) How (and how not) to object to objects: developments in structural realism. Metascience, 22(2), 283-287.
McKenzie, K. (2014) Priority and particle physics: Ontic structural realism as a fundamentality thesis. The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 65(2), 353-380.
McKenzie, K. (2017) Relativities of fundamentality. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics, 59, 89-99.
McKenzie, K. (2020) Structuralism in the Idiom of Determination. The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 71(2), 497-522.
McLendon, H.J. (1955) ‘Uses of Similarity of Structure in Contemporary
Philosophy’, Mind, vol. 64: 79-95.
This article is concerned with the use of the concepts 'similarity of
structure' and 'isomorphism'. The author's concern is 'to judge the
philosophical importance of this piece... not merely as it appears in
Russell's system making, but also as it is used in much of the system
building characteristics of recent philosophy of analysis'.
(NB: McLendon's objection to Russell's structuralism is quite similar
to Newman's (1928) though he seems to be unware of it. Interestingly,
McLendon thanks Quine for bringing this objection to his attention. I
have found no indication as to whether Quine himself was familiar with
Maxwell, G. (1968) ‘Scientific Methodology and the Causal Theory of
Perception’, in I. Lakatos and A Musgrave (eds.) Problems in
the Philosophy of Science, Amsterdam: North-Holland
In this article Maxwell argues against what he calls 'excessive
empiricism' and in favour of structural realism by means of the causal
theory of perception. He begins by arguing that '[i]n a real and
important sense… all of the external world, including even our own
bodies is unobserved and unobservable… [I]f we are to retain our
starting position, the causal theory of perception, we must maintain a
realist position regarding the sphere of the non-mental' (p. 152).
According to Maxwell the only view that can do justice to the challenge
posed by concept empiricism/ concept idealism, viz '[h]ow… can we
conceive of or meaningfully ascribe any properties to the entities of
an external world[?]', is structural realism. He goes on to say that
'[t]he notion of form or structure needed here may accurately be said
to be logical (and/or mathematical) and, in a sense, abstract;
characterizations of it will be in terms of logic alone, ie the logical
connectives, quantifiers and variables - they will contain no
descriptive terms' (pp. 152-3). In a footnote, Maxwell corrects himself
by saying that 'structure should not be identified with form; rather it
is form plus causal connections with experience' (p. 154).
To make the notion of structure more perspicuous he furnishes an
example of two systems that have a certain 'structural similarity'. He
explains that such a similarity is due to the fact that they 'share a
certain formal property' which is of course 'defined in logical terms
alone' (p. 154). The way in which Maxwell expresses this shared formal
property is via the Ramsey sentence, though he does not mention it by
name. Using, in part, Kantian language Maxwell set the conditions for
the view he espouses saying that on the one hand we have direct
knowledge of phenomena that are wholly in the mind while on the other
there are things in themselves of which we have no direct knowledge but
'the bulk of our common sense and scientific knowledge concerns them'
(p. 154). He offers as examples of this latter type of knowledge 'not
only electrons, protons, forces, and fields but also tables, chairs,
and human bodies'. He goes on to say that '[a]ll of our knowledge of
these is, of course, indirect' and hence 'purely structural' (pp.
The consequences of this view are that 'we can name neither individuals
nor properties of the external (non-mental) world. Strictly speaking
expressions referring to the things in themselves will contain only
logical signs [including] existentially quantified variables [and] they
will contain neither proper names nor predicate constants' (p. 155).
Following Russell, Maxwell adds that 'many of the terms we ordinarily
think of as names are better characterized as abbreviations for
definite descriptions' (p. 155). To illustrate the superiority of
structural realism over representative realism, Maxwell notes that
unlike what is required in representative realism 'it is not essential
to [structural realism] that the sense impressions or perceptual
experiences, or whatever we decide to call them "resemble" the physical
objects which may be among their causal antecedents' (p. 155).
According to Maxwell, sense impressions have structures and '[t]o
postulate a similarity between a sense impression and the physical
object hypothesized to be its causal antecedent would be to postulate a
structural similarity, i.e., to postulate that at least a certain
subset of the features of the impression are isomorphic with a subset
of the features of the physical object' (p. 156).
(Note: Accompanying this paper is commentary by Quine, Popper, Ayer and
Kneale as well as Maxwell's reply to them).
Maxwell, G. (1969) ‘Knowledge, Mind, and Nature: An introduction to
theory of knowledge and the philosophy of mind’, The
Philosophical Review, vol 78, no 3: 329-97.
is a review of a book by Bruce Aune (1967). Maxwell comments on Aune's
acceptance of Russell's view that our knowledge of the external world
is structural. He also makes a couple of other points relating to
structural realism such as his rejection of Aune's idea that there are
public entities: '[A]ll public entities in any usual sense are
naive-realist and thus non-existent. Their counterparts in the revised
world picture are nonpublic (that is, unobservable) entities,
characterized only structurally, whose existence is postulated in order
to give a causal explanation of our (again nonpublic) sense impressions
that comprise what in ordinary language we refer to as "hearing speech"
or "seeing printed words"'. (p. 396)
Maxwell, G. (1970a) ‘Structural Realism and the Meaning of Theoretical
Terms’, in S. Winokur and M. Radner (eds.) Analyses of
Theories, and Methods of Physics and Psychology,
Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, pp. 181-92.
this paper an attempt has been made to apply Russell's principle of
acquaintance and some of his work on descriptions, augmented either by
use of the Ramsey sentence or by model theory, to some of the main
problems of the theory of scientific theories. The problem of the
meaning of theoretical terms has been eliminated while, at the same
time, a means of explicating a realist interpretation of theories is
provided. The approach also yields an explication of the view of
Russell and others that our knowledge of the physical world is limited
to its purely structural aspects. A framework for a view that might be
called 'structural realism' is thereby provided. (p. 192)
Maxwell, G. (1970b) ‘Theories, Perception and Structural Realism’ in R.
Colodny (ed.) Nature and Function of Scientific Theories,
Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, pp. 3-34.
closing, let us take a brief look at the implications of these
considerations for empiricism, in general, and for empiricist meaning
criteria, in particular. We saw earlier that the most widespread kind
of contemporary empiricism, judgement empiricism, turns out to be
identical with strict confirmationism and must, therefore, be
abandoned, as must all meaning criteria based on confirmation. These
are now seen to be instances of the fallacy of epistemologism.
Surprisingly enough, however, it turns out that contemporary scientific
knowledge affords strong support for a modified version of a rather
old-fashioned theory of meaning, sometimes called 'concept empiricism',
which, in turn, entails a different kind of meaning criterion. In my
exposition of it, I assumed logical terms to be unproblematic and used
Russell's principle of acquaintance as a 'meaning criterion' both for
propositions and for descriptive (non-logical) terms. This is seen to
be surprisingly unrestrictive both ontologically and epistemically once
strict inductivism is abandoned and the powerful referential power of
definite and indefinite descriptions, as explicated by Russell and
Ramsey, is recognised. (pp. 30-1)
Meyer, M. (2018) Nietzsche’s Ontic Structural Realism? In P. Katsafanas (Ed.), The Nietzschean Mind, London: Routledge.
Morganti, M. (2004) ‘On the Preferability of Epistemic Structural
Realism’, Synthese, vol. 142(1): 81-107.
Morganti, M. (2011) Is there a compelling argument for Ontic Structural Realism? Philosophy of Science, 78(5), 1165-1176.
Morganti, M. (2019) From ontic structural realism to metaphysical coherentism. European journal for philosophy of science, 9(1), 7.
Muller, F.A. (1998) Structures for Everyone: Contemplations
and proofs in the foundations and philosophy of physics and mathematics,
Amsterdam: A Gerits & Son.
this thesis, the author has explained an answer to the question what
kind of language suffices and which assumptions suffice to formulate
and to shore, respectively, the whole of physical and mathematical
theories - in so far as his cerebral cortex overviews this. In brief,
this thesis is an old-fashioned quest for a founding language and a
founding theory for physical and mathematical knowledge. Prior to the
question whether we ought to do this lies the question whether we can
do this, because if we answer the last-mentioned question negatively,
then to address the aforementioned question is like clapping wings in a
vacuum: one does not advance one scintilla. The author claims to show
that it can be done. Whether something ought or ought not to be done,
lies beyond the realm of theorem and proof. Parenthetically, the author
thinks it ought to be done, because beauty is imperative. This is an
Muller, F. A. (2010) The characterisation of structure: Definition versus axiomatisation. In The present situation in the philosophy of science (pp. 399-416). Springer, Dordrecht.
Neuber, M. (2014) Critical realism in perspective: Remarks on a neglected current in neo-Kantian epistemology. In New directions in the philosophy of science (pp. 657-673). Springer, Cham.
Newman, M.H.A. (1928) ‘MR Russell's “Causal Theory of Perception” ’, Mind,
vol 37: 137-48.
In this critical review of The Analysis of Matter,
Newman argues against Russell’s claim that we can know only the
(abstract) structure of the external world, alleging that this makes
scientific knowledge trivial. Indeed, the only way to avoid the
triviality accusation, according to him, is to abandon ESR.
First, Newman takes ESR knowledge claims to be trivial, for he takes
Russell’s structuralism to amount to assertions of the following type:
“[t]here is a relation R such that the structure of the external world
with reference to R is W” (1928: 144). He argues that, aside from
indicating the required cardinality, these assertions are not saying
anything of importance since we can derive the same assertions for any
given class by appeal to the following theorem: “For given any
aggregate A, a system of relations between its members can be found
having any assigned structure compatible with the cardinal number of A”
(140). In other words, given the right number of objects we can set up
any structure we like. Yet, we expect knowledge of the external world
to be the outcome of empirical investigation not of a priori reasoning.
Indeed, the only information that requires empirical investigation
under Russell’s view, according to Newman’s argument, is information
about the size of a given class.
Second, Newman argues that the only way to avoid the triviality
accusation is to give up ESR. This much, according to him, is evident
in the idea “that it is meaningless to speak of the structure of a mere
collection of things, not provided with a set of relations”, and
“[t]hus the only important statements about structure are those
concerned with the structure set up … by a given, definite, relation”
(140). The sole way to avoid trivialization, Newman holds, is to
specify the particular relation(s) that generate(s) a given structure.
That is, if we uniquely specify R, instead of just saying ‘There is a
relation R that has a certain structure W’, the fact that R has
structure W is no longer trivial. The problem is that to specify R, one
inevitably goes beyond the epistemic commitments of the structural
realist, thereby abandoning ESR. (Votsis 2004, pp. 46-7)
Newman, M. (2010) Beyond Structural Realism: pluralist criteria for theory evaluation. Synthese, 174(3), 413-443.
Nounou, A. M. (2015) For or against structural realism? A verdict from high energy physics. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics, 49, 84-101.
Oberdan, T. (2015) From Helmholtz to Schlick: The evolution of the sign-theory of perception. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A, 52, 35-43.
O'Conaill, D. (2014) Ontic structural realism and concrete objects. The Philosophical Quarterly, 64(255), 284-300.
Palter, R. (1956) ‘Physics and Structure’, The Philosophical
Review, vol. 65(3): 371-84.
an article in this journal, William C Clement claims to have refuted
Russell's argument for his so-called 'structuralist thesis' and
moreover to have shown that the thesis is, in fact, probably false. In
this paper I shall examine Clement's arguments and attempt to show that
they are not valid. I shall not defend the structuralist thesis, but I
shall seek to clarify it and thereby dispel the plausibility of certain
common objections to the thesis. (p. 371)
Papineau, D. (2010) Realism, Ramsey sentences and the pessimistic meta-induction. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A, 41(4), 375-385.
Peters, D. (2014) What elements of successful scientific theories are the correct targets for “selective” scientific realism? Philosophy of Science, 81(3), 377-397.
Pincock, C. (2010) Mathematical structural realism. In Scientific structuralism (pp. 67-79). Springer, Dordrecht.
Poincaré, H. (1952) Science and Hypothesis,
New York: Dover.
The ephemeral nature of scientific theories takes by surprise the man
of the world. Their brief period of prosperity ended, he seems them
abandoned one after another; he sees ruins piled upon ruins; he
predicts that the theories in fashion to-day will in a short time
succumb in their turn, and he concludes that they are absolutely in
vain. This is what he calls the bankruptcy of science.
His scepticism is superficial; he does not take into account the object
of scientific theories and the part they play, or he would understand
that the ruins may be still good for something. No theory seemed
established on firmer ground than Fresnel's, which attributed light to
the movements of the ether. Then if Maxwell's theory is today
preferred, does that mean that Fresnel's work was in vain? No; for
Fresnel's object was to know whether there really is an ether, if it is
or is not formed of atoms, if these atoms really move in this way or
that; his object was to predict optical phenomena.
This Fresnel's theory enables us to do today as well as it did before
Maxwell's time. The differential equations are always true, they may be
always integrated by the same methods, and the results of this
integration still preserve their value. It cannot be said that this is
reducing physical theories to simple practical recipes; these equations
express relations, and if the equations remain true, it is because the
relations preserve their reality. They teach us now, as they did then,
that there is such and such a relation between this thing and that;
only, the something which we then called motion, we now call electric
current. But these are merely names of the images we substituted for
the real objects which Nature will hide for ever from our eyes. The
true relations between these real objects are the only reality we can
attain, and the sole condition is that the same relations shall exist
between these objects as between the images we are forced to put in
their place. If the relations are known to us, what does it matter if
we think it convenient to replace one image by another? (pp. 160-1)
Post, H.R. (1971) ‘Correspondence, Invariance and Heuristics: In praise
of conservative induction’, Studies in the History and
Philosophy of Science, vol. 2: 213-55.
is an essay on inter-theory relations in natural science. A number of
rules are stated that are claimed to be both descriptive in the history
of science, and heuristic guidelines in the construction of new
theories. In particular, the relation between the symmetries exhibited
by two theories connected by correspondence is discussed.
Psillos, S. (1995) ‘Is Structural Realism the Best of Both Worlds?’, Dialectica,
a recent series of papers, John Worrall has defended and elaborated a
philosophical position - traced back to Poincaré - which he calls
structural realism. This view stands in between scientific realism and
agnostic instrumentalism and intends to accommodate both the intuitions
that underwrite the 'no miracles' argument for scientific realism and
the existence of scientific revolutions which lead to radical
theoretical changes. Structural realism presents itself as the best of
both worlds. In this paper I critically examine the epistemic status of
structural realism and argue that it is not the best of both worlds.
Yet, I stress that it reveals an insight which, properly understood,
can cast new light on the debates over scientific realism.
Psillos, S. (1999) Scientific Realism: How science tracks
truth, London: Routledge.
realism relies on a distinction between the nature of an entity, or
process, and its structure, and claims that the latter is captured by
the mathematical equations describing the behaviour of an entity, while
the former somehow 'lies beyond' what can be quantitatively described.
This is a view which I aim to challenge. The thesis that I shall
motivate and defend is that Worrall's attempted reconciliation of the
pessimistic induction and the no miracle argument is not best captured
by the structure versus content distinction. (pp. 146-7)
Psillos, S. (2000) ‘Carnap, the Ramsey-Sentence and Realistic
Empiricism’, Erkenntnis, vol. 52(2): 253-79.
on archival material from the Carnap and Feigl Archives, this paper
re-examines Carnap's approach to the issue of scientific realism in the
1950s and the early 1960s. It focuses on Carnap's reinvention of the
Ramsey-sentence approach to scientific theories and argues that Carnap
wanted to entertain a genuine neutral stance in the
realism-instrumentalism debate. Following Grover Maxwell, it claims
that Carnap's position may be best understood as a version of
'structural realism'. However, thus understood, Carnap's position faces
the challenge that Newman raised against Russell's structuralism: the
claim that the knowledge of the unobservable is limited to its purely
structural characteristics is either uninformative or unsustainable.
Psillos, S. (2001a) ‘Is Structural Realism Possible?’, Philosophy
of Science, vol 68(3): S13- S24.
realism (SR) is a cluster of attempts to defend a substantive
philosophical position concerning what there is in the world and what
can be known of it. It is realist because it typically asserts the
existence of a mind-independent world, and it is structural because
what is knowable can reach only up to the structural features of the
world. This paper aims to unravel and criticise the metaphysical
presuppositions of SR. It will question its very possibility as a
substantive - and viable - realist thesis. (p. 1)
Psillos, S. (2001b) ‘Author’s Response to Symposium on
Scientific Realism: How Science Tracks Truth’, Metascience,
vol. 10(3): 366-371.
Psillos, S. (2006) ‘The Structure, the Whole Structure and Nothing but
the Structure?’, Philosophy of Science,
Putnam, H. (1978) ‘Realism and Reason’ in Meaning and the
Moral Sciences, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
this essay Putnam mounts an attack against metaphysical realism and in
particular its contention that a theory that is ideal with respect to
'operational utility, inner beauty and elegance, "plausibility",
simplicity, "conservatism", etc' might still be false (p. 125). The
central argument against metaphysical realism is Putnam's famed
model-theoretic argument. In short, the argument purports to show that
an ideal theory cannot be false. Other arguments follow. Finally,
Putnam defends internal realism from the same objections and argues
that 'a verificationist view of truth and a correspondence theory of
truth (in the sense of empirical realism) are not incompatible'. (p. 5)
Quine, W.V.O. (1968) ‘Comment’ in the Discussion section of Maxwell’s
‘Scientific Methodology and the Causal Theory of Perception’, in I.
Lakatos and A. Musgrave (eds.) Problems in the Philosophy of
Science, Amsterdam: North-Holland Publishing Company.
Quine, W.V.O. (1969) Ontological Relativity and Other Essays,
New York: Columbia University Press.
Quine, W.V.O. (1992) ‘Structure and Nature’, in Journal of
Philosophy vol 89, no 1:5-9.
on his thesis of ontological relativity Quine says: 'The conclusion is
that there can be no evidence for one ontology over against another, so
long anyway as we can express a one-one correlation between them. Save
the structure and you save all' (p. 8). A page later he concludes: 'My
global structuralism should not… be seen as a structuralist ontology.
To see it thus would be to rise above naturalism and revert to the sin
of transcendental metaphysics. My tentative ontology continues to
consist of quarks and their compounds, also classes of such things,
classes of such classes, and so on, pending evidence to the contrary.
My global structuralism is a naturalistic thesis about the mundane
human activity, within our world of quarks, of devising theories of
quarks and the like in the light of physical impacts on our physical
surfaces.' (p. 9)
Ramsey, F.P. (1929) ‘Theories’, repr. in D.H. Mellor (ed.) Foundations:
Essays in philosophy, logic, mathematics and economics,
London: Routledge, 1978.
is Ramsey's famed account of theories that later became known as the
Ramsey-sentence approach. In short, Ramsey gets rid of predicates that
apply to unobservable entities by existentially quantifying over them.
Assuming that a scientific theory can be finitely axiomatised in a
first-order language we existentially quantify all theoretical terms
(thereby eliminating direct reference to them) the result of which
keeps the structure and observable consequences of the theory intact.
Grover Maxwell had first pointed out that this approach is congenial to
structural realism and had in fact been anticipated by Russell's (1927).
Redhead, M.L.G. (1990) ‘Is the End of Physics in Sight?’, in French, S.
and Kamminga, H. (eds.) Correspondence, Invariance and
Heuristics: In honor of Heinz Post, Dordrecht and Boston:
Kluwer Academic Press, 1993.
of the central concerns of Heinz Post's work in the philosophy of
science has involved problems of intertheory relations, both with
respect to the diachronic correspondence between successive theories
and the synchronic reduction of one theory to another. The general
correspondence principle articulated by Post (1971) demands that
successor theories and reducing theories should conserve the successes
of replaced theories and reduced theories, respectively, while
overcoming their perceived flaws. Post's thesis is that unification by
means of theory reduction and 'conservative induction' in the
formulation of new theories, providing that the corresponding principle
is satisfied, are progressive procedures and, hence, goals worth
pursuing in science. The aim of this paper is to evaluate what the
prospects are for a final 'end-product' for these unifying processes of
theory evolution and theory reduction. (p. 327)
Redhead, M.L.G. (1995) From Physics to Metaphysics,
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
book is drawn from the Tarner Lectures delivered in Cambridge in 1993.
It is concerned with the ultimate nature of reality and how this is
revealed by modern physical theories such as relativity and quantum
theory. The objectivity and rationality of science are defended against
the views of relativists and social constructivists. It is claimed that
modern physics gives us a tentative and fallible, but nevertheless
rational, approach to the nature of physical reality. The role of
subjectivity in science is examined in the fields of relativity theory,
statistical mechanics and quantum theory, and recent claims of an
essential role for human consciousness in physics is rejected.
Prospects for a 'theory of everything' are considered, and the related
question of how to assess scientific progress is carefully examined.
Redhead, M.L.G. (2001a) ‘The Intelligibility of the
Universe’, in A.O'Hear (ed.) Philosophy at the New Millennium,
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 73-90.
Hume famously warned us that the '[The] ultimate springs and principles
are totally shut up from human curiosity and enquiry'. Or, again,
Newton: 'Hitherto I have not been able to discover the cause of these
properties of gravity… and I frame no hypotheses.' Aristotelian science
was concerned with just such questions, the specification of occult
qualities, the real essences that answer the question 'What is matter,
etc?', the preoccupation with circular definitions such as dormative
virtues, and so on. The rise of modern science is usually seen as a
break with the sterility of Aristotelianism, so what exactly is it that
modern science does discover, if it is not the essential nature of
matter, of force, of energy, of space and time? A famous answer was
provided by Poincaré: 'The true relations between these real objects
are the only reality we can attain.' This is often regarded as the
manifesto of so-called structural realism, as espoused in recent years
by John Worrall, for example (cp his (1989)). In response to the
arguments of Larry Laudan (1982) against convergent realism, Worrall
points to the continuity in the formal relations between elements of
reality expressed by mathematical equations, while the intrinsic nature
of these elements of reality gets constantly revised. Thus notions like
phlogiston and ether get discarded but the mathematical relationships
involving such entities survive in Lavoisier's oxygen chemistry
(crudely, combustion results in an increase in weight because
subtracting the negative weight of phlogiston is mathematically
equivalent to adding positive weight of oxygen) or in the modern theory
of the electromagnetic field, which simply dispenses with the
underpinning of stresses and strains in a mechanical ether.
Popper is another philosopher who attacked what he called
methodological essentialism, the thesis that it is the task of science
'to discover and to describe the true nature of things'. Rather he
advocated methodological nominalism which aims at 'describing how a
thing behaves in various circumstances, and especially whether there
are any regularities in its behaviour'.
If we follow these lines of thought we will be led to a more limited,
but in many ways more defensible, account of what we might want to mean
by the intelligibility of the universe.
In this paper I want to explore the structuralist approach to the
nature of scientific theorising, but first we need to be a little more
precise as to how exactly the structuralist thesis should be
formulated. (pp. 1-2)
Redhead, M.L.G. (2001b) ‘Quests of a Realist’, Symposium on Stathis
Psillos’ Scientific Realism: How science tracks truth, Metascience,
vol. 10(3): 341-7.
Ritchie, J. (2008) Structural realism and Davidson. Synthese, 162(1), 85-100.
Rivadulla, A. (2010) Two dogmas of Structural Realism. A confirmation of a philosophical death foretold. Crítica: Revista Hispanoamericana de Filosofía, 3-29.
Roberts, B. W. (2011) Group structural realism. The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 62(1), 47-69.
Rosner, J.A. (1996) ‘Quine's Global Structuralism’, Dialectica,
vol. 50(3): 235-42.
ontological relativity thesis requires that objects be treated as
'neutral nodes' in the logical structure of our total theory of the
world. It is by treating objects as neutral that we are able to vary
ontology yet leave the evidential support of our theory undisturbed. In
this article, I present arguments against the possibility of treating
objects as 'neutral'.
Ross, D. (2008) Ontic structural realism and economics. Philosophy of Science, 75(5), 732-743.
Russell, B. (1912) The Problems of Philosophy,
Oxford: Oxford University Press.
of Russell's first expressions of structural realist ideology can be
found in this celebrated book. Taking for granted the existence of our
own perceptions, Russell progressively argues for the existence of
matter. The end result of his investigation is that we have good
reasons to believe that the causes of the sense-data we perceive are
physical objects. But what can science tell us about physical objects?
Russell's answer is unmistakably clear: 'We can know the properties of
the relations required to preserve the correspondence with sense-data,
but we cannot know the nature of the terms between which the relations
hold' (pp. 15-16). And again a page later: 'Thus we find that, although
the relations of physical objects have all sorts of knowable
properties, derived from their correspondence with the relations of
sense-data, the physical objects themselves remain unknown in their
intrinsic nature, so far at least as can be discovered by means of the
senses' (p. 17). Indeed, Russell's structural realist ideology can be
found even in his theory of truth (and belief), appropriately named
'correspondence by congruence theory' and appearing in chapter 12.
Russell, B. (1914) ‘The Relation of Sense-Data to Physics’, Scientia.
begins by stating a problem that the verification of physics faces:
'Physics exhibits sense-data as functions of physical objects, but
verification is only possible if physical objects can be exhibited as
functions of sense-data.' (pp. 146-7). What follows is an exposition of
what Russell thinks to be the relationship between sense-data and
physics. First of all he defines sense-data and sensibilia and
clarifies their ontological status. Then he exhorts the method of
logical construction for its accordance to what he calls the 'supreme
maxim of scientific philosophising', a variant of Occam's razor. The
maxim calls for the substitution of inferred entities by logical
constructions whenever possible. Following this he lays the foundations
of his constructions by distinguishing between two types of spaces,
private space and perspective space. Armed with these he finally
constructs the three dimensional space of physics.
Russell, B. (1927) The Analysis of Matter,
London: George Allen & Unwin.
this book, Russell's structural realism receives a more thorough
treatment. Here he argues that it is both reasonable and fruitful to
assume the existence of external causes - 'material' events - admitting
that we should 'not expect to find a demonstration that perceptions
have external causes' (p. 198). Assuming, among other things, that
similar causes have similar effects, he argues that we can infer the
structure of the external world from the structure of our perceptions:
'[t]hese principles enable us to infer a great deal as to the structure
of the physical world, but not as to its intrinsic character' (p. 400).
The notion of 'structure' or 'relation-number', first defined in
Principia Mathematica and used interchangeably in formal contexts, is
defined in terms of the notion of 'relation'. That is, talk of
structure is invariably talk of the structure of a relation or of a
system of relations - this latter notion signifies one or more
relations defined over a domain. The structure of a relation is simply
'the class of relations similar [ie isomorphic] to the given relation'.
Russell, B. (1948) Human Knowledge: Its scope and limits,
London: George Allen & Unwin.
Russell, B. (1968) The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell,
vol 2, London: George Allen & Unwin.
Reprinted here is Russell's letter to MHA Newman conceding that
strictly speaking we cannot say that our knowledge of the external
world is merely structural.
Ruyant, Q. (2019) Structural realism or modal empiricism? The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 70(4), 1051-1072.
Saatsi, J. (2008) Eclectic realism—the proof of the pudding: a reply to Busch. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A, 39(2), 273-276.
Saatsi, J. (2012) Scientific realism and historical evidence: Shortcomings of the current state of debate. In EPSA philosophy of science: Amsterdam 2009 (pp. 329-340). Springer, Dordrecht.
Saatsi, J. (2019) What is theoretical progress of science? Synthese, 196(2), 611-631.
Saunders, S. (1993) ‘To What Physics Corresponds’, in S. French and H.
Kamminga (eds.), Correspondence, Invariance and Heuristics:
Essays inHonour of Heinz Post, pp 295-325, Dordrecht, Reidel.
what follows, I wish to reconsider certain ideas to be found in Post's
(1971) defence of the 'retentionist' or 'accumulativist' view of
science. In particular I shall focus on heuristics and methodology and
will confine the discussion to physics, specifically to theories of
dynamics (this, I hazard, is to be counted a constraint in principle:
it seems unlikely that similar considerations will apply to any other
branch of empirical science.) Post's thesis (what he calls the
'generalized principle of correspondence') is both historical and
methodological; it may simply put as the claim that what is taken over
from preceding theories is not only those laws and experimental facts
which are well-confirmed, but also 'patterns' and 'internal
connections', that in this way the successor theory accounts for
whatever success its precursor enjoyed, for it '…will in fact embody a
good deal of the (lower) theoretical structure of the [precursor]
theory'. (p. 295)
Saunders, S. (2003) ‘Critical Notice: Tian Yu Cao's “The Conceptual
Development of 20th Century Field Theories” ’, Synthese,
vol. 136(1): 79-105.
Tian Yu Cao has written a serious and scholarly book covering a great
deal of physics...I shall read him as making two principal claims. The
first is what he says it is: these theories are intertwined, and
provide clear evidence of continuity of development, preserving what he
calls 'structural' aspects of phenomena (or theories of phenomena). He
speaks of this in terms of 'ontological synthesis'; he supposes that
this is at odds with Kuhn's views on the nature of scientific change.
The second claim is largely tacit. It is that the conceptual problems
and foundational questions of quantum physics, including questions of
ontology, realism, and truth, have nothing to do with the problem of
measurement in quantum mechanics. In fact Cao completely ignores the
problem of measurement, dismissing out of hand its modern treatment by
physicists and philosophers of physics.
We shall leave aside metaphysical speculations and unsuccessful
physical attempts (such as the hidden-variable hypothesis, or
hydrodynamic and stochastic interpretations) and concentrate on the
interpretations that acted as guides in the historical development of
When he comes on to consider the later history of quantum field theory
and gauge theory, the problem of measurement drops out of sight
entirely. It played (almost) no role in either area, so Cao feels he is
entitled to ignore it. Yet he is saying something about realism all the
same; these programs are supposed to be consistent with realism, and
even to lend support to it, regardless of the measurement problem.
Both claims are interesting and, if true, they are important. Are they
true? This is a question I shall pursue. I will not be able to do full
justice to Cao's book, for it encompasses more than these two claims;
but it seems to me that they are the most interesting ones for
philosophers. I shall begin with the first, and with the examples cited
by Cao in support of it. As we shall see these examples have their
shortcomings; they are, I shall argue, the wrong kinds of examples. I
think he is right to say that something structural is preserved across
theory change, but this claim needs to be disentangled from any
particular thesis (such as Cao puts forward) about how quantum
mechanics and relativity theory are to be reconciled with one another.
Later on I will give some different examples, that suggest better what
this 'something' might be. Unfortunately for Cao's second claim,
however, this does lead on directly to the problem of measurement. (p.
Saunders, S. (2003) ‘Structural Realism, Again’, Synthese,
vol. 136(1): 127-133.
Schindler, S. (2013) The Kuhnian mode of HPS. Synthese, 190(18), 4137-4154.
Schlick, M. (1925) General Theory of Knowledge,
translated by A.E. Blumberg and H. Feigl, New York: Springer-Verlag.
and Friedman (1985) point out the similarities between Schlick and
Russell's work: 'Schlick argues that modern physics deals with real
unobservable entities (atoms, electrons, the electromagnetic field),
which cannot be understood as logical constructions out of sense-data
in the manner of Mach's Analysis of Sensations (1897) or Russell's 1914
external-world program (1918, �26). Such entities are not
experienceable, intuitable, or even picturable; accordingly, Schlick
goes so far as to call them 'transcendent' entities and
'things-in-themselves' (1918, �25). Nevertheless, this 'transcendence'
presents no obstacle to our knowledge or cognition, for knowledge
relates always to purely formal or structural properties - not to
intuitive qualities or content. Thus, while we cannot experience or
intuit the entities of modern physics, we can grasp their formal or
structural features by means of axiomatic or implicit definitions, in
the style of Hilbert's Foundations of Geometry (1899) - and this is all
that knowledge or cognition requires (1918, ��5-7). The similarities
with Russell's view of 1927 are patent.' (p. 625)
Schmidt, M. (2010) Causation and structural realism. Organon F, 17(4), 508-521.
Schurz, G. (2009) When empirical success implies theoretical reference: A structural correspondence theorem. The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 60(1), 101-133.
Schurz, G., & Votsis, I. (2014) Reconstructing Scientific Theory Change by Means of Frames, in T. Gamerschlag et al. (Eds.), Frames and Concept Types, Studies in Linguistics and Philosophy, vol. 94, Springer, pp. 93-109.
Shaw, J. C. O. (2018) Why the realism debate matters for science policy: The case of the human brain project. Spontaneous Generations: A Journal for the History and Philosophy of Science, 9(1), 82-98.
Slowik, E. (2005) ‘Spacetime, Ontology, and Structural Realism’, International
Studies in the Philosophy of Science, vol. 19(2): 147-166.
Solomon, G. (1989) ‘An Addendum to Demopoulos and Friedman (1985)’, Philosophy
of Science, vol. 56: 497-501.
Newman (1928) criticised Russell's structuralist philosophy of science.
Demopoulos and Friedman have discussed Newman's critique, showing its
relevance to the structuralist positions held by Schlick and Carnap,
and to Putnam's argument against 'metaphysical realism.' I discuss
Richard Braithwaite's (1940) appeal to Newman in a critique of Arthur
Eddington. Braithwaite believed Newman had shown that 'structure
depends upon content'. Eddington, in his reply, misunderstood the
generality of Newman's argument.
Solomon, G. (1990) ‘What Became of Russell's Relation-Arithmetic?’, Russell,
vol. 9: 168-73.
begins by noting the importance that Russell ascribed to
relation-arithmetic. Contra Russell he argues that relation-arithmetic
received significant attention and thus thinks that Russell's
disappointment is due to a personal disinterest in the developments of
mathematical logic that came after the publication of the second
edition of Principia Mathematica. Indeed, Solomon cites as an example
of the influence of relation-arithmetic Tarski who 'provided a general
algebraic setting for discussing relation-arithmetic' (170). Solomon
then asks what is the philosophical value of relation-arithmetic, if,
as Russell maintained, it is required for dealing with structure and
structure itself is required to understand the empirical world. To
answer that he reminds us of Russell's structural realist project The
Analysis of Matter and claims that it was 'fatally criticized' by MHA
Newman as Russell himself conceded in a letter. Solomon notes that
Newman's contribution is not mentioned in Russell's autobiographical My
Philosophical Development perhaps because he thought that his later
epistemology evaded Newman's critique. Finally, Solomon wonders whether
Russell's post-Newman appeal to knowledge by acquaintance of
non-structural features of the empirical world makes his resulting
theories more plausible.
Stachel, J. (2005) ‘Structural Realism and Contextual Individuality’,
in Hilary Putnam (Contemporary
Philosophy in Focus), Y. Ben-Menahem (ed.), Cambridge: CUP,
Stein, H. (1987) ‘After the Baltimore Lectures: Some philosophical
reflections on subsequent development of physics’ in R. Kargon and P.
Achinstein (eds.) Kelvin's Baltimore Lectures and Modern
Theoretical Physics, Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University
is only at the very last paragraph of this article that Stein reveals
his structural realist inclinations. Speaking of the conceptual
continuity that can be found between the properties of earlier and
those of later theories, he says: 'What is in fact "recognizable" is a
distinct relationship, from older to newer theory, of mathematical
forms - not a resemblance of "entities". This has always seemed to me
the most striking and important fact about the affiliations of
scientific theories. I do not suggest a philosophical "explanation" of
this fact; I cite it, on merely historical evidence, just as a fact'.
Stein, H. (1989) ‘Yes, But… Some skeptical remarks on realism and
antirealism’, Dialectica, vol. 43: 47-65.
paper argues that the much-discussed issue between 'scientific realism'
and 'instrumentalism' has not been clearly drawn. Particular attention
is paid to the claim that only realism can 'explain' the success of
scientific theories and - more especially - the progressively
increasing success of such theories in a coherent line of inquiry. This
claim is used to attempt to reach a clearer conception of the 'content'
of the realist thesis that underlies it; but, it is here contended,
that attempt fails, and the claim itself hangs in the air. A series of
increasingly sophisticated versions of the 'instrumentalist' thesis is
considered, and both these and the contentions of realism are placed in
relation both to particular examples of scientific development and
positions historically maintained by philosophers and by scientists.
Stoneham, T., & Cei, A. (2009) “Let the Occult Quality Go”: Interpreting Berkley's Metaphysics of Science. European journal of analytic philosophy, 5(1), 73-91.
Stump, D. (1989) ‘Henri Poincaré’s Philosophy of Science’, Studies
in History and Philosophy of Science, vol. 20(3): 335-363.
Tulodziecki, D. (2016) Structural realism beyond physics. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A, 59, 106-114.
Uebel, T.E. (1999) ‘Transformations of “Conventionalism” in the Vienna
Circle’, Philosophia Scientiae, vol. 3(2): 75-94.
constitutive influence of Poincaré, Duhem and Rey on the philosophy of
the Vienna Circle, long obscured, has become more widely recognised.
Two aspects of the Viennese reception of these 'French
Conventionalists' are explored here for the light they may throw on the
circle's own, still insufficiently understood, conventionalism. First,
what was the Viennese perception of what has recently been called
(Poincaré's) 'structural realism'? What if any part of that doctrine
became assimilated into their theories? Second, in the absence of a
realist interpretation of the conventionalists' structuralism, how were
the principles guiding theory construction and validation to be
legitimated? It will be suggested that the left Vienna Circle developed
a decidedly constructivist version of conventionalism in response.
Van Fraassen, B. (1997) ‘Structure and Perspective: Philosophical
perplexity and paradox’ in M.L. Dalla Chiara et al. (eds.) Logic
and Scientific Methods, Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Press.
Abstract1: In reaction to revolutionary developments in modern science,
both philosophers and scientists have suggested that science describes
only the structure, as opposed to content, of the world. The described
structure is structure invariant under changes of perspective (frames
of reference, observers, alternative measurement set-ups).
Extrapolating the view too far, the disappearance of content and of
individual perspective leaves us with structure itself as surrogate
content for a logically incoherent view from nowhere. Both empiricism
and scientific realism face a quandary, with attempts to find a
'foundation' for science outside what is described in physical theory
(whether qualities of experience or a postulated 'ready-made' world)
notably lacking in success. In this paper I shall re-examine the
prospects for a view of science which is empiricist but not
Abstract2: Structuralism (one variety of): the view that science
describes only the structure (and not the content) of its domain. A
view entangled from the beginning with the view that science is a
representation of nature. There were and are good reasons to be
attracted to structuralism. But it needs to be explained, for as stated
it rests on an obscure and possibly untenable distinction between
structure and content. Problem: attempts to make it precise have tended
to reduce it to absurdity. Example: the Ramsey sentence view is a
moderate form of structuralism. Lewis' postulate of natural classes can
then be read as an attempt to rescue it from the reductio. Elgin's
criticisms and Laurie Paul's 'symmetry' objection may be read as saying
that this sort of rescue cannot work. My problem: my view of science
belongs to the 'semantic approach' which is pretty clearly a form of
structuralism (though certainly as moderate as the Ramsey sentence
version, in its deference to our understanding of 'old' terms). I argue
that it does not reduce to absurdity because the structuralism pertains
to the raw materials for representation (the models which are used to
represent) and not to the representing activity.
Van Fraassen, B. (2006) ‘Structure: Its Shadow and Substance’, British
Journal for the Philosophy of Science, vol. 57(2): 275-307.
Views of science and of nature change hand in hand. In the 17th century
the new sciences inspired a hard-line ascetic metaphysics. Theorising,
the new scientists stripped the world of its appearances, its
qualitative riches, leaving res extensa as the sole reality of nature,
veiled before the mind in its sensory illusions. New instruments such
as the microscope promised to confirm the theories directly, and the
newly schooled mathematical imagination promised to represent reality
as fully intelligible to the mind.
But as science moved on to new conceptions of nature, its self-image
changed as well. Here I shall try to follow two lines of retrenchment
as physical theory lent itself increasingly less to naive realism:
reification and structuralism. Within these, I will focus specifically
on the new structural realism, which recently tried to position itself
between scientific realism and instrumentalism. After examining its
difficulties, I will offer an empiricist view in response to the same
Vassallo, A., Deckert, D. A., & Esfeld, M. (2017) Relationalism about mechanics based on a minimalist ontology of matter. European journal for philosophy of science, 7(2), 299-318.
Vickers, P. (2013) A confrontation of convergent realism. Philosophy of Science, 80(2), 189-211.
Vickers, P. (2019) Towards a realistic success-to-truth inference for scientific realism. Synthese, 196(2), 571-585.
Votsis, I. (2003) ‘Is Structure Not Enough?’, Philosophy of
Science, vol. 70(5): 879-890.
paper counters an objection raised against one of Bertrand Russell’s
epistemological views, viz. ‘‘structural realism’’ (SR). In short, SR
holds that at most we
have knowledge of the structure of the external (i.e., physical) world.
M. H. A. Newman’s
allegedly fatal objection is that SR is either trivial or false. I
argue that the accusation of
triviality is itself empty since it fails to establish that SR
knowledge claims are
uninformative. Moreover, appealing to Quine’s notion of ontological
relativity, I suggest
that far from being false, SR knowledge claims seem to be the most that
we can hope for. (p.879)
Votsis, I. (2004) The Epistemological Status of Scientific
Theories: An Investigation of the Structural
Realist Account, University of London, London School of
Economics, PhD Thesis.
In this dissertation, I examine a view called ‘Epistemic Structural
Realism’, which holds that we can, at best, have knowledge of the
structure of the physical world. Put crudely, we can know physical
objects only to the extent that they are nodes in a structure. In the
spirit of Occam’s razor, I argue that, given certain minimal
assumptions, epistemic structural realism provides a viable and
reasonable scientific realist position that is less vulnerable to
anti-realist arguments than any of its rivals.
The first chapter presents an overview of the scientific realism
debate, concentrating on the epistemological dimension. The second
chapter tracks the development of structural realism, differentiates
between several versions, and outlines the objections that have been
raised against it. The third chapter provides answers to a large subset
of these objections, namely those launched by Stathis Psillos, who
spearheads the critique of epistemic structural realism. The fourth
chapter offers an attempted solution to M.H.A. Newman’s objection that
the epistemic structural realist view, if true, trivialises scientific
knowledge. The fifth chapter presents a historical case study of the
caloric theory of heat. I utilise the study to answer the pessimistic
meta-induction argument. The sixth chapter addresses the argument from
the underdetermination of theory by evidence. I argue that epistemic
structural realism can potentially restrict the impact of the argument
by imposing structural constraints on the set of all possible theories
compatible with the evidence. The seventh and final chapter outlines
briefly some promising avenues for future research.
Votsis, I. (2005) ‘The Upward Path to Structural Realism’, Philosophy
of Science, vol. 72(5): 1361-1372.
a recent PSA paper (2001a), as well as some other papers (1995, 2000,
a book chapter (1999, Chapter 7), Stathis Psillos raised a number of
structural realism. The aim of this paper is threefold: (1) to evaluate
part of Psillos’
offence on the Russellian version of epistemic structural realism
(ESR); (2) to elaborate
more fully what Russellian ESR involves; and (3) to suggest
improvements where it
is indeed failing. (p.1361)
Votsis, I. (2007) ‘Uninterpreted Equations and the Structure-Nature
Distinction’, Philosophical Inquiry, vol.
Psillos ((1995), (1999), (2000), (2001a), (2001b)) spearheads the
critique of epistemic structural realism (ESR). ESR comes in two
flavours, Russellian and Poincaréan-Worrallian. Psillos raises
objections to both. In this paper, I evaluate two of Psillos’ leading
objections against Poincaréan-Worrallian ESR, namely: (1) ESR commits
us only to uninterpreted equations, but these are not by themselves
enough to produce predictions, and, therefore, do not deserve all the
epistemic credit (1999: 153-4; 2001a: S21).
(2) The structure vs. nature distinction cannot be sustained (1999:
Votsis, I. (2010) Structural realism: Continuity and its limits. In Scientific structuralism (pp. 105-117). Springer, Dordrecht.
Votsis, I. (2011) How not to be a Realist. In E.M. Landry and D. Rickles (eds.), Structure, Objects and Causality, Western Ontario Series in Philosophy of Science, vol. 77, Springer, pp. 59-76.
Votsis, I. (2011) The prospective stance in realism. Philosophy of Science, 78(5), 1223-1234.
Votsis, I. (2018) Structural Realism and its Variants. In The Routledge Handbook of Scientific Realism (pp. 108-119). London: Routledge.
Votsis, I., & Schurz, G. (2012) A frame-theoretic analysis of two rival conceptions of heat. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A, 43(1), 105-114.
Wang, W. (2008) A critical analysis of structural realism. Frontiers of Philosophy in China, 3(2), 294-306.
Wolff, J. (2012) Do objects depend on structures? The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 63(3), 607-625.
Worrall, J. (1982) ‘Scientific Realism and Scientific Change’, Philosophical
Quarterly, vol. 32(128): 201-231.
Worrall, J. (1989) ‘Structural Realism: The best of both worlds?’ repr.
in D. Papineau (ed.) The Philosophy of Science,
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.
main argument for scientific realism is that our present theories in
science are so successful empirically that they can't have got that way
by chance - instead they must somehow have latched onto the blueprint
of the universe. The main argument against scientific realism is that
there have been enormously successful theories which were once accepted
but are now regarded as false. The central question addressed in this
paper is whether there is some reasonable way to have the best of both
worlds: to give the argument from scientific revolutions its full
weight and yet still adopt some sort of realist attitude towards
presently accepted theories in physics and elsewhere. I argue that
there is such a way - through 'structural' realism, a position adopted
by Poincaré, and here elaborated and defended.
Worrall, J. (1994) ‘How to Remain (Reasonably) Optimistic: Scientific
realism and the “luminiferous ether” ’, in D. Hull, M. Forbes and R.M.
Burian (eds.), PSA 1994, vol. 1, East Lansing,
MI: Philosophy of Science Association.
theory of light was a) impressively predictively successful yet b) was
based on an 'entity' (the elastic-solid ether) that we now 'know' does
not exist. Does this case 'confute' scientific realism as Laudan
suggested? [It is argued that] previous attempts (by Hardin and
Rosenberg and by Kitcher) to defuse the episode's anti-realist impact
[have failed]. The strongest form of realism compatible with this case
of theory-rejection is in fact 'structural' realism. This view was
developed by Poincaré who also provided reasons to think that it is the
only realist view of theories that really makes sense.
Worrall, J. (2011) Underdetermination, realism and empirical equivalence. Synthese, 180(2), 157-172.
Worrall, J. (2012) Miracles and structural realism. In Structural Realism (pp. 77-95). Springer, Dordrecht.
Worrall, J. and Zahar, E. (2001) ‘Ramseyfication and Structural
Realism’, Appendix IV in Zahar E. Poincaré’s
Philosophy: From Conventionalism to Phenomenology,
Chicago and La Salle (IL): Open Court.
Wright, J. (1989) ‘Realism and Equivalence’, Erkenntnis,
vol. 31: 109-28
Prominent philosophers, such as Nelson Goodman and Hilary Putnam, have
argued that the existence of cognitively equivalent but apparently
incompatible theories creates a difficulty for metaphysical realism. In
the paper, it is argued that such theories actually create a difficulty
for Putnam's 'internal realism'. A version of metaphysical realism,
called 'structural realism', is sketched which can account for
cognitively equivalent but apparently incompatible theories.
Note: The author presents a structural realist view and brands it
accordingly without indicating whether he is aware that others have
employed the same term for similar ideas: 'If all the epistemically
ideal theories were equivalent, we would surely want an explanation of
this fact. Equivalent theories agree on the causal relations that hold
between entities, although they may disagree on what those entities are
and may also disagree on how geometrical and mathematical entities are
to be defined. The realist can say that the reason why all the
epistemically ideal theories agree on causal relations is because these
causal relations are theory-independent features of reality and that
our scientific method is able to uncover the theory-independent
features of the world… A natural name for such a position would be
structural realism.' (p. 125)
Wüthrich, C. (2012) The structure of causal sets. Journal for general philosophy of science, 43(2), 223-241.
Yudell, Z. (2010) Melia and Saatsi on structural realism. Synthese, 175(2), 241-253.
Zahar, E. (1996) ‘Poincaré’s Structural Realism and his Logic
of Discovery’, in Jean-Louis Greffe, Gerhard Heinzmann and Kuno Lorenz
(eds.) Henri Poincaré: Science and
Philosophy, Berlin: Academie Verlag and Paris: Albert
Zahar, E. (1997) ‘Poincaré's Philosophy of Geometry, or Does geometric
conventionalism deserve its name?’, Studies in History and
Philosophy of Modern Physics, vol. 28B(2): 183-218.
main aims are pursued in this paper. The first is to show that, in
mathematical geometry, Poincaré was a conventionalist who rejected all
forms of synthetic a priori geometric intuition.
He moreover followed a unified heuristic based on the study of certain
groups of Mobius transformations. This method was informed by his work
on the theory of Fuchsian functions; it yielded two models of
hyperbolic geometry: the disk model and the Poincaré half-plane, which
are connected by a Mobius transformation. From these group-theoretic
considerations Poincaré derived an expression for the Riemannian
distance. I secondly defend the thesis that, in physical geometry,
Poincaré was a structural realist whose so-called conventionalism was
epistemological, not ontological. Here he started directly from a
Riemannian metric together with an associated universal field. He
adopted a realist attitude towards both the field and that geometry
which is most coherently integrated into some highly unified and
empirically confirmed hypothesis. More generally, he looked upon the
degree of unity of any system as an index of its verisimilitude. I
finally show that, by Einstein's own admission, the general theory of
relativity is compatible with Poincaré's epistemological theses.
Zahar, E. (2000) ‘Les fondements de la geometrie selon Poincaré’, Philosophia
Scientiae, vol. 4(1): 145-86.
this article, we will pursue two goals. The first is to show that in
mathematical geometry, Poincaré, rejecting all apriorism, is truly
conventionalist: the geometrical postulates are regarded as disguised
definitions of the basic concepts, their role reduced to the
determination of certain models, ie of interpretations which verify the
fundamental axioms. Poincaré uses a unified heuristics founded on the
theory of groups of Mobius transformations (MT). This method, initiated
in his work on the Fuchsian functions, leads to the construction of two
models of hyperbolic geometry: the half-plane D and the disc W, which
are then applied one to the other by means of an MT. From these
algebraic considerations Poincaré draws the analytical expression of
the Riemannian distance ds. Our second goal is to defend the thesis
that with regard to physical geometry, Poincaré subscribes to an
ontological structural realism, his conventionalism being not
metaphysical, but strictly epistemological. Its method consists in
posing - or rather conjecturing - a Riemannian metric coupled to a
universal field, where naturally the latter can be null. Poincaré
adopts a realistic attitude with respect to the field and the
underlying geometry; provided, of course that this is integrated into a
scientific system unified and corroborated by experiment. In general,
Poincaré takes the degree of convenience - ie of unity and simplicity -
of a theory as an objective measure of its verisimilitude or proximity
to the truth. It should be noted that this concept of verisimilitude
remains intuitive, and therefore not mathematised. We show finally
that, with the agreement even of Einstein, general relativity is
completely compatible with Poincaré's epistemological point of view.
Zahar, E. (2001) Poincaré’s Philosophy: From
Conventionalism to Phenomenology, Chicago and La Salle (IL):
Zahar, E. (2004) ‘Ramseyfication and Structural Realism’, Theoria,
vol. 19:1(49): 5-30.
Zahar, E. (2007) Why Science Needs Metaphysics: A
Plea for Structural Realism, Chicago and La Salle (IL): Open