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Structural Realism, Structuralism and Theory Change (July 3rd 2014)

Idea & Motivation

During the last decades, there have been several developments concerning a formulation of mainly two views within the debate on structural realism, so-called epistemic and ontic structural realism. The former affirms that all our knowledge is structural, but we remain ignorant with respect to the properties of the entities that are part of these structures. Ontic structural realism asserts that all that exists is structure. Following this view, objects only fill places in structures and do not exist independently at a fundamental level.

In this workshop, we will discuss the different forms of structural realism. Furthermore, we will address the topic of theory change in the sciences from a more general perspective.

The aim is to provide answers to open questions in the debate, such as:

  • What is the relation between epistemic and ontic structural realism?
  • How should we represent the notion of structural continuity?
  • Answers to the Newman-Objection.
  • Can structural realism provide a solution to underdetermination problems?
  • Different forms of theory change.
  • How to provide answers to the pessimistic meta-induction.


09:30 - 10:20 Holger Andreas (MCMP/LMU):
"Networks of Partial Structures: A Modular Approach to Paraconsistent Reasoning in Science" 
10:20 - 11:10 Otávio Bueno & Thomas Meier (University of Miami & MCMP/LMU): 
“Pragmatic Structural Realism and the Newman Objection”
11:10 - 11:20 Short Break
11:20 - 12:10 Norbert Gratzl & Georg Schiemer (MCMP/LMU & University of Vienna):
"Applying Carnap's epsilon-reconstruction of theories" 
12:10 - 14:00 Lunch Break
14:00 - 14:50 Mathias Frisch (University of Maryland): 
"Pragmatic Structuralism and the Domain of Scientific Theories"
14:50 - 15:40 Molly Kao (University of Western Ontario):
"The Role of Quantization: Theory Change in the Old Quantum Theory" 
15:40 - 15:50 Short Break
15:50 - 16:40 Karim Thebault (MCMP/LMU):
“Ontic Structure as a Guide to Quantization“ 
16:40 - 17:30 Sebastian Lutz (MCMP/LMU):
“Structural Realism as a Reducibility Claim“ 
17:30 End of regular workshop
18:00 - 20:00 Steven French (University of Leeds):
"Structure, Stances and Supervenience: Exploring Some Alternatives to OSR"
20:00 Dinner


Library of the Statistics Department
Room 245 (2nd Floor)
Ludwigstraße 33

Contact & Registration

For information about practical matters and registration, please contact Thomas Meier:


"Networks of Partial Structures: A Modular Approach to Paraconsistent Reasoning in Science"
(Holger Andreas, MCMP/LMU)

Some scientific theories are inconsistent, yet non-trivial and meaningful. How is that possible? The present paper aims to show that we can analyse the inferential use of such theories in terms of consistent compositions of the applications of universal axioms. This technique will be represented by a modular semantics, which allows us to accept the instances of universal axioms selectively. For such a semantics to develop, the framework of partial structures by da Costa and French will be extended by a few elements of the Sneed formalism, also known as the structuralist approach to

“Pragmatic Structural Realism and the Newman Objection”
Otávio Bueno & Thomas Meier (University of Miami & MCMP/LMU) 

According to the Newman objection, structural realism fails to specify a unique structure for the unobservable world, and hence it is ultimately compatible with an empiricist position. Given a set of objects, we can derive every relation among these objects as a set of ordered pairs, given that, from any non-empty set, we can obtain in set theory all relations that range over members of that set. We present a pragmatically enriched version of structural realism, where the Newman objection does not hold. For this purpose, we discuss Carnap's notion of founded relations. According to Carnap, founded relations are real, experienceable, physical relations. We argue that, if we rely on such founded relations when we specify a structural description of a given physical system, the threat of a Newman objection is avoided. However, pure structural realism has to be given

"Applying Carnap's epsilon-reconstruction of theories"
Georg Schiemer & Norbert Gratzl

Carnap's late attempt of a logical reconstruction of scientific theories consists of two components. The first is the elimination of the theoretical vocabulary of a theory in terms of its ramsification. The second consists in the reintroduction of the theoretical terms through explicit definitions in a language containing an epsilon-operator. This paper will investigate Carnap's epsilon-reconstruction of theories in the context of mathematics. The main objective here is twofold: first, to specify the epsilon logic underlying his suggested definition of theoretical terms as well as its choice semantics. Second, to see whether and if so, in what sense, Carnap's approach is compatible with a structuralist conception of mathematics. top

"The Role of Quantization: Theory Change in the Old Quantum Theory"
 Molly Kao (University of Western Ontario)

The shift from classical to quantum physics marked a radical change in scientists' view of the world. However, the period between the first introduction of quantization by Planck in 1900 and the creation of modern quantum mechanics was fraught with uncertainty. It will be instructive to examine the information available to scientists at this time in order to determine how this theory change came about. I argue that despite the mix of heuristics and assumptions scientists were using in order to generate results, we can consider the rational part of the theory change to be connected to the fact that a hypothesis of quantization of energy was confirmed in various ways. This provides an example of the confirmation of particular aspects of a scientific theory in its early developmental stages, while a theory change is

"Ontic Structure as a Guide to Quantization"
Karim Thébault 

Ontic structural realism is a metaphysics of science whereby the structural aspects of a physical theory are given ontological priority over objects and entities. Such 'ontic structure' is intended to subsist within a theory's successors and to be general enough to encompass multiple formulations of a given theory. The challenge of explicitly identifying ontic structure in a specific case was taken up in previous work [1], and it was found that quantization can prove a useful guide. Here we examine the plausibility of the converse strategy: -- i.e. can the isolation of ontic structure be used as a heuristic for quantization? We defend a positive answer, and in doing suggest that ontic structuralism could be reconstructed as a pragmatic rather than metaphysical

"Structural Realism as a Reducibility Claim"
Sebastian Lutz (MCMP/LMU)

Ontological structural realism (OSR) claims that the structures described by theories are real, but not the objects. According to epistemic structural realism (ESR), these structures are more likely to be retained in new theories that supersede old ones. ESR is thus a claim about reductions; I argue that OSR can be understood as the claim that two reducing theories differing only in their primitive objects have the same ontological status. Further, both OSR and ESR can be expressed semantically as n-dimensional interpretability between structures and syntactically as higher-order definability of

"Structure, Stances and Supervenience: Exploring Some Alternatives to OSR"
 Steven French (University of Leeds)

Despite all the efforts of myself, James Ladyman and others, some people still remain immune to the charms ofOntic Structural Realism (OSR)! Here I want to explore some of the alternatives, indicate why I find them unsatisfactory and sketch possible ways forward. I shall begin by considering Structural Empiricism, as articulated and defended by Otávio Bueno and Bas vanFraassen. In his recent work, Otávio in particular has raised a number of concerns about OSR and set out what he sees as the advantages of his empiricist stance. I shall attempt to respond to these concerns but ultimately whether or not one finds these responses plausible or not may depend on one’s stance. I shall finish this part of my paper with a few comments on stance pluralism and how stances must be seen as dynamic and judged in that context.

Of course, one might adopt a realist stance but still balk at some of the costs associated with OSR. One such cost – at least with respect to the form of OSR that I have tried to develop – has to do with the inherent modality of the fundamental structure. One might reject this and adopt an alternative understanding of this modality.Chakravartty and Esfeld, for example, adoptdispositionalist accounts, but these too might be seen as too costly metaphysically speaking. One option for avoiding such costs and cleaving to a more minimalist modal view would be to adopt a form of Humeanstructural realism, as Lyre does. Here I shall elaborate on some of my previously published concerns about such a view, particularly in the context of the issue whether it can be extended beyond physics.