Dappled Science in a Unified World

Forthcoming: In H.-K. Chao and J. Reiss (eds.), Philosophy of Science in Practice: Nancy Cartwright and the Nature of Scientific Reasoning. Springer.

Abstract: Science as we know it is “dappled”. Its picture of the world is a mosaic in which different aspects of the world, different systems, are represented by narrow-scope theories or models that are largely disconnected from one another. The best explanation for this disunity in our representation of the world, Nancy Cartwright has proposed, is a disunity in the world itself: rather than being governed by a small set of strict fundamental laws, events unfold according to a patchwork of principles covering different kinds of systems or segments of reality, each with something less than full omnipotence and with the possibility of anomic indeterminism at the boundaries. This paper attempts to undercut Cartwright’s argument for a dappled world by showing that the motley nature of science, both now and even at the completion of empirical inquiry, can equally well be explained by proponents of the “fundamentalist” view that the universe’s initial conditions and fundamental physical laws determine everything that ever happens.

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