Research overview and work-in-progress

My foremost areas of expertise are scientific realism and philosophy of explanation, including, in particular, the interface of these two areas. I often find it most fruitful to think about realism and explanation in the light of the history and philosophy of physics. I also work on other topics in the metaphysics of science, such as laws of nature, reduction/emergence, and on selected topics in philosophy of physics. My other prominent research interests include philosophical naturalism, and models and representation.

(click links for selected publications under each heading)

Recent and ongoing funded projects

Scientific Realism Reinvigorated (January – December 2018)
British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship

Scientific Realism and the Quantum (March 2015 – February 2018)
AHRC Research Grant

Emergence and Laws of Nature (October 2014 – September 2015)
Templeton Trust Grant in affiliation with the Durham Emergence Project

New Books

Scientific Realism Reconfigured (working title)
Monograph on scientific realism. Main project for the time being.

Scientific Realism and the Quantum
15 chapters of new research at the intersection of scientific realism and philosophy of quantum physics. Co-edited with S. French for OUP, 2020.

See here for the Introduction.

Selected works on main areas of expertise

Re: Scientific realism:

  • Here, here, and here I scrutinise realists’ use of abductive reasoning (‘IBE’).
  • Here I explain what realist should say about theoretical progress.
  • Here, here, and here I evaluate challenges to realism from the history of science.
  • Here I form a realist response to inconsistency in science.
  • Here I form a realist response to idealizations in science.
  • Here and here I examine ‘local’ vs. ‘global’ realism.
  • Here, herehere and here I examine different kinds of ‘structural’ realism.

Much of this work culminates in the monograph now under work, Scientific Realism Reconfigured: Knowledge and Progress in the Science of Light. The state-of-the-art of the whole realism debate is presented in 35 chapters in The Routledge Handbook of Scientific Realism.

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Re: Explanations and explanatory reasoning:

  • Here I examine ‘explanatory indispensability arguments’ for (e.g.) mathematical realism.
  • Here we examine the nature of renormalisation group explanations of universality.
  • Here we examine how abstract (non-causal, mathematical) explanations explain.
  • Here I study the ontological commitments of explanations from dynamical systems theory.
  • Here we study symmetry-based explanations in physics.
  • Here I review explanatory reasoning as a route to scientific realism.
  • Here I contrast explanatory reasoning in science vs. metaphysics.
  • Here I show how non-causal explanations from ‘geometry of motion’ can be understood in counterfactual terms.
  • Here we raise questions about Woodwardian counterfactual account of explanation and extend it to some non-causal explanations.
  • Here I study the applicability of programme explanation model to mathematical explanations in science.
  • Here and here I raise some issues about Lange’s account of ‘explanation by constraint’.

Much of this work has focused on explanations in science — mathematical, geometrical, non-causal — that lie beyond what causal accounts of explanations naturally capture. The state-of-the-art of these debates is presented in Explanation Beyond Causation: Philosophical Perspectives on Non-Causal Explanations.

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Re: History and philosophy of physics:

  • Here we articulate a realist attitude towards ‘spin’ in quantum physics.
  • Here I articulate a realist attitude towards quantum mechanics.
  • Here I discuss how realists can accommodate theory shift from Newtonian gravity to general relativity.
  • Here I review key issues in the scientific realism debate in relation to modern physics.
  • Here we examine realism in relation to a challenge arising from an inconsistency in Kirchhoff’s diffraction theory.
  • Here I articulate how realism can accommodate internally inconsistent theories, using an example from old quantum theory of black body radiation.
  • Here and here I explain how realism can best accommodate the radical shift from Fresnel’s ether theory to Maxwell’s electromagnetism.

In Scientific Realism Reconfigured I aim to provide a narrative that puts these pieces together in the context of scientific theorising about light.

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Re: Naturalism:

  • Here I examine methodologically naturalistic metaphysics and philosophy of science in relation to inference to the best explanation.
  • Here we provide a naturalistic account of how mathematics can indispensably contribute to explanatory generality.

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Re:  Laws, and reduction/emergence:

  • Here I examine causation in a structuralist metaphysics of physics.
  • Here we examine explanatory reductionism and emergence in condensed matter physics.
  • Here I examine Wilson’s weak ontological emergence.

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Re:  Models and representation:

  • Here I consider a conceptual framework for analysing how idealised models ‘latch onto reality’.
  • Here I explore a challenge that idealisations pose to scientific realism and argue that the realist can best accommodate idealisations by capitalising on certain modal features of idealised models that are underwritten by laws of nature.

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