Lecture: There Are No Such Things as Theories


Location: DeBartolo Hall, Room 208

Steven French, Department of Philosophy, University of Leeds

What are scientific theories, qua objects? The so-called ‘Received View’ identified them with sets of sentences, closed under deduction. The deficiencies in this view helped motivate the so- called ‘semantic’ or model-theoretic approach which has been understood as identifying theories with families of set-theoretic models. The problems with such an understanding can be avoided by insisting that this approach should be taken only as offering a means of representing features of scientific practice. This leaves our initial question unanswered. One option is to adopt a quietist stance and insist that answering such questions does not further the aims of the philosophy of science. The question now is, how are we then to make sense of our talk about theories—their truth, empirical adequacy, or other qualities and virtues in general? Here we can appeal to various moves made in metaphysics when one needs to talk about items that are not in one’s fundamental ontology. Some of these moves have been imported into discusssions of the ontological status of artworks, such as pieces of music, and obvious comparisons and contrasts can be drawn with the ontological status of theories. My aim in this paper is to consider the viability of such metaphysical manoeuvres in this context and to explore the suggestion that what counts as ‘fundamental ontology’ for the philosophy of science does not include theories, models and the like, but rather, sets of practices.

This is a lecture sponsored by History and Philosophy of Science program and a Reilly Center special event.