New foundations for qualitative physics

In J. E. Tiles, G. T. McKee & C. G. Dean (eds.), Evolving Knowledge in Natural Science and Artificial Intelligence. London: Pitman Publishing. pp. 231-49 (1990)
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Physical reality is all the reality we have, and so physical theory in the standard sense is all the ontology we need. This, at least, was an assumption taken almost universally for granted by the advocates of exact philosophy for much of the present century. Every event, it was held, is a physical event, and all structure in reality is physical structure. The grip of this assumption has perhaps been gradually weakened in recent years as far as the sciences of mind are concerned. When it comes to the sciences of external reality, however, it continues to hold sway, so that contemporary philosophers B even while devoting vast amounts of attention to the language we use in describing the world of everyday experience B still refuse to see this world as being itself a proper object of theoretical concern. Here, however, we shall argue that the usual conception of physical reality as constituting a unique bedrock of objectivity reflects a rather archaic view as to the nature of physics itself and is in fact incompatible with the development of the discipline since Newton. More specifically, we shall seek to show that the world of qualitative structures, for example of colour and sound, or the commonsense world of coloured and sounding things, can be treated scientifically (ontologically) on its own terms, and that such a treatment can help us better to understand the structures both of physical reality and of cognition.
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