Physics, metaphysics, dispositions, and symmetries – À la French

Anjan Chakravartty

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Recent philosophy has paid increasing attention to the nature of the relationship between the philosophy of science and metaphysics. In The Structure of the World: Metaphysics and Representation, Steven French offers many insights into this relationship (primarily) in the context of fundamental physics, and claims that a specific, structuralist conception of the ontology of the world exemplifies an optimal understanding of it. In this paper I contend that his messages regarding how best to think about the relationship are mixed, and in tension with one another. The tension is resolvable but at a cost: a weakening of the argument for French's structuralist ontology. I elaborate this claim in a specific case: his assertion of the superiority of a structuralist account of de re modality in terms of realism about laws and symmetries (conceived ontologically) over an account in terms of realism about dispositional properties. I suggest that these two accounts stem from different stances regarding how to theorize about scientific ontology, each of which is motivated by important aspects of physics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)10-15
Number of pages6
JournalStudies in History and Philosophy of Science
StatePublished - Apr 2019


  • Dispositions
  • Explanation
  • Metaphysics of science
  • Naturalized metaphysics
  • Structural realism
  • Symmetries

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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