Structural Realism & the Metaphysics of Natural Kinds

This paper examines whether structural realism entails an anti-realist thesis about natural kinds. Structural Realism is the view that the scientific realist can only support a realist claim about the structure of reality rather than its objects. Ladyman (1998) (2002) & French & Ladyman (2003) motivate the claim that ontic structural realism eliminates ‘objects’ as a distinct ontological category, thereby eliminating any possibility of a metaphysical account of individual objects. This is empirically motivated by fundamental physics. Those inclined towards realism about the rest of the sciences (chemistry, biology, the medical sciences, economics and so on) might think the appeal of structural realism as a general metaphysics for all of the sciences limited. Nevertheless, recent literature argues that mature special sciences e.g. economics, can be equally described by mathematical/syntactic models making the appeal of structural realism a more general one for the metaphysics of all of the sciences. {Ross (2006)}. Given a commitment to ontic structural realism, if natural kinds are kinds of “object”, then anti-realism about natural kinds should follow. However, I examine two realist theses about natural kinds and argue that a commitment to structural realism is not straightforwardly inconsistent with either
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