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Effective Theories and Infinite Idealizations: A Challenge for Scientific Realism

Rivat, Sébastien (2020) Effective Theories and Infinite Idealizations: A Challenge for Scientific Realism. [Preprint]

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Abstract

Williams and J. Fraser have recently argued that effective field theory methods enable scientific realists to make more reliable ontological commitments in Quantum Field Theory (QFT) than those commonly made. In this paper, I show that the interpretative relevance of these methods extends beyond the specific context of QFT by identifying common structural features shared by effective theories across physics. In particular, I argue that effective theories are best characterized by the fact that they contain intrinsic empirical limitations, and I extract from their structure one central interpretative constraint for making more reliable ontological commitments in different subfields of physics. While this is in principle good news, this constraint still raises a challenge for scientific realists in some contexts, and I bring the point home by focusing on Williams's and J. Fraser's defense of selective realism in QFT.


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Item Type: Preprint
Creators:
CreatorsEmailORCID
Rivat, Sébastiensr3109@columbia.edu
Additional Information: forthcoming in Synthese
Keywords: Effective Theories; Effective Field Theories; Renormalization Group; Scientific Realism; Selective Realism; Infinite Idealizations
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Physics > Fields and Particles
General Issues > Models and Idealization
Specific Sciences > Physics > Quantum Field Theory
General Issues > Realism/Anti-realism
Depositing User: Sébastien Rivat
Date Deposited: 04 Sep 2020 15:58
Last Modified: 04 Sep 2020 15:58
Item ID: 18056
DOI or Unique Handle: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11229-020-02852-4
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Physics > Fields and Particles
General Issues > Models and Idealization
Specific Sciences > Physics > Quantum Field Theory
General Issues > Realism/Anti-realism
Date: 2020
URI: https://philsci-archive-dev.library.pitt.edu/id/eprint/18056

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