"How Can Physics Bear on Ontology? Or, The Dialectical Dance of Realism and Instrumentalism"
Abstract: I discuss the kinds of ontological commitment that successful theory and experiment in tandem may and may not reasonably support – and the in tandem is crucial, for I do not believe one can address this question without input from all forms of scientific knowledge including the experimental and the practical – analysis of the formal structures of theory alone cannot suffice. I argue that the structure and content of our actual scientific knowledge does admit some attenuated form of ontological commitment, but always of a radically underdetermined sort. Our best theories allow us to say that something, we know not exactly the fine details of which, exists, in some sense of the word “exist”. Indeed, I shall further argue that “existence” is not a univocal concept in physics, but rather is, to paraphrase Aristotle, said in many ways. I conclude that neither the realist nor the instrumentalist can claim any great victory, and that a more modest pragmatic attitude accommodating the insights and strengths of each is most reasonable.
Erik Curiel is an Assistant Professor at Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Munich
This talk is being sponsored by STS@OSU and the Society for the Philosophy of Science.