SOPhiA 2018

Salzburgiense Concilium Omnibus Philosophis Analyticis

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Programme - Talk

Does Contemporary Physics Compel Us to Revise Metaphysics? The critique of Ontic Structuralist Realism
(Philosopy of Science, English)

The aim of the paper is to present a critique of Ontic Structural Realism (OSR) -- the view according to which all we can know, and all there is in the world, is the structure. Ontic Structuralists ground their position on the findings of modern physics, mainly quantum mechanics and General Relativity. They assert that, taking into account the form of contemporary physical theories, metaphysics should be purged of talk of individuals. Nevertheless, it is hard to deny that scientists often postulate existence of objects in order to explain phenomena. OSR tries to justify this fact by claiming that objects play only "a heuristic role allowing for the introduction of the structures which then carry the ontological weight" (French 1999). In its less eliminative form, OSR admits existence of objects which should be reconceptualised in purely structural terms. That means that the claim that only relations exist should be read as asserting that there are relata, but they are structures themselves.
Furthermore, Ontic Structuralist point out that: "there are objects in our metaphysics but they have been purged of their intrinsic natures, identity, and individuality, and they are not metaphysically fundamental" (Ladyman, Ross 2007). But does such an evasion make OSR more intelligible? It is still hard to understand how we can make sense of objects without their intrinsic properties. After all, once we admit that objects exist, it is hard to insist that this position is structuralist and differs from traditional realism.
Can we reasonably talk about the object that is deprived of intrinsic properties and individuality? Does contemporary physics compel us to revise metaphysics and to abandon objects as metaphysically fundamental? The above questions will constitute the main issue of my speech. I will show that OSR consists mainly in creating incomprehensible labels that are supposed to solve problems in modern science. Ontic Structuralists began with strong claims, however they were forced to admit the existence of objects and since that moment they have nothing better to offer than a standard realist.

French S., Models and mathematics in physics: The role of group theory. In Jeremy Butterfield & Constantine Pagonis (eds.), From Physics to Philosophy. Cambridge University Press. pp. 187-207, 1999.
Ladyman, J., Ross, D., Spurrett, D., Collier, J., Every Thing Must Go: Metaphysics Naturalised, Oxford 2007.

Chair: Aleksandra Gomułczak
Time: 15:20-15:50, 14 September 2018 (Friday)
Location: SR 1.005

Angelika Mus-Nowak 
(Jagiellonian University, Poland)

I am a PhD candidate in philosophy working in the Department of Philosophy of Natural Sciences at the Jagiellonian University. My research interests focus on philosophy of science, especially on philosophy of physics. I have worked extensively on scientific realism (mostly on the position of Stathis Psillos) and structural realism in version advocated by James Ladyman. Starting from the beginning of 2016 I teach students of medicine, biology and computer science. My classes are dedicated to philosophy of science and methodology of science. I have published several articles concerned with scientific realism and structural realism.

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