Structuralism About Scientific Representation

  • Martin Thomson-Jones


I have two central aims in this paper, both relatively modest. The first is to present some ways of thinking about structuralism about scientific representation COMP: Please set ‘Chapter 7’ before the title and make the digit 7 be prefixed in all section heads in this chapter.. After distinguishing two distinct structuralist theses about representation – “vehicle structuralism” and “content structuralism” – from one another and from various other structuralist theses about the sciences (Section 7.2), I will separate three different non-formal concepts of structure (Section 7.3.1), discuss their relationship to the familiar formal concepts (Section 7.3.2), and consider two different ways of explicating vehicle structuralism (Section 7.4). I will then go on (and this is the second aim) to present a line of argument for the conclusion that structural realists of a certain familiar sort should reject both vehicle structuralism and content structuralism, and, relatedly, the semantic view of theory structure (Sections 7.5 and 7.6). Appallingly, this conclusion may not be at odds with the commitments of any particular philosopher or group of philosophers, but I think it will be useful to spell out the connections explicitly nonetheless.


Concrete Structure Scientific Representation Relational Structure Isomorphism Class Structural Realism 
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.


  1. .
    Brading, K. and Landry, E. (2006), “Scientific Structuralism: Presentation and Representation,” Philosophy of Science 73: 571–581.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. .
    Bueno, O. (1997), “Empirical Adequacy: A Partial Structures Approach,” Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 28: 585–610.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. .
    Callender, C. and Cohen, J. (2006), “There Is No Special Problem About Scientific Representation,” Theoria 55: 67–85.Google Scholar
  4. .
    Da Costa, N. C. A. and French, S. (1990), “The Model-Theoretic Approach in the Philosophy of Science,” Philosophy of Science 57: 248–265.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. .
    French, S. and Ladyman, J. (1999), “Reinflating the Semantic Approach,” International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 13: 103–121.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. .
    French, S. (2010), “Keeping Quiet on the Ontology of Models,” Synthese 172: 231–249.Google Scholar
  7. .
    Giere, R. N. (1988), Explaining Science: A Cognitive Approach. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  8. .
    Goodman, N. (1976), Languages of Art: An Approach to a Theory of Symbols. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc.Google Scholar
  9. .
    Ladyman, J. (1998), “What is Structural Realism?”, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 29: 409–424.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. .
    Ladyman, J. (2007), “Structural Realism,” in E. N. Zalta, ed., The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2008 Edition). URL = <>.Google Scholar
  11. .
    Landry, E. (2007), “Shared Structure Need Not be Shared Set-Structure,” Synthese 158: 1–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. .
    Redhead, M. (2001), “The Intelligibility of the Universe,” in A. O’Hear, ed., Philosophy at the New Millennium. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 73–90.Google Scholar
  13. .
    Suppe, F. (1989), The Semantic Conception of Theories and Scientific Realism. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.Google Scholar
  14. .
    Suppes, P. (1957), Introduction to Logic. Princeton: Van Nostrand.Google Scholar
  15. .
    Suppes, P. (1960), “A Comparison of the Meaning and Uses of Models in Mathematics and the Empirical Sciences,” Synthese 12: 287–301.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. .
    Suppes, P. (1967), “What is a Scientific Theory?”, in S. Morgenbesser, ed., Philosophy of Science Today. New York: Basic Books, pp. 55–67.Google Scholar
  17. .
    Thomson-Jones, M. (2006), “Models and the Semantic View,” Philosophy of Science 73: 524–535.Google Scholar
  18. .
    Thomson-Jones, M. (2010), “Missing Systems and the Face Value Practice,” Synthese 172: 283–299.Google Scholar
  19. .
    Thomson-Jones, M. (in preparation a), “Modelling Without Mathematics.”Google Scholar
  20. Thomson-Jones, M. (in preparation b), “Mathematical and Propositional Models.”Google Scholar
  21. .
    van Fraassen, B. C. (1970), “On the Extension of Beth’s Semantics of Physical Theories,” Philosophy of Science 37: 325–339.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. .
    van Fraassen, B. C. (1972), “A Formal Approach to the Philosophy of Science,” in R. Colodny, ed., Paradigms and Paradoxes. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, pp. 303–366.Google Scholar
  23. .
    van Fraassen, B. C. (1980), The Scientific Image. Oxford: Clarendon Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. .
    van Fraassen, B. C. (1987), “The Semantic Approach to Scientific Theories,” in N. J. Nersessian, ed., The Process of Science. Dordrecht: Martinus Nijhoff, pp. 105–124.Google Scholar
  25. .
    van Fraassen, B. C. (2006a), “Structure: Its Shadow and Substance,” The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 57: 275–307.Google Scholar
  26. .
    van Fraassen, B. C. (2006b), “Representation: The Problem for Structuralism,” Philosophy of Science 73: 536–547.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. van Fraassen, B. C. (2008), Scientific Representation: Paradoxes of Perspective. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  28. .
    Watson, J. D. (1969) The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA. London: Readers Union.Google Scholar
  29. .
    Worrall, J. (1989), “Structural Realism: The Best of Both Worlds?”, Dialectica 43: 99–124.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. .
    Votsis, I. (2003), “Is Structure Not Enough?”, Philosophy of Science 70: 879–890.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. .
    Votsis, I. (2005), “The Upward Path to Structural Realism,” Philosophy of Science 72: 1361–1372.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Martin Thomson-Jones
    • 1
  1. 1.Thomson-Jones Department of PhilosophyOberlin CollegeOberlinUnited States

Personalised recommendations