Document Type



Master of Arts



Date of Defense


Graduate Advisor

Gualtiero Piccinini


Kent Staley

Judith Crane


Inference to the best explanation (IBE) is the principle of inference according to which, when faced with a set of competing hypotheses, where each hypothesis is empirically adequate for explaining the phenomena, we should infer the truth of the hypothesis that best explains the phenomena. When our theories correctly display this principle, we call them our ‘best’. In this paper, I examine the explanatory role of mathematics in our best scientific theories. In particular, I will elucidate the enormous utility of mathematical structures. I argue from a reformed indispensability argument that mathematical structures are explanatorily indispensable to our best scientific theories. Therefore, IBE scientific realism entails mathematical realism. I develop a naturalistic, neo-Quinean ontology, which grounds physical and mathematical entities in structures. Mathematical structures are the truth-makers for the entities of our quantificational discourse. I also develop an ‘ontic conception’ of explanation, according to which explanations exist in the world, whether or not we discover and model them. I apply the ontic account to mathematical structures, arguing that these structures are the explanations for particles, forces, and even the conservation laws of physics. As such, mathematical structures provide the fundamental grounding for ontological commitment. I conclude by reviewing the evidence from modern physics for the existence of mathematical structures.

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