Poincarae's Philosophy: From Conventionalism to Phenomenology

By Elie Zahar | Go to book overview

APPENDIX IV
Ramseyfication and Structural Realism
(Co-written with John Worrall)

Several authors have recently highlighted what they take to be a major objection to 'structural realism'—an account of the status of scientific theories which, as indicated in the text, was advocated by Poincaré and also by Russell. This objection is so major that it raises questions about the very 'possibility' of structural realism. The objection goes, essentially, as follows: (i) Structural Realism is in effect committed to the view that the cognitive content of any scientific theory T is fully captured by its Ramsey sentence T*—where T*, as is well known, is formed from T by first substituting variables for all the theoretical predicates involved in T and then existentially geneneralising over all those predicate-variables. (We could remain within first-order logic by regarding all relations as classes of ntuples of individuals; but then we would have to look upon the notions of a class (k(x) ≡ x is a class) and of an object belonging to a class ((y∈ x) y belongs to the class x) as logical constants; so that k and ∈ ought not to be quantified over when we form T*. It is worth noting that in the—very simple—examples adduced below, all existential quantifications over predicate variables will anyway yield formulas logically equivalent to first-order sentences.)

(ii) But, as was allegedly first shown by the mathematician M.H.A. Newman—responding to Russell's version of structural realism—a theory's Ramsey-sentence is satisfiable in a 'trivial' way, imposing no more, supposedly, than a cardinality constraint (see Newman 1928).

(iii) However, scientific theories clearly do much more than impose constraints on the size of the universe.

(iv) So stuctural realism is committed to an entirely untenable account of the cognitive content of scientific theories—that that content is captured by the theory's Ramsey-sentence—and is itself untenable.

Newman's argument was reintroduced into the philosophy of science by Demopoulos and Friedman—and via their article, has attracted a good deal of attention in the past few years (Demopoulos and Friedman 1985). We

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