Theoretical Entities and the Ontological Instability of Physics: The Impact on Scientific Realism


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Rivadulla Rodríguez, Andrés (2018) Theoretical Entities and the Ontological Instability of Physics: The Impact on Scientific Realism. In Natural Kinds: Language and Metaphysics, 15-16 de Marzo de 2018, Facultad de Filosofía de la UCM. (Submitted)

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In this article the question arises as to whether the entities postulated by theoretical physics are ontologically stable, i.e. if their existence depends merely on the fact that at some point in scientific development they have been proposed, which would guarantee them indefinite durability, or whether entities exist in scientific language and practice, but which, for some time scientific development ends up condemning them to oblivion or to conclusive rejection.
Here I will show that, in fact, in many cases, entities that at one time seemed to contribute to scientific success were eventually abandoned. But, above all, I will insist that this is a phenomenon that has happened repeatedly in the history of physics, and this raises doubts about whether we should believe in the real existence of the entities that physics postulate, i.e. if theoretical physics is ontologically stable.
However, this question transcends the domain of ontology as it has a decisive impact on epistemology. Indeed, as we know, the philosophical position known as scientific realism maintains that mature scientific theories are at least approximately true and their theoretical terms refer empirically, that is, the entities that we name with scientific terms and concepts really exist.
This has two very important consequences in order to form a correct or adequate image of science as a cultural product. The first is that science is, at least historically, ontologically unstable. The second, which follows from this, is that it does not seem reasonable to believe that science converges to the truth, for we can never know ‘for sure’ if the current ontology of science, i.e., the set of entities whose existence it postulates, is stable, or permanent and persevering. And this seriously questions the epistemological viability of scientific realism.

Item Type:Conference or Workshop Item (Lecture)
Uncontrolled Keywords:Natural kinds, theoretical kinds, theoretical entities, scientific ontology, ontological instability
Subjects:Humanities > Philosophy > Philosophy of science
ID Code:47475
Deposited On:10 May 2018 08:35
Last Modified:17 Dec 2018 08:28

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