Structuralism in the Idiom of Determination

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McKenzie, Kerry
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Ontic structural realism (OSR) is at its core a thesis of fundamentality metaphysics: the thesis that structure, not objects, is endowed with fundamental status. Claimed both as the metaphysic most befitting of modern physics and radically at odds with more mainstream views, OSR first emerged as an entreaty to eliminate objects from our scheme of fundamental metaphysics. But 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. Indeed, what we can call the ‘priority-based’ approach to structuralism now seems widely regarded as the more plausible of the two. In an earlier paper, I outlined how Fine’s notion of ontological dependence might be utilized to articulate and defend the priority-based approach to structuralism. Since then, however, new considerations have emerged suggesting 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, with the aim of producing a more definitive statement of the current standing of OSR. My conclusion will be that priority-based structuralism 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 toward there being renewed prospects for an eliminativist structuralism – an eliminativism, moreover, of more naturalistic appeal than that associated with OSR hitherto.