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

Synthese 151 (2):233 - 255 (2006)
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 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 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
Keywords Philosophy   Philosophy   Epistemology   Logic   Metaphysics   Philosophy of Language
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.2307/20118800
 Save to my reading list
Follow the author(s)
My bibliography
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Revision history Request removal from index
Download options
PhilPapers Archive

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy on self-archival     Papers currently archived: 15,831
External links
Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library
References found in this work BETA
Dan McArthur (2003). Reconsidering Structural Realism. Canadian Journal of Philosophy 33 (4):517 - 536.

View all 9 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Add more citations

Similar books and articles
David Jon Spurrett (1999). Fundamental Laws and the Completeness of Physics. International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 13 (3):261 – 274.
Carl Hoefer (2003). For Fundamentalism. Philosophy of Science 70 (5):1401-1412.
David Spurrett (2001). Cartwright on Laws and Composition. International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 15 (3):253 – 268.
Jakob Hohwy (2003). Capacities, Explanation and the Possibility of Disunity. International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 17 (2):179 – 190.
Nancy Cartwright (1994). Fundamentalism Vs. The Patchwork of Laws. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 94:279 - 292.
Margaret Morrison (1994). Causes and Contexts: The Foundations of Laser Theory. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 45 (1):127-151.
Carl Hoefer (2003). For Fundamentalism. Philosophy of Science 70 (5):1401--1412.

Monthly downloads

Added to index


Total downloads

237 ( #4,386 of 1,724,852 )

Recent downloads (6 months)

20 ( #42,164 of 1,724,852 )

How can I increase my downloads?

My notes
Sign in to use this feature

Start a new thread
There  are no threads in this forum
Nothing in this forum yet.