Philosophy of the Physical Sciences

In Paul Humphreys (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Science. Oxford: Oxford University Press (2015)
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The authors survey some debates about the nature and structure of physical theories and about the connections between our physical theories and naturalized metaphysics. The discussion is organized around an “ideal view” of physical theories and criticisms that can be raised against it. This view includes controversial commitments regarding the best analysis of physical modalities and intertheory relations. The authors consider the case in favor of taking laws as the primary modal notion, discussing objections related to alleged violations of the laws, the apparent need to appeal to causality, and the status of probability. The “ideal view” includes a commitment that fundamental physical theories are explanatorily sufficient. The authors discuss several challenges to recovering the manifest image from fundamental physics, along with a distinct challenge to reductionism based on acknowledging the contributions of less fundamental theories in physical explanations.

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Chris Smeenk
University of Western Ontario


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