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Abstract

Devising an appropriate formal framework for structural realism has long been an issue in the development of this position. Décio Krause has suggested that quasi-set theory might offer such a framework and here I explore that possibility in the context of so-called ‘moderate’ and ‘radical’ forms of Ontic Structural Realism (OSR). However, although the central claims of the former can indeed be captured by quasi-set theory, I argue that these claims cannot bear the metaphysical weight placed upon them and conclude that the search for an appropriate formal framework for OSR remains open.Over the past 35 years or so, structural realism has become one of the dominant positions in the realism-antirealism debate. As is now well-known, it broadly divides into two versions: epistemic structural realism, which, also broadly, states that all that we can know, is structure (Worrall, 1989); and ontic structural realism (OSR), which insists that all that there is, is structure (Ladyman, 1998). One of the questions that is most often asked about this position (asked so often in fact that I’m not going to bother with any citations here!) is the following: What is this structure that we are supposed to be realists about? As I’ve pointed out in what might be seen as a companion piece to this paper, it is remarkable that critics of this view never seem to bother to ask the same question of their own, ‘object-oriented’ stance (French, forthcoming-a, hopefully). It is almost as if they think that the notion of ‘object’ is so metaphysically transparent that no such question needs to be asked of it (reader, it isn’t and it does!). In that other paper I adopted the ‘toolbox’ view of the relationship between science and metaphysics, according to which the latter can be thought of as providing various devices and frameworks with which the theories of the former can be furnished (see French & McKenzie, 2012).

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Notes

  1. 1.

    It is for this reason that I did not go into details in (French, 2014), leading to criticism by Esfeld in his review, for example (Esfeld, 2015), although in fact I think that most, if not all, current interpretations of quantum mechanics can be given a structuralist ‘spin’.

  2. 2.

    Interestingly this is the same strategy that was explicitly adopted by Everett and there are useful comparisons to be drawn between the latter’s ‘relative state’ interpretation and Mermin’s relational one.

  3. 3.

    Mermin also addresses the issue of ‘relations without relata’ and invokes consciousness in this context: ‘Consciousness enters into the interpretation of quantum mechanics because it and it alone underlies our conviction that a purely relational physics – a physics of correlations without correlata – has insufficient descriptive power’ (1998, p. 755). This is not a view that should be dismissed as lightly as it has been, although I won’t go into details here.

  4. 4.

    An interpretation similar to Mermin’s can be found in Rovelli’s ‘relational’ account (Laudisa & Rovelli, 2021) for which it has been argued, OSR provides an appropriate philosophical framework (Candiotto, 2017).

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French, S. (2023). Quasi-structural Realism. In: Arenhart, J.R.B., Arroyo, R.W. (eds) Non-Reflexive Logics, Non-Individuals, and the Philosophy of Quantum Mechanics. Synthese Library, vol 476. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-31840-5_3

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