Lauener Foundation for Analytical Philosophy


Friday 10 September 2004
Bern, Switzerland

1st International Lauener Symposium on Analytical Philosophy
in honour of Professor Patrick Suppes

Prof. Dr. Steven French

(University of Leeds)

Symmetry, Invariance and Reference

This paper attempts to bring together two important aspects of Suppes work. As is very well known he has insisted that the appropriate representation of scientific theories is by means of what has come to be called the ‘model theoretic approach'. This can be generalised to accommodate the relationships between theories and hence theory change in science can be captured in a broadly structuralist manner. The second aspect concerns Suppes examination of the role of invariance in science and its relationship to symmetry and objective meaning. A bridge between these two themes can be constructed out of recent discussions concerning ‘structural realism’. According to one variant of this position, we should be realists about those structures which are retained through theory change, while the objects behind such structures are regarded as ‘hidden’ in some way. Adopting a more radical stance, the objects themselves can be ontologically construed in terms of the structures – essentially they come to be understood as nothing more than sets of invariants. A suitable framework for representing either form of structural realism is provided by the partial structures version of the model-theoretic approach. Within this framework I shall explore the inter-relationships between theory change, objective meaning and our ontological commitments and, in particular , I shall indicate how from a structuralist perspective, reference effectively evaporates.

Prof. Dr.  Steven  French

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