Structure in Philosophy, Mathematics, and Physics

The goal of this seminar is to get to the ground of the recent (and sometimes not so recent) hype about structure in various branches of philosophy. Structuralism in epistemology is rather old (by certain standards), going back to Russell. More recently, drawing on older traditions such as the Erlangen programme and the Bourbaki group, authors such as Resnik and Shapiro have revived structuralism as an approach to understanding the foundations of mathematics. About twenty years ago, Worrall has reminded philosophers of science of structural realism, a view going back to Poincaré, as a way to adjudicate between traditional realism and empiricism concerning scientific knowledge. This has spawned an entire literature, now thriving in the journals in philosophy of science. Over the last years, fundamentality, structure, and identity have been hotly debated in metaphysics, structuralism has gained currency as a response to the hole argument in the foundations of spacetime theories, and the debate concerning identity and individuality has been reinvigorated by authors such as Saunders and Muller.

As you can see, the goal before us is perhaps unattainable, but I hope that participants will walk away from the seminar with both an understanding of the basic issues in all these various areas as well as an appreciation of the many analogies that connect the questions asked, the positions defended, and the objections raised in these fields.

Prerequisites: I assume no particular background either in philosophy, physics, or mathematics. Having said that, however, there will be some more technically and scientifically more involved readings. If you don't want to present or write on these--which is fine--, you should at least be prepared to make a reasonable effort to grasp the material.

Distribution requirements: This course can be counted towards the fulfillment of the distribution requirement in philosophy of science.

Course Materials

Course materials such as lecture notes, handouts, etc will be made available as they will be used in class. Here is the list:

Most texts will be made available through e-reserves: Link to this course's e-reserves page

A number of (mostly background) readings for this class can be found in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.