The Characterisation of Structure: Definition versus Axiomatisation

  • F. A. MullerEmail author
Part of the The Philosophy of Science in a European Perspective book series (PSEP, volume 1)


Crucial to structural realism is the Central Claim that entity B is or has structure S. We argue that neither the set-theoretical nor the category-theoretical conceptions of structure clarify the Claim in a way that serves the needs of structural realism. One of these needs is to have a viable account of reference, which almost any variety of realism needs. There is also a view of structure that can adopt both set-theoretical and category-theoretical conceptions of structure; this is the view that adopts B.C. van Fraassen’s extension of Nelson Goodman’s concept of representation-as from art to science. Yet the ensuing fountain of perspectives is a move away from realism, structural realism included. We then suggest that a new theory of structure is needed, one that takes the word ‘structure’ to express a primitive fundamental concept; the concept of structure should be axiomatised rather than defined in terms of other concepts. We sketch how such a theory can clarify the Central Claim in a manner that serves a descriptivist account of reference, and thereby structural realism.


Structural Realism Helium Atom Central Claim Descriptivist Account Substantive Account 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Many thanks to Ioannis Votsis (Heinrich Heine Universität, Düsseldorf, Germany) and Dennis Dieks (Utrecht University, The Netherlands) for comments.


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© Springer Netherlands 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Philosophy, Institute for the History and Foundations of ScienceErasmus University RotterdamRotterdamThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Dept. of Physics & AstronomyUtrecht UniversityUtrechtThe Netherlands

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