Physics, Structure, and Reality

David Albert in Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews:

This is a meticulous and deliberate and beautiful book.

People used to say of Ernest Nagel’s now-neglected classic The Structure of Science that its greatness was in its many qualifications—because those qualifications were meant not to mislead, or to conceal, or to dissemble, or to preempt potential criticisms—but precisely, and on the contrary, to be honest and forthright and un-sensational and clear. To acknowledge that philosophy is hard. To show how philosophy is responsibly done. And that’s very much how I feel reading Jill North’s book.

This is (to begin with) a book about scientific realism—in the most familiar and straightforward and old-fashioned and flat-footed sense of that term. And it is not so much about the thesis of that kind of realism as it is about the practice of that kind of realism. It is (more particularly) an exquisitely detailed and sober and penetrating discussion of an ocean of difficult and interesting questions that come up in connection with the practice of reading our best and most fundamental physical theories as accounts of what the world might actually be like.

North does not propose anything as cut and dried as a “method” for that kind of reading here—and her book would be much less interesting than it is, and much less valuable than it is, if she had.

More here.