The Metaphysics of Scientific Realism

The Metaphysics of Scientific Realism

Brian Ellis
Copyright Date: 2009
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Metaphysics of Scientific Realism
    Book Description:

    Ellis shows that realistic theories of quantum mechanics, time, causality and human freedom - all problematic areas for the acceptance of scientific realism - can be developed satisfactorily. In particular, he shows how moral theory can be recast to fit within this comprehensive metaphysical framework by developing a radical moral theory that conceives morals to be social ideals and has implications for key ethical concepts such as moral responsibility, moral powers, moral rights, and moral obligations. The Metaphysics of Scientific Realism is a bold and original development of the scientific characterization of reality by one of the world's leading metaphysicians of science. It marks a significant contribution not only to philosophy of science and metaphysics but also to the search for a first philosophy.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-9476-0
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Brian Ellis
    (pp. 1-6)

    The aim of this book is to develop the metaphysics of scientific realism to the point where it begins to take on the characteristics of a first philosophy, that is, as a theory of the nature of reality that can reasonably adjudicate between theories in any field of enquiry that makes assumptions about what there is in the real world. As most people understand it, scientific realism is not yet such a theory. Nevertheless, the original arguments that led to scientific realism may be deployed more widely than they were originally to fill out a more complete picture of what...

    (pp. 7-22)

    Truth is said to be what corresponds to reality. If this is so, then truth must be one thing, and reality another. Metaphysics, as I understand it, is an enquiry into the nature of this supposed reality. Presumably, such an enquiry, if it is possible at all, must start with whatever knowledge of the world we think we have, and consider what implications it may have concerning the supposed reality that gives rise to it. In this chapter it will be argued that an enquiry into the metaphysical implications of science is certainly possible, but is not itself part of...

    (pp. 23-50)

    Scientific realists believe that an ontology adequate for science must include theoretical entities of various kinds, and that it is reasonable to accept such an ontology as the foundation for a general theory of what there is. J. J. C. Smart elaborated this doctrine in hisPhilosophy and Scientific Realism(1963). The theory he proposed was mainly about what really exists, that is, it had anontologicalorientation. Theories with similar orientations have been defended recently by Nancy Cartwright (1983) and Michael Devitt (1984). The theory I called “scientific entity realism”² was also a theory of this kind. These theories...

    (pp. 51-72)

    InScientific Essentialism(2001), I attempted to develop an ontology of the kind envisaged in my 1987 essay.¹ First, I argued that the ontology required for a scientific worldview should be a highly structured one. For one of the most striking facts about the world is the apparent dominance of natural kinds. There appears to be an immense hierarchy of substantive natural kinds, that is, natural kinds whose instances are what Aristotle would have called “substances”. For every different chemical substance (and there are hundreds of thousands of them) would appear to be a member of a natural kind. Each...

    (pp. 73-92)

    Quantum mechanics has always presented a problem for scientific realists. For it does not seem to offer a coherent picture of the world. I think it does, and that there is a viable quantum mechanical model of reality. But it cannot be constructed, given the continuity constraints that we usually place on realistic models. To be a quantum mechanical realist, one has to be willing to accept that there are two fundamentally different kinds of processes occurring in nature: continuous, but quantum mechanically indeterminate, energy transfer processes and discontinuous, but spatially extended, changes of state. The unwillingness of philosophers to...

    (pp. 93-114)

    Ideally, physical systems are causally connected structures that are causally isolated from other things. There is no good reason to believe that there are any physical systems that are really isolated in this way. But this does not matter, since we are usually able to abstract from the actual circumstances of things to consider how they would be in themselves, and so discuss their various properties. The problem of abstraction becomes more difficult the smaller or more diffuse the objects we are concerned with. For then, the identities of objects are less well defined. But, in this chapter we shall...

    (pp. 115-140)

    The general theory of what exists most fundamentally is sometimes known as “first philosophy”. The ontology of scientific realism could plausibly be developed to have such a role. As a first philosophy, it would have important implications for most kinds of enquiries. But the ontology of scientific realism, despite its name, may have less relevance to science itself than to other areas. For the metaphysics has been developed out of science, specifically to accommodate the developments that have occurred in this area. Practising scientists are unlikely to be familiar with many of the concepts employed in developing this ontology. Nevertheless,...

    (pp. 141-166)

    If the metaphysics of scientific realism is accepted as a first philosophy, then an acceptable moral theory must be one that is compatible with it. It cannot be a theory that depends on any kind of mental determinism that is incompatible with physical determinism. Nor can it be one that is not compatible with evolutionary theory. Human beings must be physically plausible systems. Nevertheless, it is a fact that I can decide what I want to do, and act on my decision. So, my coming to that decision must be achieved by a physical process, presumably meta-causal process, that establishes...

    (pp. 167-174)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 175-180)