MA Thesis Defense: Nathan Lackey

Scientific Realism and the Geometric Structure of Physical Theories
Nathan Lackey

Friday September 30th 2016 @ 08:30am MHB–915

Abstract: In this thesis, I argue that the structural geometric changes in physical theory of the 20th century provide a decisive example which supports the pessimistic meta-induction argument against scientific realism. As a result, I conclude that realism about spacetime and its geometric structure is epistemologically unjustified. Chapter 1 introduces the project and general outline of the remaining chapters and sections. Chapter 2 provides the necessary mathematical and scientific background for the argumentation that follows. This includes a detailed account of Euclidean and non-Euclidean geometric systems and their application in physical theory. In chapter 3, I argue in favor of the pessimistic meta-induction argument by appealing to the Newton-Einstein shift and I offer objections to Robert DiSalle’s spacetime realism. Chapter 4 is a rebuttal of John Worrall’s structural realist position and Arthur Fine’s natural ontological attitude. I argue that the Newton-Einstein shift is a development in the history of science that is inconsistent with structural realism. Lastly, I argue that the natural ontological attitude fails because it mischaracterizes the relationship between philosophy and science.

Oral defenses are open to the public. For a draft copy of the thesis, please contact Nathan directly.