University of Minnesota
School of Physics & Astronomy

History of Science and Technology/Minnesota Center for Philosophy of Science Colloquium

Friday, October 2nd 2009
Speaker: Katherine Brading, Department of Philosophy, University of Notre Dame
Subject: Objects, Individuals, and Structures: In Search of Fundamental Ontology
Refreshments served in Room 216 Physics at 3:15 p.m.

Contemporary structural realists are proposing a radical revision of our fundamental ontology: we should eliminate objects and replace them with "structure": the world, in and of itself, is structure. The argument for this ontological version of structural realism begins from an alleged "metaphysical underdetermination" afflicting standard "object-oriented" scientific realism. I think that the argument fails, and I will discuss one reason why (the most interesting one, of course). This discussion focusses our attention on the concepts of object and individual, and on a view of physical objects that, I argue, originated with Newton in his discussion of Descartes on bodies and motion.

There is a positive outcome for structural realists, however, because the resources that the ontic structural realist employs when developing the argument from metaphysical underdetermination can be re-deployed to create a more promising strategy.

The draft papers that I will draw on for my talk can be found at the structural realism stuff is in the joint paper with Alex Skiles, and the Descartes/Newton stuff is in 'Newton's law-constitutive approach to bodies: a response to Descartes'.

Cosponsored by the Minnesota Center for Philosophy of Science.

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