Metaphysical approximation in Metaphysics of Science

Webinar Oct. 23, 2020

Rasmus Jaksland, Norwegian University of Science and Technology           

In science and particularly in physics, we have a developed notion of approximation. We possess, in many cases at least, quantitative means with which to assess the epistemic risk of using an approximation (i.e. Newtonian Gravity) rather than a theory known to be more precise (i.e. general relativity). This paper explores how this aspect of approximations transfers to metaphysics of science: what epistemic risk are we for instance taking in assuming an object ontology in social theorizing rather than the more relational ontology suggested by quantum mechanics? The paper argues that we do have examples where we can derive the epistemic risk of a metaphysical approximation directly from the scientific theories; absolute simultaneity being an example. But for other metaphysical approximations, it is less evident how this obtains; relational vs. object ontology being an example. The paper closes with a speculation wheter this is (a) because metaphysical approximation is an alien concept, (b) because these approximations are not well understood in the scientific context either, or (c) because such ontological elements cannot actually be related by approximation. With further development in metaphysics and science (a) and (b) should be resolvable, whereas (c), it seems, would have rather extensive consequences for theorizing based on non-fundamental metaphysics.

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