No categorial support for radical ontic structural realism

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Lam, Vincent; Wuthrich, Christian
preprint description
Radical ontic structural realism (ROSR) asserts an ontological commitment to 'free-standing' physical structures understood solely in terms of fundamental relations, without any recourse to relata which stand in these relations. Bain (2011) has recently defended ROSR against the common charge of incoherence by arguing that a reformulation of fundamental physical theories in category-theoretic terms (rather than the usual set-theoretic ones) offers a coherent and precise articulation of the commitments accepted by ROSR. In this essay, we argue that category theory does not offer a more hospitable environment to ROSR than set theory. We also show that the application of category-theoretic tools to topological quantum field theory and to algebraic generalisations of general relativity do not warrant the claim that these theories describe 'object-free' structures. We conclude that category theory offers little if any comfort to ROSR.