A Minimalist Ontology of the Natural World: 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

A Minimalist Ontology of the Natural World

1st Edition

By Michael Esfeld, Dirk-Andre Deckert


182 pages

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pub: 2017-11-03
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This book seeks to work out which commitments are minimally sufficient to obtain an ontology of the natural world that matches all of today’s well-established physical theories. We propose an ontology of the natural world that is defined only by two axioms: (1) There are distance relations that individuate simple objects, namely matter points. (2) The matter points are permanent, with the distances between them changing. Everything else comes in as a means to represent the change in the distance relations in a manner that is both as simple and as informative as possible. The book works this minimalist ontology out in philosophical as well as mathematical terms and shows how one can understand classical mechanics, quantum field theory and relativistic physics on the basis of this ontology. Along the way, we seek to achieve four subsidiary aims: (a) to make a case for a holistic individuation of the basic objects (ontic structural realism); (b) to work out a new version of Humeanism, dubbed Super-Humeanism, that does without natural properties; (c) to set out an ontology of quantum physics that is an alternative to quantum state realism and that avoids any ontological dualism of particles and fields; (d) to vindicate a relationalist ontology based on point objects also in the domain of relativistic physics.


"This book is an extremely welcome presentation of a minimalist metaphysics, systematically worked out in great detail and carefully tied to novel work in the foundations of physics . . . Humeans owe Esfeld and Deckert a great debt for pursuing in such detail a position that answers so many of their challenges."George Darby, Durham University, UK

"There is much to admire in this book. As a rigorous and systematic physics-oriented presentation of an austere empiricist fundamental metaphysics, it has no real rivals. The clarity with which the overall vision is presented will provide a valuable stalking-horse for those who would defend less austere approaches in the future. Esfeld and Deckert never shy away from the radical consequences of their approach or try to disguise its revisionary nature."Alastair Wilson, University of Birmingham, UK

"Unquestionably, this book is highly original, thought provoking, and sure to open up many new research venues. It wets the appetite for more, which we have every reason to believe will follow from the authors." - Anna Marmodoro, University of Oxford, UK

"The book is definitely to be recommended to all those interested in metaphysical questions concerning objects, properties, identity, space, and time, and/or in the interpretation of contemporary physics. Both advanced students and researchers working in metaphysics and the philosophy of physics are likely to benefit from reading it, if only because in doing so, whether or not they agree with the authors, they will be forced to think carefully about many fascinating issues concerning the ultimate nature of physical reality."Matteo Morganti in the British Journal for the Philosophy of Science Review of Books

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Matter Points and their Dynamics

3. Minimalist Ontology and Dynamical Structure in Classical and Quantum Mechanics

4. A Persistent Particle Ontology for Quantum Field Theory

5. Relationalism for Retativisitc Physics

About the Authors

Michael Esfeld is full professor of philosophy of science at the University of Lausanne since 2002. His last book with Routledge is Conservative reductionism (with Christian Sachse) (2008).

Dirk-André Deckert is leader of the junior research group « Interaction of Light and Matter » in the Mathematical Institute of Ludwig Maximilians University Munich. Book publication Electromagnetic absorber theory – a mathematical study (2010).

About the Series

Routledge Studies in the Philosophy of Mathematics and Physics

Recent years have seen a surge of interest in the topics discussed by philosophers of mathematics and physics, particularly those relating to the way in which these disciplines intersect. Titles in this series cover a wide range of exciting and dynamic issues such as category theory, mathematical proofs, computability, emergence, time travel, quantum black holes, and string theory. Authors explore leading questions concerning new directions in the philosophy of mathematics and physics, with the aim of presenting clear, concise, and original monographs for an advanced audience.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
PHILOSOPHY / Metaphysics
SCIENCE / Philosophy & Social Aspects