, Volume 161, Issue 2, pp 219–253 | Cite as

A defence of informational structural realism

  • Luciano FloridiEmail author
Original Paper


This is the revised version of an invited keynote lecture delivered at the 1st Australian Computing and Philosophy Conference (CAP@AU; the Australian National University in Canberra, 31 October–2 November, 2003). The paper is divided into two parts. The first part defends an informational approach to structural realism. It does so in three steps. First, it is shown that, within the debate about structural realism (SR), epistemic (ESR) and ontic (OSR) structural realism are reconcilable. It follows that a version of OSR is defensible from a structuralist-friendly position. Second, it is argued that a version of OSR is also plausible, because not all relata (structured entities) are logically prior to relations (structures). Third, it is shown that a version of OSR is also applicable to both sub-observable (unobservable and instrumentally-only observable) and observable entities, by developing its ontology of structural objects in terms of informational objects. The outcome is informational structural realism, a version of OSR supporting the ontological commitment to a view of the world as the totality of informational objects dynamically interacting with each other. The paper has been discussed by several colleagues and, in the second half, ten objections that have been moved to the proposal are answered in order to clarify it further.


Epistemic structural realism Informational ontology Levels of abstraction Ontic structural realism Structural realism 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Bitbol M., (2002). “Jean-Louis Destouches’ Transcendental Structuralism”, One-Day Worshop “Structuralism in Twenty-Century Physics”, University of Leeds, June 14 Google Scholar
  2. Bloomfield P., (2005). Let’s be realistic about serious metaphysics. Synthese 144(2): 69–90CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Brink C., Rewitzky I., (2002). Three dual ontologies. Journal of Philosophical Logic 31(6): 543–568CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Cao T.Y., (2003). Structural realism and the interpretation of quantum field theory. Synthese 136(1): 3–24CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Carter J., (forthcoming). Identity between and individuating objects in structures: A problem for structuralism? Synthese.Google Scholar
  6. Chakravartty A., (1998). Semirealism. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 29(3): 391–408CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Chakravartty A., (2001). The semantic or model-theoretic view of theories and scientific realism. Synthese 127(3): 325–345CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Chakravartty A., (2003). The structuralist conception of objects. Philosophy of Science 70(5): 867–878CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cruse P., & Papineau D., (2002). Scientific realism without reference. In M. Marsonet (Ed.), The problem of realism. Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Company.Google Scholar
  10. da Costa N.C.A., French S., (2003). Science and partial truth: A unitary approach to models and reasoning in science. Oxford, Oxford University PressGoogle Scholar
  11. de Roever W.-P., Engelhardt K., (1998). Data refinement: Model-oriented proof methods and their comparison. Cambridge, Cambridge University PressGoogle Scholar
  12. Demopoulos W., Friedman M., (1985). Critical notice: Bertrand Russell’s the analysis of matter. Philosophy of Science 52, 621–639CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Dennett D., (1991). Real patterns. Journal of Philosophy, 87, 27–51 (Reprinted in D. Dennett, Brainchildren. London: Penguin 1998. pp. 95–120).Google Scholar
  14. Devitt M., (forthcoming). Scientific realism. In F. Jackson & M. Smith (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of contemporary analytic philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Dorato M., & Pauri M., (forthcoming). Holism and structuralism in classical and quantum general relativity. In S. French (Ed.), Structuralism and quantum gravity. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Eddington A., (1928). The nature of the physical world. Cambridge, Cambridge University PressGoogle Scholar
  17. Esfeld M., (2004). Quantum entanglement and a metaphysics of relations. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics 35: 625–641CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Esfeld M., & Lam V., (forthcoming). Moderate structural realism about space-time. Synthese.Google Scholar
  19. Floridi L., (2003a). On the intrinsic value of information objects and the infosphere. Ethics and Information Technology 4(4): 287–304CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Floridi L., (2003b). The renaissance of epistemology: 1914–1945. In T. Baldwin (Ed.), Cambridge History of Philosophy 1870–1945. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Floridi L., (2004). On the logical unsolvability of the Gettier problem. Synthese 142(1): 61–79CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Floridi L., (2005a). Consciousness, agents and the knowledge game. Minds and Machines 15(3–4): 415–444CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Floridi L., (2005b). Is information meaningful data?. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 70(2): 351–370CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Floridi L., Sanders J.W., (2004a). Internet ethics: The constructionist values of homo poieticus. In: Cavalier R. (eds), The impact of the internet on our moral lives. New York, SUNYGoogle Scholar
  25. Floridi L., & Sanders J.W., (2004b). Levellism and the method of abstraction. IEG Research Report 22.11.04, Oxford University, Scholar
  26. Floridi L., & Sanders J.W., (2004c). The method of abstraction. In M. Negrotti (Ed.), Yearbook of the artificial. Nature, culture and technology. Models in contemporary sciences. Bern: Peter Lang, Preprint from∼floridi/papers.htm.Google Scholar
  27. Franklin J., (1999). Structure and domain-independence in the formal sciences. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 30(4): 721–723CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. French S., (2001). Symmetry, structure and the constitution of objects. Symmetries in Physics, New Reflections: Oxford Workshop, January 2001, Oxford.Google Scholar
  29. French S., (2003). Scribbling on the blank sheet: Eddington’s structuralist conception of objects. Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics 34, 227–259CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. French S., Kamminga H., (eds) (1993). Correspondence, invariance and heuristics. Essays in honour of Heinz Post. Dordrecht, KluwerGoogle Scholar
  31. French S., Ladyman J., (2003a). The dissolution of objects: Between platonism and phenomenalism. Synthese 136(1): 73–77CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. French S., Ladyman J., (2003b). Remodelling structural realism: Quantum physics and the metaphysics of structure. Synthese 136(1): 31–56CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. French S., Redhead M., (1988). Quantum mechanics and the identity of the indiscernibles. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 39, 233–246CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. French S., & Saatsi J., (2004). Realism about structure: The semantic view and non-linguistic representations. Proceedings Philosophy of Science Assoc. 19th Biennial Meeting—PSA2004: PSA 2004 Symposia.Google Scholar
  35. Gower B., (2000). Cassirer, Schlick and ‘Structural’ realism: The philosophy of the exact sciences in the background to early logical empiricism. British Journal for the History of Philosophy 8(1): 71–106CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Hacking I., (1999). The social construction of what?. Cambridge, Mass, Harvard University PressGoogle Scholar
  37. Hayes I., Flinn B., (1993). Specification case studies (2nd ed). New York, London, Prentice HallGoogle Scholar
  38. Heath A.E., (1928). Contribution to the symposium “Materialism in the Light of Scientific Thought”. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplement, 8, 130–142Google Scholar
  39. Hoare C.A.R., He J., (1998), Unifying theories of programming. London, Prentice HallGoogle Scholar
  40. Ketland J., (2004). Empirical adequacy and ramsification. British Journal for Philosophy of Science 55(2): 287–300CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Krause D., (2005). Structures and structural realism. Logic Journal of the IGPL 13(1): 113–126CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Ladyman J., (1998). What is structural realism?. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 29A(3): 409–424CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Langton R., (2004). Elusive knowledge of things in themselves. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 82(1): 129–136CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Laudan L., (1981). A confutation of convergent realism. Philosophy of Science 48, 19–48CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Lewis D., (forthcoming). Ramseyan humility. In D. Braddon-Mitchell, & R. Nola (Eds.), The Canberra plan (Preprint in Lewis (2001), Ramseyan Humility, University of Melbourne Philosophy Department Preprint 1/01).Google Scholar
  46. Maxwell G., (1968). Scientific methodology and the causal theory of perception. In: Lakatos I., Musgrave A. (eds), Problems in the philosophy of science. Amsterdam, North-Holland Publishing Company, pp. 148–160Google Scholar
  47. Maxwell G., (1970a). Structural realism and the meaning of theoretical terms. In: Winokur S., Radner M., (eds), Analyses of theories, and methods of physics and psychology. Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, pp. 181–192Google Scholar
  48. Maxwell G., (1970b). Theories, perception and structural realism. In: Colodny R. (eds), Nature and function of scientific theories. Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh Press, pp. 3–34Google Scholar
  49. Morganti M., (2004). On the preferability of epistemic structural realism. Synthese 142(1): 81–107CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Newman M., (2004). Ramsey-sentence realism as an answer to the pessimistic meta-induction. Proceedings Philosophy of Science Assoc. 19th Biennial Meeting—PSA2004: PSA 2004 Contributed Papers.Google Scholar
  51. Newman M.H.A. (1928). Mr. Russell’s “Causal Theory of Perception”. Mind 37: 137–148CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Parsons C., (2004). Structuralism and metaphysics. The Philosophical Quarterly 54(214): 56–77CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Poincaré H. (1902). Science and hypothesis (repr. in 1952). New York: Dover.Google Scholar
  54. Psillos S., (1999), Scientific realism : How science tracks truth. London, RoutledgeGoogle Scholar
  55. Psillos S., (2000a). Carnap, the Ramsey-sentence and realistic empiricism. Erkenntnis 52, 253–279CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Psillos S., (2000b). The present state of the scientific realism debate. British Journal for Philosophy of Science 51(Special Supplement): 705–728CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Psillos S., (2001). Is structural realism possible? Philosophy of Science (Supplement) 68(3): 13–24Google Scholar
  58. Psillos S., (2004). The structure, the whole structure and nothing but the structure? Proceedings Philosophy of Science Assoc. 19th Biennial Meeting—PSA2004: PSA 2004 Symposia.Google Scholar
  59. Putnam H., (1975). What is mathematical truth? Mathematics, matter and method, philosophical papers (Vol. 1, pp. 60–78). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  60. Quine W.V., (1939). A logistical approach to the ontological problem. Fifth International Congress for the Unity of Science, Cambridge, MA, repr. in The Ways of Paradox and Other Essays (New York: Random House, 1966), 64-9.Google Scholar
  61. Quine W.V., (1992). Structure and nature. Journal of Philosophy 89(1): 5–9CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Reck E.H., (2003). Dedekind’s structuralism: An interpretation and partial defense. Synthese 137(3): 369–419CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Reck E.H., Price M.P., (2000). Structures and structuralism in contemporary philosophy of mathematics. Synthese 125(3): 341–383CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Rosen G., Smith N.J.J. (2004). Wordly Indeterminacy: A rough guide. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 82(1): 185–198CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Rumbaugh J., (1991). Object-oriented modeling and design. Englewood Cliffs, London, Prentice-Hall InternationalGoogle Scholar
  66. Ryckman T.A., (2003). Surplus structure from the standpoint of transcendental idealism: The “World Geometries” of Weyl and Eddington. Perspectives on Science 11(1): 76–106CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Saunders S., (2003). Structural realism, again. Synthese 136(1): 127–133CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Sellars W., (1956). Empiricism and the philosophy of mind. In H. Feigl & M. Scriven (Eds.), Minnesota studies in the philosophy of science. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  69. Shapiro S., (2004). Foundations of mathematics: Metaphysics, epistemology, structure. The Philosophical Quarterly 54(214): 16–37CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Spivey J.M., (1992). The Z notation: A reference manual (2nd ed). New York, London, Prentice-HallGoogle Scholar
  71. Suárez M., (2003). Scientific representation: Against similarity and isomorphism. International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 17(3): 225–244CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Van Fraasen B.C., (forthcoming). Representation: The problem for structuralism. Philosophy of Science.Google Scholar
  73. Van Fraassen B.C., (2006). Structure: Its shadow and substance. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 57(2): 275–307CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Votsis I., (2003). Is structure not enough?. Philosophy of Science, Supplement 70(5): 879–890CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Votsis I., (forthcoming). Dispelling certain misconceptions about structural realism.Google Scholar
  76. Wallace D., (2003). Everett and Structure. Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics 34, 87–105CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Wheeler J.A., (1990). Information, physics, quantum: The search for links. In W. H. Zureck (Ed.), Complexity, entropy and the physics of information. Redwood City, Cal: Addison Wesley.Google Scholar
  78. Wiener N., (1961). Cybernetics, or control and communication in the animal and the machine. New York, John WileyGoogle Scholar
  79. Worrall J., (1989). Structural realism: The best of both worlds?. Dialectica 43, 99–124CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Worrall J., (1994). How to remain (Reasonably) optimistic: Scientific realism and the “Luminiferous Ether”. In D. L. Hull M., Forbes, & R. M. Burian (Eds.), Psa 1994 (pp. 334–342). East Lansing, MI: Philosophy of Science Association.Google Scholar
  81. Worrall J., & Zahar E., (2001). Appendix Iv: Ramseyfication and structural realism. In Poincare’s philosophy: From conventionalism to phenomenology. Chicago and La Salle (IL): Open Court.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Dipartimento di Scienze FilosoficheUniversità degli Studi di BariBariItaly
  2. 2.Faculty of PhilosophyOxford UniversityOxfordUK
  3. 3.IEG, OUCLOxford UniversityOxfordUK
  4. 4.St. Cross CollegeOxford UniversityOxfordUK

Personalised recommendations