Tuesday, September 29, 2009

CFP: Special Issue of The Monist on Powers

The Monist


Deadline for Submissions: January 31, 2010
Advisory Editor: Neil Williams, University at Buffalo (new [at] buffalo.edu)

A sewing needle is swiped across a bar magnet, then pushed through a piece of cork and dropped into a glass of water. The needle will point immediately to the nearest pole. A female moth releases a small trace of sex pheromone; immediately males of the species up to two miles away will be attracted to her. The evidence for such causal powers is all around us. And as is shown in the response to the work of authors such as George Molnar and C. B. Martin, the thought that objects might be inherently powerful is on the rise. What is the nature of such causal powers? How are they to be characterised? What place do non-powers have within power-based ontologies? To what extent can powers be explanatory? Can powers exist entirely ungrounded? Contributions are invited addressing these and connected issues about the role and nature of powers.

Resemblance Nominalism and Tropes

Here’s the outline of a paper I´m starting to work on. If anybody has some spare time and wants to take a look, comments are very welcome (sorry for the length)!

Nominalists about the ontological constitution of material objects aim to dispense with both universals and bare particulars and yet provide an economic and compelling account of similarity and individuation.
Resemblance nominalism is the view that only concrete particulars exist, and properties are derivative on similarity classes of such particulars. This view has to deal with the traditional Goodmanian objections based on the possibility of coextension, imperfect community and companionship; it must also explain why the very same object couldn’t have any properties whatsoever (since an object’s belonging to a similarity class appears to be a contingent fact). Rodriguez-Pereyra recently defended resemblance nominalism by endorsing counterpart theory (every object possesses its properties - i.e., partakes in specific similarity classes - necessarily) and realism about possible worlds (the coextension problem is solved if similarity classes also comprise merely possible objects); and proposing a complex notion of resemblance, according to which resemblance holds in various degrees and in an iterative way - between pairs of objects, pairs of pairs of objects etc. (this latter move neutralises the problems of imperfect community and companionship). These are, clearly, non-negligible commitments. An alternative would be to give up the assumption that ordinary objects are the ‘unit of discourse’ and assume that the fundamental building blocks of reality are simple (=belonging to one similarity class) concrete particulars. This would immediately solve the Goodmanian difficulties. However, the problem with the contingency of property-possession remains. If one doesn’t like counterpart theory, it would seem, this problem can only be obviated by going trope-theoretic, that is, by identifying each simple concrete object belonging to only one similarity class with its ‘qualitative content’.

Trope theory, however, has the problem that at least some properties appear dependent on objects rather than constitutive of them (think of colour, or shape properties): with respect to their identity (this table’s hardness, not this hardness, which may or may not compose a table) and their number (since I can tear this white sheet in arbitrarily many pieces, it looks as though there is no fixed number of whiteness tropes in it - the so-called boundary problem). The obvious solution is to endorse a sparse and reductionist account according to which only physically basic, simple properties (e.g., the mass or charge of elementary particles) are genuine tropes. However, this seems to go in the direction of resemblance nominalism, as the trope-theorist attempts to defend the view by making tropes concrete, rather than abstract, particulars.

This may seem circular. However, think about the difference between an elementary particle and its qualitative aspects (mass, charge, spin, colour): do they belong to clearly distinct ontological categories? Or would it be plausible to regard mass etc. as material constituents of a more complex, but equally concrete, particular? A third way emerges, in which the nominalist (thanks to the abovementioned sparse-reductionist approach to properties) takes simple, concrete particulars essentially provided with a qualitative content as fundamental entities. Interestingly, this view was proposed by Sellars already in 1963 (‘Particulars’), where he argues in detail that the property/object distinction can and should be overcome, and proposes an ontology of ‘simple particulars’. Perhaps it would be interesting (for nominalists at least) to examine this Sellarsian option in more detail?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Call for Contributors

It looks like we may be able to add a few new contributors to this blog. New contributors will be expected to post and comment regularly on the blog and will normally be professional philosophers who work in metaphysics or closely related areas.

If you are interested in becoming a contributor, please send an e-mail with the subject line 'MoS Contributor Application' to gabriele_contessa 'at' carleton.ca and attach your CV or a link to your professional website. Please note that, due to limited resources, only successful candidates will be contacted.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Morganti Wins the 2008 dialectica Essay Prize

Matteo Morganti (Konstanz) is the winner of the 2008 dialectica essay prize for his paper 'Ontological Priority, Fundamentality and Monism', which appeared in the latest issue of dialectica.

Here is the paper's abstract:

In recent work, the interrelated questions of whether there is a fundamental level to reality, whether ontological dependence must have an ultimate ground, and whether the monist thesis should be endorsed that the whole universe is ontologically prior to its parts have been explored with renewed interest. Jonathan Schaffer has provided arguments in favour of 'priority monism' in a series of articles (2003, 2004, 2007a, 2007b, forthcoming). In this paper, these arguments are analysed, and it is claimed that they are not compelling: in particular, the possibility that there is no ultimate level of basic entities that compose everything else is on a par with the possibility of infinite 'upward' complexity. The idea that we must, at any rate, postulate an ontologically fundamental level for methodological reasons (Cameron 2008) is also discussed and found unconvincing: all things considered, there may be good reasons for endorsing 'metaphysical infinitism'. In any event, a higher degree of caution in formulating metaphysical claims than found in the extant literature appears advisable.

Congratulations, Matteo!!!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Conference: The New Ontology of the Mental Causation Debate

AHRC-Conference 14th-16th September 2009, Durham University, UK.
exploring the consequences of new advances in ontology for the issue of mental causation.

Prof. Tim Crane, Mental Substances and their Powers
Prof. John Heil, Causation and Mental Properties
Prof. Barry Loewer, Enough of Mental Causation? Already?
Prof. Paul Noordhof, Mental Causation: Ontology and Patterns of Variation
Prof. Tim O'Connor, Nonreductive Physicalism or Emergent Dualism? The Argument from 
Mental Causation
Prof. David Papineau, Variable Realization and Causal Laws
Prof. David Robb, Tropes, Types, and Mental Causation
Prof. Sydney Shoemaker, Physical Realization without Preemption
Prof. Peter Simons, Causation by Continuants: Loyal Opposition

Dr. Sophie Gibb,
Prof. Jonathan Lowe
Dr. R.D. Ingthorsson

For further details see: http://www.dur.ac.uk/philosophy/ontologyofmentalcausation/conference

Sponsored by: AHRC, The Mind Association, The Analysis Trust, and Durham University