Scientific Realism Made Effective

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Williams, Porter
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preprint description
I argue that a common philosophical approach to the interpretation of physical theories -- particularly quantum field theories -- has led philosophers astray. It has driven many to declare the quantum field theories employed by practicing physicists, so-called ``effective field theories,'' to be unfit for philosophical interpretation. In particular, such theories have been deemed unable to support a realist interpretation. I argue that these claims are mistaken: attending to the manner in which these theories are employed in physical practice, I show that interpreting effective field theories yields a robust foundation for a more refined approach to scientific realism in the context of quantum field theory. The paper concludes by briefly sketching some general morals for interpretive practice in the philosophy of physics.