Tuesday, January 7, 2014

RIP E. J. (Jonathan) Lowe (1950–2014)

I have just heard the terrible news that Jonathan Lowe passed away on January. This is an enormous loss for philosophy in general and for metaphysics in particular, as well as, of course, for all those who knew him. Below is the memorial notice by his Durham colleagues Robin Hendry and Matthew Ratcliffe.
It is with great sadness that we announce the death of Professor E. J. (Jonathan) Lowe. Jonathan was born in Dover, England, on 24th March 1950. He went to Cambridge to read Natural Sciences in 1968, but changed to History after one year and was awarded a BA (first class) in 1971. After that, he switched to Philosophy and moved to Oxford, where he was awarded his BPhil and DPhil degrees in 1974 and 1975 (supervised by Rom Harré and Simon Blackburn respectively). After a brief period teaching at Reading, Jonathan joined the Department of Philosophy at Durham in 1980, where he stayed for the rest of his career. He was promoted to Senior Lecturer (1990), Reader (1992) and then Professor (1995). During his time at Durham, Jonathan established himself as one of the world’s leading philosophers, publishing twelve single-authored books, four co-edited collections and well over 200 articles in journals and edited volumes. His scholarship was strikingly broad, ranging from early modern philosophy through to the interpretation of quantum mechanics. His most important and sustained contributions were to philosophy of mind, philosophical logic and especially metaphysics. Jonathan adopted a realist conception of metaphysics as an autonomous discipline concerned with the fundamental structure of reality, as exemplified by his important book The Possibility of Metaphysics (OUP, 1998). Metaphysics, he maintained, should take common sense as its starting point, while at the same time acknowledging that aspects of common sense will need to be revised or abandoned. It should also retain a healthy respect for science but resist scientism, as the role of metaphysics is to illuminate features of reality that empirical scientific enquiry inevitably presupposes. It is therefore the most fundamental form of enquiry and - as Jonathan also emphasised – something that is extremely difficult to do. But, he insisted, there are no cheap short-cuts, and no piecemeal solutions to metaphysical problems. Metaphysics is to be done systematically and patiently. Jonathan’s approach drew inspiration from Aristotle and Locke, amongst others, both of whom retained a foothold in common sense. His metaphysical writings addressed a range of themes, including volition, personhood, agency, mental causation, identity, truth, essentialism and ontological categories. In recent years, one of his many notable achievements was the formulation of a new ‘four-category ontology’, which he proposed as a metaphysical foundation for all empirical scientific thought. The most detailed account of this appears in his book The Four-Category Ontology (OUP, 2006). Throughout his life, Jonathan was guided by a kind of faith in our ability to discover the fundamental structure of reality through metaphysical thought. He was spurred on by a constant sense of puzzlement, fascination and bewilderment at the existence and nature of reality, and would not let extraneous considerations distract him from a resolute search for truth. Those of us who knew him will remember him not just as a gifted and committed philosopher but also as an exceptionally kind, caring and generous person. He was an accomplished teacher, who did everything he possibly could to support, encourage, nurture and inspire his students, many of whom have gone on to have successful academic careers. He was similarly supportive of his colleagues at Durham and of the wider philosophical community. Philosophers from all over the world came to depend on him as a mentor and referee, and he would spend many hours most weeks writing carefully crafted letters of support. It was a privilege to work with Jonathan. He was always a keen participant in research events, at Durham and elsewhere, where he exercised his astonishingly refined critical skills and offered numerous insightful comments, without ever being dismissive. Even with his eminence in the profession and the many associated demands on his time, he insisted on doing his fair share (and usually more than his fair share) of administrative and teaching work. He was a reassuring presence in the department, who was always on hand to offer support, advice and consolation to colleagues. We are diminished by the loss of an outstanding philosopher and a great friend. Jonathan died on 5th January 2014, after several months of illness. He leaves his wife, Susan, and their two adult children, Rebecca and Tim.
UPDATE 1 [Jan 10, 2014]: A funeral service for Jonathan Lowe will be held at Durham Cathedral Monday 20th January at 1.30pm. All are welcome.

UPDATE 2 [Jan 11, 2014]: Another remembrance notice (by his former student Tuomas Tahko) can be found here.

Monday, December 2, 2013

CfA: Metaphysical Mayhem 2014!

Metaphysical Mayhem continues!

Rutgers University will be hosting a five day metaphysics summer school for graduate students, running May 19th-23rd, 2014, and featuring Karen Bennett, Shamik Dasgupta, Laurie Paul, Jonathan Schaffer, and Ted Sider.

All local (NY/NJ area) graduate students are invited to attend.
Non-local graduate students must apply to attend, by sending the following to jonathan.schaffer@rutgers.edu by January 10, 2014:
• A single page cover letter
• A curriculum vitae
• A writing sample on any topic in metaphysics
• A brief letter of recommendation (which need be no more than one paragraph), sent from a professor familiar with your work

Applicants will be notified by February 1, 2014. Housing and possibly some limited financial support will be available for non-local graduate students. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

New Paper: "One's a Crowd: Mereological Nihilism without Ordinary-Object Eliminativism"

Have you always wanted to be a mereological nihilist but were too afraid to try? Do you like your cats, apples, and tables too much to be an eliminativist about ordinary objects? Then non-eliminative nihilism might be the right philosophical position for you!!! 

Now forthcoming in Analytic Philosophy "One's a Crowd: Mereological Nihilism without Ordinary-Object Eliminativism"!!!

It used to be a small paper (and some of the ideas in it were discussed in an old post on this blog); it grew into a 12,000-word monster but I'm very happy with it. 

Abstract: Mereological nihilism is the thesis that there are no composite objects—i.e. objects with proper material parts. One of the main advantages of mereological nihilism is that it allows its supporters to avoid a number of notorious philosophical puzzles. However, it seems to offer this advantage only at the expense of certain widespread and deeply entrenched beliefs. In particular, it is usually assumed that mereological nihilism entails eliminativism about ordinary objects—i.e. the counterintuitive thesis that there are no such things as tables, apples, cats, and the like. In this paper, I argue that this assumption is false—mereological nihilists do not need to be eliminativists about tables, apples, or cats. Non-eliminativist nihilists claim that all it takes for there to be a cat is that there are simples arranged cat-wise. More specifically, non-eliminative nihilists argue that expressions such as ‘the cat’ in sentences such as ‘The cat is on the mat’ do not refer to composite objects but only to simples arranged cat-wise and compare this metaphysical discovery to the scientific discovery that ‘water’ refers to dihydrogen oxide. Non-eliminative nihilism, I argue, is not only a coherent position, but it is preferable to its more popular, eliminativist counterpart, as it enjoys the key benefits of nihilism without incurring the prohibitive costs of eliminativism. Moreover, unlike conciliatory strategies adopted by eliminative nihilists, non-eliminative nihilism allow its supporters to account not only for how we can assert something true by saying ‘The cat is on the mat’ but also for how we can believe something true by believing that the cat is on the mat.

Favourite sentence in the paper: "So, unless one takes metaphysics to be merely the shadow of grammar, one should not take the fact that certain constructions are grammatical while others are not to be evidence for or against a certain metaphysical view."

A special thank-you to Dan Korman and Trenton Merricks, who gave me precious feedback on a very early draft.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Hyperintensional Metaphysics (Again)

As a followup, of sorts, to my last post about hyperintensionality, I’d like to announce that I have a draft paper available extolling the virtues of using hyperintensional resources in metaphysics. It’s short, but tries to make the case that hyperintensional metaphysics is the way of the future! And not merely for the metaphysics of representation, but for the metaphysics of the non-representational world as well.

The paper: Hyperintensional Metaphysics

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

New Open-Access Journal!

Ergo, An Open Access Journal of Philosophy

http://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/ergo

Ergo is a general, open access philosophy journal accepting submissions on
all philosophical topics and from all philosophical traditions. This
includes, among other things: history of philosophy, work in both the
analytic and continental traditions, as well as formal and empirically
informed philosophy.

Ergo uses a triple-anonymous peer review process and aims to return
decisions within two months on average.

Ergo is published by MPublishing at the University of Michigan and
sponsord by the Department of Philosophy at the University of Toronto.
Papers are published as they are accepted; there is no regular publication
schedule.

To submit a paper, please register and login to Ergo's editorial
management system at:
http://jps.library.utoronto.ca/index.php/ergo/index

Submitted manuscripts should be prepared for anonymous review, containing
no identifying information. Submissions need not conform to the journal
style unless and until accepted for publication.

Submission and publication is free, but the journal essentially depends on
the support of reliable reviewers returning informative reports in a timely
manner. We hope that you will consider acting as referee for Ergo if asked
by one of its editors. We also hope that you will consider submitting your
work to Ergo.

Please share this call for papers with your colleagues!

Managing Editors
Franz Huber (University of Toronto)
Jonathan Weisberg (University of Toronto)
ergo.editors@gmail.com

Section Editors
Rachael Briggs (Australian National University & Griffith University)
Eleonora Cresto (University of Buenos Aires)
Vincenzo Crupi (University of Turin)
Imogen Dickie (University of Toronto)
Catarina Dutilh-Novaes (University of Groningen)
Kenny Easwaran (University of Southern California)
Matt Evans (University of Michigan)
Laura Franklin-Hall (New York University)
Ole Hjortland (LMU Munich)
Michelle Kosch (Cornell University)
Antonia LoLordo (University of Virginia)
Christy Mag Uidhir (University of Houston)
Julia Markovits (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
Lionel McPherson (Tufts University)
Jennifer Nagel (University of Toronto)
Jill North (Cornell University)
Brian O'Connor (University College Dublin)
Laurie A. Paul (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
Richard Pettigrew (Bristol University)
Martin Pickavé (University of Toronto)
Adam Sennet (University of California at Davis)
Nishi Shah (Amherst College)
Quayshawn Spencer (University of San Francisco)
Ásta Sveinsdóttir (San Francisco State University)
Robbie Williams (University of Leeds)
Wayne Wu (Carnegie Mellon University)
Jiji Zhang (Lingnan University)

Thursday, July 4, 2013

CFP: The Nature of Propositions and Their Grasp or Understanding (CJP)

This might be of interest to some readers:
The <http://www.canadianjournalofphilosophy.com/> Canadian Journal of Philosophy<http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rcjp20#.UbHrmitxu8E> announces a second call for papers for a Special Issue co-edited by Gurpreet Rattan and David Hunter.
Propositions are of significant interest for the philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, and philosophical logic. Propositions are thought to play various roles, including that of the meanings of sentences, the referents of 'that'-clauses, the primary bearers of truth, the objects of mental attitudes, and the objects of modal evaluation. The proposed volume focuses on two questions about propositions. One concerns their nature or metaphysics and the other their epistemology. More elaborately, the volume considers questions like:Do propositions represent the world? If so, how does that constrain their nature? If not, how do propositions play the roles that they do? Are propositions objects? Or are they entities of a different sort? Do propositions have truth conditions?  If so, are a proposition’s truth conditions essential to it? What determines a proposition's truth conditions? Are propositions simply to be identified with truth conditions? What does that mean? How should we think of propositions if truth is relative in some way? Are propositions contingent objects, or do they all exist in all possible worlds?Is grasp of or understanding of a proposition an epistemic relation to a proposition? If so, is it a form of acquaintance? If not acquaintance, what kind of epistemic relation is it? And if it is not an epistemic relation, what kind of relation is it? Are there in-principle limits to understanding? Are there propositions that cannot in-principle be grasped or understood? How is thinking about a proposition related to grasping or understanding the proposition? What cognitive capacities are required to think about propositions?Answers to these questions are important for understanding philosophical puzzles about representation, understanding, truth, necessity, reference to abstract objects, and the possibility of agreement and disagreement. This volume aims to bring together original papers that discuss these questions.Submissions should not exceed 10,000 words and should be prepared for blind review. Please include a brief abstract. These should be sent by August 1, 2013 to David Hunter at david.hunter@ryerson.ca<mailto:david.hunter@ryerson.ca>

Thursday, May 9, 2013

What is location?

I will first argue that location is a multiply-realizable—i.e., functional—determinable. Then I will offer a sketch of what defines it.

A multiply-realizable determinable is one such that attributions of its determinates are grounded in different ways in different situations. For instance, running a computer program is multiply realizable: that something is running some algorithm A could be at least partly made true by electrical facts about doped silicon, or by mechanical facts about gears, or by electrochemical facts about neurons. Moreover, computer programs can run in worlds with very different laws from ours.

In particular, a multiply-realizable determinable is not fundamental. But location seems fundamental, so what I am arguing for seems to be a non-starter. Bear with me.

Consider a quantum system with a single particle z. What does it mean to say that z is located in region A at time t?[note 1] It seems that the quantum answer is: The wavefunction (in position space) ψ(x,t) is zero for almost all x outside A. And more generally, quantum mechanics gives us a notion of partial location: x is in A to degree p provided that p=∫A|ψ(x,t)|2dx, assuming ψ is normalized. On these answers, being located in A is not fundamental: it is grounded in facts about the wavefunction.

But it is also plausible that objects that do not have wavefunction can have location. For instance, there may be a world governed by classical Newtonian mechanics, and objects in that world have locations but no wavefunctions. (And even in a world with the same laws as ours, it is possible that some non-quantum entity, like an angel, might have a location, alongside the quantum entities.) Thus, location is multiply-realizable.

Very well. But what is the functional characterization of location? What makes a determinable be a location determinable? A quantum particle is located in A provided that ψ vanishes outside A. But a quantum particle also has a momentum-space wavefunction, and we do not want to say that it is located in A provided that the momentum-space wavefunction vanishes outside A? Why is the "position-space" wavefunction the right one for defining location? Why in a classical world is it the "position" vector that defines location, rather than, say, the momentum vector or an axis of spin or even the electric charge (a one-dimensional position)?

I want to suggest a simple answer. Two objects can have very similar electric charges, very similar spins or very similar momenta, and yet hardly be capable of interacting because they are too far apart. In our world, distance affects the ability of objects to interact with one another. Suppose we say that this is the fundamental function of distance. Then we can say that a determinable L is a location-determinable to the extent that L is natural and the capability of objects to interact with one another tends to be correlated with the closeness of values of L. This requires that L have values where one can talk about closeness, e.g., values lying in a metric space. In a quantum world without too much entanglement and with forces like those in our world, the wavefunction story gives such a determinable. In a classical world, the position gives such a determinable.

(One could also have an obvious relationalist variant, where we try to define the notion of being spatially related instead. The same points should go through.)

Notice that on this story, it may be vague whether in a world some determinable is location. That seems right.

I think this story fits well with common-sense thought about distance and location, and helps explain why we maintained these concepts across radical changes in physical theory.