Skip to main content
No AccessArticles

Structuralism in the Idiom of Determination

Ontic structural realism (OSR) is a thesis of fundamentality metaphysics: the thesis that structure, not objects, has fundamental status. Claimed as the metaphysic most befitting of modern physics, OSR first emerged as an entreaty to eliminate objects from the metaphysics of fundamental physics. Such elimination was urged by Steven French and James Ladyman on the grounds that only it could resolve the ‘underdetermination of metaphysics by physics’ that they claimed reduced any putative objectual commitment to a merely ‘ersatz’ form of realism. Few, however, have joined French and Ladyman either in acknowledging that such underdetermination exists or in attributing to it such drastic consequences. However, an alternative view that physics does sanction objects, albeit merely as ontologically secondary entities, represents a different and seemingly less extreme route to the same conclusion regarding the fundamentality of structure. But since what it means to be ‘ontologically prior’ is itself a vexed philosophical question, a stance must be taken as to how we are to understand priority before its prospects may be evaluated. In an earlier paper, I outlined how Fine’s notion of ontological dependence might be utilized to defend the priority-based approach to structuralism. Since then, however, I have become convinced that that ontological dependence is not a relation of priority after all. As a result, the arguments outlined in that paper stand in need of reassessment. In this work, I consider the prospects for priority-based structuralism when expressed in the idiom of determination. My conclusion will be that it has yet to be vindicated by our best physical theories, owing to the failure of symmetry structures to determine the world’s inventory of fundamental kinds. Nevertheless, the same symmetry considerations point towards there being renewed prospects for eliminativism—an eliminativism, moreover, of more naturalistic appeal than that hitherto associated with OSR.

1.  Introduction

2.  Structuralist Strategies

3.  Defining Ontological Priority: Dependence or Determination?

4.  Structuralism in the Idiom of Determination

4.1.  Determining plurality

4.2.  Determining kind properties

5.  A Reinvigorated Eliminativism