Philosophy of Nature, Realism, and the Postulated Ontology of Scientific Theories

In Adam Świeżyński (ed.), Philosophy of Nature Today. pp. 59–80 (2009)

The first part of the paper is a metatheoretical consideration of such philosophy of nature which allows for using scientific results in philosophical analyses. An epistemological 'judgment' of those results becomes a preliminary task of this discipline: this involves taking a position in the controversy between realistic and antirealistic accounts of science. It is shown that a philosopher of nature has to be a realist, if his task to build true ontology of reality is to be achieved. At the same time he cannot be a realist ˗ a possibility that science itself is capable of deciding what beings really exist (a typical realistic claim is that scientific notions refer to something external and truly describe its characteristics) has to be denied, if the philosophy of nature is seen as a discipline investigating the natural world, while being epistemologically different from the natural sciences. A possibility of weakening this opposition is explored in the second part of the paper, where the idea of so-called "postulated ontology" of scientific theories is brought to the consideration. This idea appears in the context of a well-known thesis of the underdetermination of scientific theories by empirical data. It is argued in the paper, that the conviction of the existence of some kind of relation between a given theory and ontological ideas can be derived from this thesis, regardless of its particular form. Therefore, certain solutions to classical philosophical questions can be obtained, in principle, by careful inspection of scientific achievements. However, if the thesis of underdetermination holds, such philosophical solutions are not imposed by science itself. In order to arrive at some kind of ontology based on science, it seems necessary to accept certain philosophical presuppositions in the first place. This and the fact that scientific theories change in time show that although such a kind of ontology is possible, and perhaps desirable, it can never be ultimate.
Keywords science and philosophy  scientific realism  antirealism  truth in science  empirical adequacy  underdetermination  ontology of scientific theories  ontological relativity  autonomous philosophy of nature
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