Toying with the Toolbox: How Metaphysics Can (Still) Make a Contribution

Steven French
 (University of Leeds)



Current analytic metaphysics has recently suffered a ‘bad press’, with claims that it is, at best, out of touch with modern physics, at worst, actually in conflict with the latter (Callender 2011, Ladyman and Ross 2007). While agreeing with some of these claims, Kerry McKenzie and I have suggested that metaphysics may still be of service by providing a kind of ‘toolbox’ of devices, moves and manoeuvres that philosophers of science can avail themselves of in order to help provide an interpretation of theories in fundamental physics (French and McKenzie 2012). In subsequent work we have explored the viability of our position in the face of concerns that it is inherently unstable (French and McKenzie forthcominga) and in the context of a specific set of examples concerning dispositionalism (French and McKenzie forthcomingb). In the latter case in particular, we argued that ‘standard’ dispositional accounts simply cannot be sustained in the context of modern physics but that certain ‘non- standard’ views may provide the resources to help explicate the sense in which physics may be regarded as ‘modally informed’.

Here I wish to further extend that exploration by drawing on that latter case study in order to consider the implications of our view both with regard to the overall relevance of metaphysics given advances in science and for the prospects of a naturalised metaphysics more generally.