Cartwright, Nancy, and . How the Laws of Physics Lie

1983, Oxford University Press.

Publisher’s Note: Nancy Cartwright argues for a novel conception of the role of fundamental scientific laws in modern natural science. If we attend closely to the manner in which theoretical laws figure in the practice of science, we see that despite their great explanatory power these laws do not describe reality. Instead, fundamental laws describe highly idealized objects in models. Thus, the correct account of explanation in science is not the traditional covering law view, but the ‘simulacrum’ account. On this view, explanation is a matter of constructing a model that may employ, but need not be consistent with, a theoretical framework, in which phenomenological laws that are true of the empirical case in question can be derived. Anti?realism about theoretical laws does not, however, commit one to anti?realism about theoretical entities. Belief in theoretical entities can be grounded in well?tested localized causal claims about concrete physical processes, sometimes now called ‘entity realism’. Such causal claims provide the basis for partial realism and they are ineliminable from the practice of explanation and intervention in nature.

Comment: Essential reading on realism and anti-realism about the laws of nature. Recommended for undergraduates who have prior knowledge of Humeanism about laws and for postgraduates in general. The book consists of a series of philosophical essays that can be used independently.

Chang, Hasok, and . How to Take Realism Beyond Foot-Stamping

2001, Philosophy 76(1): 5-30.

Abstract: I propose a reformulation of realism, as the pursuit of ontological plausibility in our systems of knowledge. This is dubbed plausibility realism, for convenience of reference. Plausibility realism is non-empiricist, in the sense that it uses ontological plausibility as an independent criterion from empirical adequacy in evaluating systems of knowledge. Ontological plausibility is conceived as a precondition for intelligibility, nor for Truth; therefore, the function of plausibilty realism is to facilitate the kind of understanding that is not reducible to mere description or prediction. Difficulties in making objective judgements of ontological plausibility can be ameliorated if we adhere to the most basic ontological principles. The workings of plausibility realism are illustrated through a detailed discussion of how one ontological principle, which I call the principle of single value, can be employed with great effect. Throughout the paper the discussion draws on concrete examples from the history of science.

Comment: Captures an intuitive appeal of realism, and could be used to illustrate how to avoid implausible philosophical conclusions. Could be used in an introductory metaphysics course.

Hawley, Katherine, and . Science as a guide to Metaphysics?

2006, Synthese 149(3): 451-470.

Abstract: Analytic metaphysics is in resurgence; there is renewed and vigorous interest in topics such as time, causation, persistence, parthood and possible worlds. Those who share this interest often pay lip-service to the idea that metaphysics should be informed by modern science; some take this duty very seriously. But there is also a widespread suspicion that science cannot really contribute to metaphysics, and that scientific findings grossly underdetermine metaphysical claims. Can science guide metaphysics? The author links this question to the the choice between Radical Pessimism on the one hand and either Moderate Pessimism or Optimism on the other.

Comment: This paper investigates the relevance of science to metaphysics and could be used as a reading for postgraduate courses in philosophy of science (or metaphysics). It is especially useful for students who want to research the relationship between presentism and special relativity.

Maddy, Penelope, and . The Philosophy of Logic

2012, Bulletin of Symbolic Logic 18(4): 481-504.

Abstract: This talk surveys a range of positions on the fundamental metaphysical and epistemological questions about elementary logic, for example, as a starting point: what is the subject matter of logic – what makes its truths true? how do we come to know the truths of logic? A taxonomy is approached by beginning from well-known schools of thought in the philosophy of mathematics – Logicism, Intuitionism, Formalism, Realism – and sketching roughly corresponding views in the philosophy of logic. Kant, Mill, Frege, Wittgenstein, Carnap, Ayer, Quine, and Putnam are among the philosophers considered along the way.

Comment: This is a survey article which considers positions within philosophy of logic analogous to the views held by the various schools of the philosophy of mathematics. The article touches briefly on many positions and authors and is thus an excellent introduction to the philosophy of logic, specially for students already familiar with the philosophy of mathematics. The text is informal and it does not involve any proofs.

Morrison, Margaret, and . Spin: All is not what it seems

2007, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B 38(3): 529-55.

Abstract: Spin is typically thought to be a fundamental property of the electron and other elementary particles. Although it is defined as an internal angular momentum much of our understanding of it is bound up with the mathematics of group theory. This paper traces the development of the concept of spin paying particular attention to the way that quantum mechanics has influenced its interpretation in both theoretical and experimental contexts. The received view is that electron spin was discovered experimentally by Stern and Gerlach in 1921, 5 years prior to its theoretical formulation by Goudsmit and Uhlenbeck. However, neither Goudsmit nor Uhlenbeck, nor any others involved in the debate about spin cited the Stern-Gerlach experiment as corroborating evidence. In fact, Bohr and Pauli were emphatic that the spin of a single electron could not be measured in classical experiments. In recent years experiments designed to refute the Bohr-Pauli thesis and measure electron spin have been carried out. However, a number of ambiguities surround these results – ambiguities that relate not only to the measurements themselves but to the interpretation of the experiments. After discussing these various issues the author raises some philosophical questions about the ontological and epistemic status of spin.

Comment: The goal of the paper is to uncover and isolate how spin presents problems for traditional realism and to illustrate the power that theories like quantum mechanics have for shaping both philosophical questions and answers. It is adequate for higher-level postgraduate courses in Philosophy of Science.

Okasha, Samir, and . Philosophy of Science: A very short introduction

2002, Oxford University Press.

Back Matter: What is science? Is there a real difference between science and myth? Is science objective? Can science explain everything? This Very Short Introduction provides a concise overview of the main themes of contemporary philosophy of science. Beginning with a short history of science to set the scene, Samir Okasha goes on to investigate the nature of scientific reasoning, scientific explanation, revolutions in science, and theories such as realism and anti-realism. He also looks at philosophical issues in particular sciences, including the problem of classification in biology, and the nature of space and time in physics. The final chapter touches on the conflicts between science and religion, and explores whether science is ultimately a good thing.

Comment: The book is extremely readable and clear. It is perfect as an introduction for undergraduate students to philosophy of science. It offers an overview of the most important topics of the field including philosophical problems in biology, physics, and linguistics.

Street, Sharon, and . What is Constructivism in Ethics and Metaethics?

2010, Philosophy Compass 5 (5):363-384.

Abstract: Most agree that when it comes to so-called ‘first-order’ normative ethics and political philosophy, constructivist views are a powerful family of positions. When it comes to metaethics, however, there is serious disagreement about what, if anything, constructivism has to contribute. In this paper I argue that constructivist views in ethics include not just a family of substantive normative positions, but also a distinct and highly attractive metaethical view. I argue that the widely accepted ‘proceduralist characterization’ of constructivism in ethics is inadequate, and I propose what I call the ‘practical standpoint characterization’ in its place. I then offer a general taxonomy of constructivist positions in ethics. Since constructivism’s standing as a family of substantive normative positions is relatively uncontested, I devote the remainder of the paper to addressing skeptics’ worries about the distinctiveness of constructivism understood as a metaethical view. I compare and contrast constructivism with three other standard metaethical positions with which it is often confused or mistakenly thought to be compatible: realism; naturalist reductions in terms of an ideal response; and expressivism. In discussing the contrast with expressivism, I explain the sense in which, according to the constructivist, the distinction between substantive normative ethics and metaethics breaks down. I conclude by distinguishing between two importantly different debates about the mind-dependence of value. I argue that a failure to make this distinction is part of what explains why the possibility of constructivism as a metaethical view is often overlooked.


Thomasson, Amie, and . Ontology Made Easy

2015, OUP USA (2015)

Abstract: Existence questions have been topics for heated debates in metaphysics, but this book argues that they can often be answered easily, by trivial inferences from uncontroversial premises. This ‘easy’ approach to ontology leads to realism about disputed entities, and to the view that metaphysical disputes about existence questions are misguided.

Comment: An interesting presentation of a way to avoid ontological disputes. Would work well as a conclusion to a course or section on ontology, to show students there might be a way to simply avoid these debates if desired.

Yagisawa, Takashi, and . Possible Objects

2005, in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. E.N. Zalta. Online: Stanford University.

Abstract: Deep theorizing about possibility requires theorizing about possible objects. One popular approach regards the notion of a possible object as intertwined with the notion of a possible world. There are two widely discussed types of theory concerning the nature of possible worlds: actualist representationism and possibilist realism. They support two opposing views about possible objects. Examination of the ways in which they do so reveals difficulties on both sides. There is another popular approach, which has been influenced by the philosophy of Alexius Meinong. The Meinongian approach is relevant to theorizing about possible objects because it attempts to construct a general theory of objects other than ordinary concrete existing objects. Independently of the debate about the nature of possible worlds or about Meinongianism, it is not always as straightforward as it may at first appear to determine whether putative possible objects are indeed possible. Another category of object similar to that of a possible object is the category of a fictional object. Although initially attractive, the idea that fictional objects are possible objects should not be accepted blindly. An important instance of theoretical usefulness of possible objects is their central role in the validation of two controversial theorems of a simple quantified modal logic.

Comment: A good introduction to the different positions on possible objects, including their impact on modal logic. Would be a good starting point for a discussion of these issues in a metaphysics course, or as an introduction to these positions for an ontology of art/fiction course.