Contra Cartwright: Structural realism, ontological pluralism and fundamentalism about laws

Synthese 151 (2):233 - 255 (2006)
Abstract
In this paper I argue against Nancy Cartwright’s claim that we ought to abandon what she calls “fundamentalism” about the laws of nature and adopt instead her “dappled world” hypothesis. According to Cartwright we ought to abandon the notion that fundamental laws (even potentially) apply universally, instead we should consider the law-like statements of science to apply in highly qualified ways within narrow, non-overlapping and ontologically diverse domains, including the laws of fundamental physics. For Cartwright, “laws” are just locally applicable refinements of a more open-ended concept of capacities. By providing a critique of the dappled world approach’s central notion of open ended capacities and substituting this concept with an account of properties drawn from recent writing on the subject of structural realism I show that a form of fundamentalism is viable. I proceed from this conclusion to show that this form of fundamentalism provides a superior reading of case studies, such as the effective field theory program (EFT) in quantum field theory, than the “dappled world” view. The case study of the EFT program demonstrates that ontological variability between theoretical domains can be accounted for without altogether abandoning fundamentalism or adopting Cartwright’s more implausible theses.
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