Synthese 151 (2):233-255 (2006)

Daniel McArthur
York University
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 10.1007/s11229-004-5406-4
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 72,607
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

Nature's Capacities and Their Measurement.Nancy Cartwright - 1989 - Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
What is Structural Realism?James Ladyman - 1998 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 29 (3):409-424.

View all 21 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

The Unity of Science.Jordi Cat - 2013 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Between Holism and Reductionism: A Philosophical Primer on Emergence.Massimo Pigliucci - 2013 - Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 112 (2):261-267.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Fundamental Laws and the Completeness of Physics.David Spurrett - 1999 - International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 13 (3):261 – 274.
Whence Ontological Structural Realism?Juha Saatsi - 2008 - In M. Dorato M. Suàrez (ed.), Epsa Epistemology and Methodology of Science. Springer. pp. 255--265.
Cartwright on Laws and Composition.David Spurrett - 2000 - International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 15 (3):253 – 268.
Do Objects Depend on Structures?Johanna Wolff - 2012 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 63 (3):607-625.
For Fundamentalism.Carl Hoefer - 2003 - Philosophy of Science 70 (5):1401--1412.
The Fundamental Laws of Physics Can Tell the Truth.Renat Nugayev - 1991 - International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 5 (1):79 – 87.
Cartwright, Forces, and Ceteris Paribus Laws.Barry Ward - 2009 - Southwest Philosophy Review 25 (1):55-62.
Recent Debates Over Structural Realism.Daniel McArthur - 2006 - Journal for General Philosophy of Science / Zeitschrift für Allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie 37 (2):209 - 224.


Added to PP index

Total views
316 ( #34,479 of 2,533,646 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
2 ( #260,225 of 2,533,646 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes