Ontic Structural Realism

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McKenzie, Kerry
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Ontic structural realism (OSR) is at its core the view that structure is ontologically fundamental. Informed from its inception by the revolutions of 20th century science, it is claimed to provide the perspective on ontology most befitting of modern physics. But what precisely its core claim that ‘structure is fundamental’ amounts to is difficult to articulate, as is what its purported naturalistic credentials should ultimately be taken to be. It is also difficult to sustain OSR’s core claim on the basis of our best current physics. What is clear, however, is that OSR has brought swathes of relevant material from the sciences to the table of contemporary metaphysics, and that metaphysicians ignore this rich seam of material to their own analytical loss. This article aims to identify different positions within OSR and the connections between them, and examine the warrant provided by our best current physics for the claim that structure is ontologically fundamental. It will be argued that kind properties continue to pose a challenge to OSR – something that has perhaps been obscured by the fact that ontological priority has primarily been conceived of in terms of ontological dependence and not a relation of ontological determination (or ‘grounding’). As such, it is argued, it seems difficult to maintain the fundamentality of structure on the basis of present physics. But another hope is to convey that OSR must incorporate both the fine details of contemporary physics and tools from a priori metaphysics in the course of its development, and as such that metaphysicians of all stripes have not only a stake in the standing of its claims but a role to play in the argument behind them.