In “Determinism and the Mystery of the Missing Physics” (BJPS Advance Access) Mark Wilson uses the debate about determinism and classical physics to make the more general point about “the unstable gappiness that represents the natural price that classical mechanics must pay to achieve the extraordinary success it achieves on the macroscopic level” (3). Wilson focuses mostly on Norton’s “dome” example and Norton’s conclusion that it shows that classical mechanics is not deterministic. The main objection to this conclusion is that Norton relies on one particular fragment of classical mechanics, and only finds a counterexample to determinism by mistreating what are really “descriptive holes” (10). By contrast, Wilson argues that there are different fragments to classical mechanics: (MP) mass point particle mechanics, (PC) the physics of rigid bodies with perfect constraints (analytic mechanics) and (CM) continuum mechanics. Norton's example naturally lies in (PC). Each fragment has its own descriptive holes which become manifest when we seek to understand the motivation for this or that mathematical technique or assumption at the basis of a treatment of a given system. Typically, a hole in one fragment can be fixed by moving to another fragment, but then that fragment itself has its own holes that prevent a comprehensive treatment. As a result, Wilson concludes that there is no single way the world has to be for “classical mechanics” to be true, and, in particular, there is no answer to the question of whether or not classical mechanics is deterministic.
I think Wilson has noticed something very important about the tendencies of philosophers of science: philosophical positions are typically phrased in terms of how things are quite generally or universally, but our scientific theories, when examined, are often not up to the task of answering such general questions. It seems to me that Wilson opts to resolve this situation by rejecting the philosophical positions as poorly motivated. But another route would be to try to recast the philosophical positions in more specific terms. For example, if, as Wilson argues, descriptive holes are more or less inevitable in these sorts of cases, then a suitably qualified kind of indeterminism cashed out in terms of the existence of these holes can be vindicated. Other debates, like the debate about scientific realism, seem to me to be in need of similar reform, rather than outright rejection.