This project aims to tackle the problem of nature. This will be conducted through an investigation into modern scientific realism through the works of French and Ladyman et al. Scientific realism is more desirable and plausible than anti-realism because of the “no miracles” argument but faces a major challenge in the ontological discontinuity of theory change (“pessimistic meta-induction”). Structural realism is a recent solution to this, and this changes the question of “what is nature?” into one of structure: is nature purely structural, or is it a combination of structure and non-structure? In structural realism these two positions are called ontic-structural realism (OSR) and epistemological structural realism (ESR) respectively.
This leads on to a second, and more important question: is structural realism (OSR or ESR) a form of real-idealism? Following the work of Dunham et al (2011), real-idealism is an inclusivist ontological position that attempts to be a theory of all things, and is neither anti-science, anti-nature nor anti-matter. Our purpose in outlining the debates of the first problem is to show that what is regarded as a scientific (and hence materialist) problem is a problem of metaphysical ideation – i.e. what is an Idea? Furthermore, this is one that can be more fully explored through an explicit engagement with idealist metaphysics. This is a new approach to a problem of realism where idealism is usually regarded as a pejorative term. By using sources from modern philosophy of science in the present era and showing its intellectual inheritance to Russell and Eddington (amongst others), it will be shown that the “materialism” that structural realism espouses is not inconsistent with real-idealism – as Strawson (2008: 28) acknowledges. By combining his insights with those of Dunham et al a new avenue of exploration will be opened up in scientific realism, one that returns to beginnings of the analytic tradition and also the quantum revolution when the nature of matter hung in the balance.
The argument itself divides into three sections: Part One will be an introduction outlining and setting up the problem – i.e. explaining the precursors to the debate in scientific realism and how this necessarily entails structural realism; and outlining briefly why idealism is fruitful to this debate (this will be reiterated and expanded upon in part three). Additionally, the idealism we wish to expound will be briefly outlined and argued for here as real-idealism – following the work of Dunham et al (2011) – and one which, as stated above, is not anti-science.
Part Two will outline the various versions of structural realism – fundamentally the debate centres around structure and non-structure and thus between ontological (OSR) and epistemological (ESR) interpretations of structural realism. Here we will focus not only upon the exponents of modern philosophy of science (Ladyman and French et al) but we will also return to the origins of the debate through the lenses of Galen Strawson’s recent paper, Real Materialism (2008), where he draws upon Russell (1992, 1993) and Eddington (1929, 1939) – both seen as inspirations and precursors to structural realism. As such, this section will engage with modern scientifically motivated additions to structural realism, and also genealogically explore its philosophical origins. One of the central issues arising here will be the role of mathematics and nature – i.e. is nature describable by mathematics (ESR) or is nature itself mathematical (OSR) (Tegmark 2008: 107)?
Part Three will focus on how structural realism is a form of idealism and how this leads to new insights into debates between OSR and ESR that were outlined in part two. The purpose is not to specify whether OSR or ESR is preferable, nor what form of specific idealism they take. Rather, this section will exemplify how an engagement with idealism and modern scientific investigations is enlightening and creative in understanding the truth about nature. This will be done in a twofold manner: firstly, by the expounding of an expansive (inclusivist) methodology of the all; and secondly, by an active and preliminary investigation into how this methodology operates both ontologically and epistemologically in the specific problems we outlined in part two. This includes areas such as the metaphysical problem of nature and problems in philosophy of science.
This topic proposes a new angle at debates in scientific realism; normally these oscillate between constructive empiricism and structural realism. Metaphysics is usually derided as scholasticism; and idealism, as mentioned above, is used as a pejorative term. I am not attempting to overturn either of these positions (structural realism or constructive empiricism). Instead, my aim is twofold: firstly, following Ladyman et al (2009), to realign metaphysics with a naturalism that is motivated by, and conducted in relation to, modern scientific enquiry. Secondly, however, I will reject the overly restrictive strictures of verificationism and non-speculation that Ladyman et al (ibid) propose and instead show that real-idealism is a more fruitful metaphysical basis to scientific realism. This second aim also brings material from real-idealism, as an expansive naturalism, into dialogue with scientifically motivated issues. As such, this project will combine the central tenets of idealism – such as inclusivism and systematicity – with modern scientifically literate philosophy (i.e. structural realism). The outcome of this combination (as mentioned above) is an opening up of new insights into contemporary problems in philosophy of science and the problem of nature and the question of what matter is.
- One of key areas I am focusing on at the moment in regards to showing the fruitful confluence of structural realism and real-idealism is the "dissolution" of the mathematical and the physical that arises from OSR rejecting the nature/structure dichotomy. OSR has good grounds for doing so, primarily because a whole host of metaphysical underdeterminations in quantum mechanics and quantum field theory indicate that we should abandon object orientated ontology in favour of one that has structures as primary. However, this dissolution has been "criticised" for being akin to Platonism - the "criticism" is indicative of a lack of understanding regarding idealism, but the accusation (as it where) is correct. This issue is described as "being at the heart" of the issue and yet there are no substantial answers for how and why certain mathematical structures are physical. I propose that a proper understanding of the Idea, following Dunham et al, as genetic can offer a potential solution although I am still working on the particulars of this.
- Additionally, this affects the question of what is matter. Matter, according to fundamental physics is no longer held to be a fundamental structure of nature and as such it is deemed to emergent, along with space-time, from what Wilczek calls "the grid". The nature of this too is structural but it is interesting to note that materialism, in some senses is a materialism without matter. Again, this highly abstract understanding of nature will hopefully be another area that I can show a confluence between real-idealism and OSR.
- A last issue I am currently working on is the debate about how naturalistic metaphysics should be conducted: should it be motivated purely by hypotheses derived from science or is it allowed a more speculative role? Both sides argue for systematicity, but the former position limits this to unifying the sciences; whereas for the latter, following Bosanquet, it is a demand for philosophy to be of the All.