An Inferential Response to the "Loss of Reality Objection" to Structural Empiricism


  • Franco Menares Paredes Universidad de Chile



scientific representation, semantic conception, constructive empiricism, structural realism, inferential conception, application of mathematics


This paper aims to meet an objection that has been raised against structural empiricism known as the “loss of reality objection.” I argue that an inferential approach to scientific representation allows the structural empiricist to account for the representation of phenomena by data models and ensures that such a representation is not arbitrary. By the notions of immersion, derivation, and interpretation, I show how data models are able to represent phenomena in a non-arbitrary manner. I conclude this paper with a programmatic outline of a view that arises from the theses defended throughout the article and that I would like to call “semantic structuralism.


Arenhart, J. & Bueno, O. 2015. Structural realism and the nature of structure. European Journal for Philosophy of Science 5(1): 111-139.

Borge, B. & Lucero, S. 2018. Ventajas y tensiones en la perspectiva del Estructuralismo Empirista. Revista de Filosofía 43: 315-338.

Bueno, O. 1997. Empirical adequacy: A partial structures approach. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 28(4): 585-610.

Bueno, O. 1999. What is structural empiricism? Scientific change in an empiricist setting. Erkenntnis 50(1): 55-81.

Bueno, O. 2008. Structural Realism, Scientific Change, and Partial Structures. Studia Logica 89(2): 213-235.

Bueno, O. 2011. Structural empiricism, again. In: P. Bokulich & A. Bokulich (ed.), Scientific structuralism, p.81–103. Dordrecht: Springer.

Bueno, O. 2019. Structural realism, mathematics, and ontology. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 74: 4–9.

Bueno, O. & Colyvan, M. 2011. An inferential conception of the application of mathematics. Noûs 45(2): 345-374.

Bueno, O. & French, S. 2011. How theories represent. The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 62(4): 857–894.

Bueno, O. & French, S. 2018. Applying mathematics: Immersion, inference, interpretation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

da Costa, N.C.A. & French, S. 2003. Science and partial truth. New York: Oxford University Press.

Dorato, M. 2016. The physical world as a blob: Is OSR really realism?. Metascience 25: 173–181.

French, S. 2014. The structure of the world. Metaphysics and representation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Frigg, R. & Nguyen, J. 2018. The turn of the valve: representing with material models. European Journal for Philosophy of Science 8(2): 205–224.

Frigg, R. & Nguyen, J. 2020. Modelling nature: An opinionated introduction to scientific representation. Cham: Springer.

Gentile, N. 2017. The Scope of the Construction of Experience in Empiricist Structuralism. Principia: An International Journal of Epistemology 21(3): 445-459.

Hughes, R. I. G. 1997. Models and representation. Philosophy of Science 64: 325–336.

Ladyman, J. 1998. What is structural realism?. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 29: 409–424.

Ladyman, J.; Ross, D.; Collier, J.; Spurrett, D. 2007. Every thing must go: Metaphysics naturalized. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Landry, E. 2007. Shared structure need not be shared set-structure. Synthese 158(1): 1–17.

Nguyen, J. 2016. On the pragmatic equivalence between representing data and phenomena. Philosophy of Science 83(2): 171–191.

Soto, C. & Bueno, O. 2019. A Framework for an Inferential Conception of Physical Laws. Principia: an international journal of epistemology 23: 423-444.

Suárez, M. 2004. An inferential conception of scientific representation. Philosophy of Science 71(5): 767–779.

Suppes, P. 2002. Representation and Invariance of Scientific Structures. Stanford: CSLI Publications.

van Fraassen, B. 1980. The Scientific Image. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

van Fraassen, B. 1997. Putnam’s Paradox: Metaphysical Realism Revamped and Evaded. Philosophical Perspectives 11: 17–42.

van Fraassen, B. 2001. Constructive Empiricism Now. Philosophical Studies 106: 151–70.

van Fraassen, B. 2006a. Representation: the Problem for Structuralism. Philosophy of Science 73: 536-47.

van Fraassen, B. 2006b. Structure: its substance and shadow. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 57: 275–307

van Fraassen, B. 2008. Scientific Representation: Paradoxes of Perspective. Oxford: Oxford University Press.