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Structural Realism and the problem of Identity in Physics

Reading Group - A.A. 2016-2016 - I-II Semestre



Title: Structural Realism and the problem of Identity in Physics 

Convener: Cristian Mariani

Contact: mariani_cristian@yahoo.it

Confirmed participants: Giuliano Torrengo, Francesco Berto (UvA Amsterdam, will give a lecture via Skype), Mauro D’Ariano (Pavia, Professor of Physics), Daria Vitasovic, Hassan Amiri Ara, Enrico Cinti, Francesco Albarelli (Unimi ‘PhD Physics’), Marco Erba (Pavia ‘PhD Physics’), Luca Zanetti (Iuss Pavia), Silvia Bianchi (San Raffaele MI), Alessandra Dall’Olio (San Raffaele MI)

Over the last decades, Structural Realism (SR) has often been presented as the better strategy for defending a realist view of science. The modern form of structuralism was introduced by John Wor- rall in 1989, aiming to break the impasse from taking seriously both no-miracle argument and the pessimistic meta-induction from the history of science. However, there have been several contro- versies concerning the exact meaning of this kind of structuralism in the philosophy of science. In 1998, James Ladyman has proposed an ontological and stronger version of SR, namely the Ontic Structural Realism (OSR), which is supposed to overcome the difficulties due to a merely epistemic reading of the structural realism (ESR).

OSR has been argued for on the basis of some issues related to the status of the notions of identity and individuality in the quantum domain. Indeed, it seems that we do not have a good reason to choose between two opposite accounts of what is identity in quantum theory. Very briefly: on one side, we can maintain a metaphysics of individual objects in the quantum domain only if we aban- don the Leibniz’s famous Principle of the Identity of Indiscernibles; on the other side, according to the so-called ‘Received View’, we should accept that quantum theory implies that quantum particles cannot be regarded as individual objects with specific identity conditions. This framework has been defined by van Fraassen (1985) and French (1989) as a new form of underdetermination, specifical- ly of metaphysics by physics. And, of course, this leads to several issues for the scientific realist. Hence, a metaphysical picture as OSR, with its structural ontology that avoids the talk about indi- viduals - at least in the fundamental level - can easily be presented as a straightforward way to avoid such underdetermination.

The aim of this reading group is to understand the relationships between the structural realism and the problem of identity and individuality in quantum theory. At first, (PART I) we will concentrate on the origin of the structural realism and consequently on the differences between the ontic version (OSR) and the epistemic version (ESR). Then, (PART II) we will focus on the issue of identity and individuality by presenting the two different accounts and by showing some arguments in favor and against each of them. We will then explain the meaning of the alleged underdetermination. Finally, (PART III) we will try to evaluate the arguments in favor of OSR which are explicitly related to the problem of identity in quantum theory.

The reading group will be held every two weeks, from the second half of November to January 2016, for a 12 hours total. The exact time schedule will be decided by the participants.

The bibliography is divided into three part as the program of the reading group. It may be slightly changed due to the interests of the participants.

Part I

-  John Worrall (1989), ‘Structural Realism: The best of both worlds?’, Dialectica, 43, 99-124.
-  James Ladyman (1998), ‘What is structural realism?’, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, 29, 409-424.
-  Stathis Psillos (2001), ‘Is structural realism possible?’, Philosophy of Science, 68 (suppl.), S13-S24.

Part II

-  Steven French & Décio Krause (2006), Identity in Physics: a Historical, Philosophical and Formal Analysis, OUP (only chapter 4, pp. 149-197)
-  Elena Castellani (1998), ‘Introduction’, in E. Castellani (ed.), Interpreting Bodies: Classical and Quantum Objects in Modern Physics, PUP, PP. 3-17.
-  Francesco Berto (2016), ‘Counting the particles: Entity and Identity in the Philosophy of Physics’, [forthcoming in Metaphysica]

Part III

-  Tien Cao (2003), ‘Can we dissolve physical entities into mathematical structure?’, Special Issue: Structural Realism and Quantum Field Theory, J. Symonds (ed.), Synthese, 136(1), 57-71.
-  Juha Saatsi (2010), ‘Whence Ontological Structural Realism?’, in M. Suàrez, M. Dorato & M. Rèdei (eds.) Epsa Epistemology and Methodology of Science: Launch of the European Philosophy of Science Association, Springer 255-66.

11 novembre 2016
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