Thursday, December 23, 2010

Celebrating British Metaphysics

EDITED 26/12/2010 to add some more highly-cited figures.

I grew up, philosophically speaking, with the view that there was not much metaphysics done in the UK. Between ordinary language philosophy, Wittgensteinianism, and left-over positivism and Popperianism, I thought metaphysics was out of favour. Of course, everyone knew of some holdouts doing straight-down-the-line metaphysics: Hugh Mellor deserves mentioning in this connection. But I guess I thought that philosophy in the UK in the late twentieth century had been much more concerned with words and thoughts than things.

Even if that was so, I think metaphysics has flourished in the UK in the last ten years or so. There are a lot of exciting new metaphysicians in the UK, particularly in the Midlands and the North: the crew of young guns including Ross Cameron, Elizabeth Barnes, Robbie Williams and Jason Turner at Leeds, but also figures like Jonathan Tallant at Nottingham, David Liggins at Manchester, and Nikk Effingham at Birmingham. (There are lots of other good metaphysicians in the region - many I didn’t mention only because I think of them as the older more established figures.)

But looking back on the earlier history of metaphysics in the UK, I think it has been punching above its weight for a long time in this area. True, many of the people interested in metaphysical issues approached them from a more language/mind angle than I would be entirely comfortable with (a primary example here is Dummett). But anti-realist metaphysics is metaphysics too. One way to estimate influence is to look at citations, and one handy way of getting a sense of both strength and breadth of influence is to look at h-numbers. So I thought I’d offer a list of the 14 UK metaphysicians with the highest h-numbers, as measured from Google Scholar using Publish or Perish Version 3. I’m not sure all of the people on my list would self-identify as metaphysicians, but they seem to have been doing a lot of metaphysics, whatever they saw themselves as doing.

Usual caveats: amount of citation is not the same as quality of work - there could of course be people doing fantastic work in disregarded areas or who are unjustly neglected, and likewise the winds of fashion no doubt increase citations for some less deserving work. H-numbers are not the perfect way even of measuring the kind of impact citation can measure, especially as it’s not clear how to compare citations of books to citations of journal articles. And Google Scholar is arguably not the best source, since it counts some non-peer-reviewed stuff and leaves out some peer-reviewed stuff. But it’s a feasible measuring device, and there’s some evidence that it’s well-correlated with more careful measures, at least in other fields. (One of the most annoying drawbacks is that it counts the same cited piece several times under slightly different titles - I have not tried to correct for that here.) Finally, my evidence gathering even from this source is fallible - I may have missed some people, or some cited papers. I would welcome corrections if there’s someone outside my list with a higher h-number than those within it.

So I’m not saying the following people are the best UK metaphysicians, nor even the most influential. Just among the most influential according to one fallible indicator. It’s mainly meant to get at a measure of influence other than how things seem to me, and which tells us something about the uptake of the work of UK metaphysicians.

Definitions: I’ll count someone as a UK metaphysician for these purposes if they are (i) alive, (ii) employed in, or retired from, a UK department, (iii) substantially published in metaphysics (though it needn’t be a majority of their work). In calculating their h-number, I’ll take into account all their published work, not just their metaphysics pieces. I will leave out edited collections (except their own collected papers) when they are only cited as editors. (Citations of introductions and papers in their own edited collections still count.) The h-numbers are as at December 24th 2010 or December 26th 2010: they do change!

[NOTE: this list has been edited from an earlier inaccurate top-10. I realised I had been forgetting some British philosophers who have done influential metaphysics despite styling themselves philosophers of science.]

Metaphysician, H-number
Michael Dummett, 37
Crispin Wright, 34
Peter Geach, 28
Timothy Williamson, 27
Nancy Cartwright, 24
E.J. Lowe, 23
David Wiggins, 22
Steven French, 22
John Hawthorne, 20
Jeremy Butterfield, 19
John Dupre, 18
Bob Hale, 18
Galen Strawson, 17
Simon Saunders, 16

Honourable Mentions

Next would be Hugh Mellor and Harold Noonan, with h-numbers of 14 each.

If we counted Simon Blackburn as a metaphysician (and I’m somewhat inclined to), he would be equal third with an h-number of 28.

The second highest-ranking female metaphysician by h-number in the UK is Dorothy Edgington, with an h-number of 11. I hope and expect that the younger generations will have more success in producing highly-cited female metaphysicians.

As far as I can tell, to be in the top-20 of metaphysicians in the UK by h-number (as I calculate them), one needs an h-number of 11.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Taking Statues of Clay With a Pinch of Salt

The puzzle of the statue and the clay is so well-known that it hardly needs any introduction. On Monday, a sculptor buys a piece of clay. On Tuesday, she moulds it into a statue. The statue and the piece of clay, the argument goes, cannot be identical because there are predicates that are satisfied by the one but not by the other. For instance, the piece of clay existed on Monday while the statue did not or, to take another example, the piece of clay would survive being squashed into a ball but the statue wouldn't. (These argument is often put in terms of properties rather than predicates, but I take it that anyone who accepts a reasonably sparse conception of properties would deny that any properties correspond to predicates such as 'x exists on Monday' or 'x would survive being squashed into a ball'.)

Slightly more formally, the arguments look more or less like this:

(A1) The piece of clay existed on Monday
(A2) The statue did not exist on Monday
(A3) If the piece of clay and the statue are identical, then the piece of clay existed on Monday iff the statue existed on Monday
(AC) The piece of clay and the statue are not identical

(B1) The piece of clay would survive being squashed into a ball
(B2) The statue would not survive being squashed into a ball
(B3) If the piece of clay and the statue are identical, then the piece of clay would survive being squashed into a ball iff the statue would survive being squashed into a ball.
(BC) The piece of clay and the statue are not identical

To my mind, the most surprising feature of this puzzle is that it has mislead so many good philosophers into embracing the view that material constitution is a relation between distinct objects with all its implausible consequences despite the fact that a much more simple and plausible solution to the puzzle has been around for decades (as far as I can see the position I have in mind is the one developed and defended by Roderick Chisholm in the 1970s). So, I was wondering if readers could help me see what's wrong with the Chisholmian solution or explain why it is almost completely ignored in the literature (in fact I cannot even think of anyone truly engaging with it in the literature).

Let me start by putting aside my mereological nihilist sympathies (as I assume few would embrace mereological nihilism with its seemingly implausible consequences just for the sake of solving that puzzle) and assume that there are pieces of clay and statues. For the sake of simplicity, let me also assume that the one made on Tuesday is the only statue there is, was, and will ever be in the whole wide world. Given these assumptions, it seems that one could truly affirm that

(A1*) On Monday, there was a piece of clay (i.e. On Monday, there is an x such that x is a piece of clay),

and that

(A2*) On Monday, there was no a statue (i.e. On Monday, there is no y such that y is a statue).

It is our inclination to accept something like (A2*), I suspect, that can be exploited to mislead us into assenting to (A2). However, accepting (A2*) does not amount to accepting anything like (A2), as one can easily concede that there was no statue on Monday and that there was one on Tuesday while denying that something new has come into existence between Monday and Tuesday (contrary to what (A2) surreptitiously suggests). One can do so simply by maintaining that, whereas our piece of clay (call it 'Clay') was not yet a statue on Monday, it became one on Tuesday, when the artist turned it into one. So, while there was no statue on Monday and there is one on Tuesday, the thing that became a statue on Tuesday (i.e. Clay) already existed on Monday, although on Monday it was not yet a statue, as it did not meet the conditions for satisfying 'x is a statue' (whatever these may be).

Consider now Argument B. Sure enough, if Clay were to be squashed into a ball, something would still be a piece of clay and nothing would be a statue. However, this does not imply that something would go out of existence in the process. It is simply that, under these counterfactual circumstances, Clay would no longer meet the conditions for satisfying 'x is a statue' (whatever these may be), while it would still meet the ones for satisfying 'x is a piece of clay'. So, one could truly affirm that:

(B1*) If Clay were to be squashed into a ball, there would still be something that is a piece of clay (i.e. there would be an x such that x is a piece of clay).

and that

(B2*) If Clay were to be squashed into a ball, there would no longer be be something that is a statue (i.e. there would be no y such that y is a statue).

And that, I think, is all we really mean to assent to when we assent to (B1) and (B2).

Consider now a third variation on our puzzle.

(C1) The piece of clay would not survive the loss of any of its proper parts
(C2) The statue would survive the loss of some of its proper parts
(C3) If the piece of clay and the statue are identical, then the piece of clay would not survive the loss of any of its proper parts iff the statue would not survive the loss of any of its proper parts.
(CC) The piece of clay and the statue are not identical

Consider, for example, a piece of Clay that is neither too big nor too small--e.g. the piece that forms the nose of the statue (call it 'Nosy'). Here, the underlying intuition seems to be that, if Nosy came to be detached, the statue would remain the same statue as before (although deprived of its nose) but the piece of clay wouldn't be any longer the same. All this argument seems to show, however, is that the conditions for satisfying 'x is the same statue as y' are different from those for satisfying 'x is the same piece of clay as y'. Let's grant that, if Nosy were to be detached from Clay, Clay would cease to exist. In its place, we would have two smaller pieces of clay: Nosy and the rest of Clay (call it 'Clay Jr'). Each of them used to be a proper part of Clay and, so each of them, is partially identical with it (in the sense that part of each is identical with part of Clay) although not (wholly) identical with it. More importantly, one of them (i.e. Clay Jr) still meets the conditions for satisfying 'x is a statue'. So, after Clay ceases to exist, there still is a statue.

But what of the intuition that this statue is the same statue as the one that was there before? Since Clay and Clay Jr are not identical, how can the statue that Clay Jr is be the same statue as the one that Clay used to be? I think the answer should be that, despite the appearances, 'x is the same statue as y' (nor 'x is the same piece of clay as y' for that matter) expresses an identity relation. (Note that this position differs from the one (in)famously put forward by Peter Geach, as it maintains that Clay and Clay Jr are absolutely distinct, whether or note we take them to satisfy 'x is the same statue as y' or 'x is the same piece of clay as y'.) In other words, in order for Clay and Clay Jr to satisfy 'x is the same statue as y' (or 'x is the same piece of clay as y'), Clay and Clay Jr need not be identical. In order to satisfy 'x is the same statue as y' or 'x is the same piece of clay as y', Clay Jr would only have to meet some set of weaker (and vaguer) conditions, which, in the case of 'x is the same statue as y', may include its overlapping significantly with Clay and retaining its shape (and, in the case of 'x is the same piece of clay as y', may include its overlapping (almost) completely with Clay even without retaining its shape).

Friday, October 15, 2010

Other New Work For Verisimilitude

This is a metaphysics blog, but while I am on the topic of verisimilitude I thought it might be worth mentioning two other philosophical purposes for which it might help to take verisimilitude seriously, for which to my (limited) knowledge it has not yet played a role in the literature:

1. Might verisimilitude be the norm of assertion, rather than e.g. truth? If it is, this might give us a reason to suppose that people are speaking literally when indulging in harmless idealisations, or glossing over details for a conversational purpose (at least some of the time, at any rate). Or if it is not verisimilitude, might it be something like known verisimilitude (rather than knowledge tout cour), or justified belief in verisimilitude?

2. Is verisimilitude a problem for minimalism and deflationism about truth? Suppose one thought there was not much more to “snow is white” being true than snow being white (and perhaps the sentence meaning what it does). What, then, is it for “snow is white” to be close to true? One might suggest that it is snow being close to white. But that is not the only way “snow is white” could be close to true, it seems to me. If something close to snow was white, but snow was all transparent, the claim might still be close to true, especially if the near-snow was ubiquitous. If no snow was white right now, even though it nearly always was and nearly always will be, the claim might be thought to be close to true. And of course even if “snow is close to white” captures a necessary and sufficient condition for “’snow is white’ is close to true”, there may be plenty of other examples which are not so easily captured.

The worry is that to explain being close to truth one might need to say something non-minimal about what it is to be true. One way to avoid this without playing “hunt the paraphrase” would be to introduce an operator into the object language (or claim it was there all along) so that we can say, without truth, exactly what is the case whenever a claim is close to true. E.g. the operator “kind of”

“Snow is white” is close to true iff KIND OF: snow is white.”

Of course, we might still wonder whether such an operator is understood without recourse to thinking about truth and closeness of claims to that standard.

Verisimilitude and Accommodation

As well asking whether a claim is true, we can also assess a claim by asking whether it is close to the truth. If we miss out on truth, verisimilitude seems like a good consolation prize.

There is an interesting question about the metaphysics of verisimilitude – what does the world have to be like for a claim to be close to true? This might be a matter of the similarity in relevant respects between this world and a world where it is true, for example – or maybe, while the talk of similarity is a helpful heuristic, or a metaphor with some truth in it, the sober story might need to be something else.

But in this post I do not want to talk about the metaphysics of verisimilitude so much as work that verisimilitude can do for metaphysicians.

Often metaphysical conclusions appear to go against things we normally say: there are many short-lived objects exactly where my stapler is, there are no tables and chairs, A=B yet there are features A has which B lacks, and so on. (I do not recommend saying all of these things at once.) In the terminology of Hawthorne and Michael, we can distinguish between compatibilist approaches to this apparent disagreement and incompatibilist approaches: the compatibilist holds that this conflict is only apparent, and that really what the metaphysicians says is consistent with what we normally say: maybe we normally tacitly restrict our quantifiers to ignore many things, or the metaphysicians speaks tenselessly and the folk normally speak in a tensed language, or the language of the ontology room is sufficiently different from the language of the street that “there are no tables and chairs in this room” in the ontologist’s mouth is consistent with what is expressed by “there are tables and chairs in this room” in a normal speaker’s mouth, even when the ontologist and the normal person are in the same room (I take it this last is e.g. van Inwagen’s view).

Dan Korman has been arguing in a number of places that these compatibilist strategies are usually inadequate (See for example here). On the other hand, incompatibilists seem to face a number of challenges, including saying what is good about many of the claims the folk take to be true but which are false according to the incompatibilist. (Maybe “there is a table in this room” is somehow wrong, but it’s not wrong in the way “there’s a hippopotamus in this room” would usually be.)

It seems to me that a metaphysician who claims that what ordinary claims say is very close to the truth in the usual cases has some of the advantages of both camps. She can (pretty much) agree with the ordinary claims, like the compatibalist, without hunting for a paraphrase or exotic semantic hypothesis. She can allow that the claims are strictly speaking false while having something a lot like truth, epistemically and otherwise, to attribute to the claims – they are close to the truth. That’s a pretty good status to have, one that is epistemically worth aiming for, one which we might think the demands of interpretive charity would be satisfied by, and so on. I’m not sure which side of the compatibilist/incompatibilist line we should put the verisimilitude option – Korman thinks it is a version of incompatibilism (at least he did when I asked him) – but whichever side of the line it falls on, it seems to me pretty close to the dividing line.

Compatibilists and Incompatibilists also can take a stand on what non-metaphysicians believe – to what extent is ordinary opinion consistent with their views, as opposed to what we ordinarily say? Here there is also a verisimilitude option – ordinary opinion is close to correct, or close to correct as far as it goes. There might be reasons for these to come apart – one may wish to think that people’s beliefs are often a little less committed than what they say, for example, in which case one might be tempted to think what is said is only close to true while what is believed might be entirely compatible with the truth. Though, as usual, it is often simplest to treat talk and thought together, and mark them both down as close to true.

The issue of what to say about ordinary beliefs, or orthodox theories, when one is a philosopher arises well outside the parts of metaphysics about which ordinary people might be thought to have views, of course. Metaethics is familiar with a variety of error theories, for example, and nearly every part of philosophy faces the challenge of saying what is good about some claim or intuition that is apparently rejected by a theory. Allowing that claims are close to true might provide a “comfortable” rather than radical kind of error theory about moral value, some intuitions about knowledge, or whatever else. (One application that has arisen around here at the moment is a way to sugar the pill of Alan Hajek’s thesis that most counterfactuals are false. If many of the false but apparently acceptable ones are close to true, while many of the false but unacceptable ones are not, that might help explain why we prefer the acceptable ones to the unacceptable ones.)

Of course, using verisimilitude to do philosophical work elsewhere does suggest that we should hope to clear up some of the philosophical puzzles about verisimilitude and how exactly it works. But a philosophical concept can be fruitfully used before all the puzzles with it are cleared up (see: every other philosophical concept which can be fruitfully used).

Monday, June 7, 2010

Call for Proposals: Experiment Month

The Experiment Month initiative is a program designed to help philosophers conduct experimental studies. If you are interested in running a study, you can send your study proposal to the Experiment Month staff. Then, if your proposal is selected for inclusion, we will conduct the study online, send you the results and help out with any statistical analysis you may need. All proposals are due Sept. 1.

For further information, see the Experiment Month website.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Announcement and Call for Papers

Putting Powers to Work

A Conference on Causal Powers in Metaphysics
April 28-30, 2011
Saint Louis University


This conference aims to build on the existing literature concerning what causal powers (or dispositions or capacities) are by asking what causal powers can do. Many contemporary metaphysicians think that accepting irreducible causal powers enables one to give accounts of, say, laws of nature, causation, and modality that are preferable to other contemporary accounts. But is that right? What should those accounts look like? Are there other areas in metaphysics—metaphysics of mind and agency, or metaphysics of science—that can be accounted for at least in part in terms of irreducible causal powers? In other words, supposing for the sake of argument that you accepted irreducible causal powers or dispositions, what good might they do for us in metaphysics?

Speakers include Nancy Cartwright, Alexander Bird, Anjan Chakravartty, John Heil, Max Kistler, Stephen Mumford, Timothy O'Connor, David Robb, and Neil Williams. Funded by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation and by the Department of Philosophy at Saint Louis University.

Workshop Call for Papers

A workshop will follow the conference on the afternoon of April 30. The workshop will be a roundtable discussion of papers on the theme and questions of the conference. Presentations will be 20-30 minutes. A committee may select papers from the workshop for inclusion in the conference edited collection. We invite submissions for the workshop program. Email an abstract to If the committee cannot reach a decision on the basis of the abstract, it may ask for the full paper. Deadline for submission is December 1, 2010.

For more information, see the conference website, or email Jonathan D. Jacobs at Registration is free.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Draft: Do Extrinsic Dispostions Need Extrinsic Causal Bases?

My paper 'Do Extrinsic Dispositions Need Extrinsic Causal Bases' has been accepted by Philosophy and Phenomenological Research (which, I have to say, is every bit as well-run as people say it is)!

I'm going to have to submit the final version soon (as they will be running an online early program starting this summer!). So this is my last chance to pick your bloggin' brains about this. Any last-minute comment no matter how big or small or whether here or by e-mail would be greatly appreciated.

Here is the abstract:

In this paper, I distinguish two often-conflated theses—the thesis that all dispositions are intrinsic properties and the thesis that the causal bases of all dispositions are intrinsic properties—and argue that the falsity of the former does not entail the falsity of the latter. In particular, I argue that extrinsic dispositions are a counterexample to first thesis but not necessarily to the second thesis, because an extrinsic disposition does not need to include any extrinsic property in its causal basis. I conclude by drawing some general lessons about the nature of dispositions and their relation to their causal bases.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Structure and Identity

The Arts and Humanities Research Council funded Foundations of Structuralism Project will host a major international conference this Summer that may be of interest to many subscribers to this blog (and please forward and post elsewhere as appropriate).

Structure and Identity

July 23rd-25th 2010, University of Bristol
Confirmed speakers include:
John Burgess
Katherine Hawley
Fraser MacBride
Charles Parsons
Simon Saunders
Stewart Shapiro

There will also be a programme of contributed papers. If you are interested in giving a paper please send a title and abstract of 500 words by 10th April 2010 to James Ladyman (

To book your place please email Jess Dunton (

Questions to be addressed include:

  • How is structuralism best characterised?:
  • In terms of incompleteness (objects lack certain kinds of properties)?
  • In terms of dependence (objects depend on each other or their structure for their existence and/or identity)?
  • In terms of contextual individuation (objects are individuated relationally rather than intrinsically)?
  • How are these characterizations related?
  • Are structuralist views in metaphysics, for example, concerning properties and dispositions, justified?
  • Does a structuralist view of mathematics provide the best account of mathematical practice and the ontology and epistemology of mathematics?
  • Are elementary particles individuals? Do they satisfy the principle of the identity of indiscernibles?
  • What are criteria of identity, and what adequacy conditions are appropriate for them?
  • Should we be committed to some form of predicativity requirement and/or some form of identity of indiscernibles? What is individuation?
  • Do we need a substantive account of how objects are individuated?
  • How should the various metaphysical notions of dependence be analysed? What role will the notions of individuation and criteria of identity play in this analysis?
  • What are the relations between notions of entity, object, individual, and substance? What implications would structuralism have for these notions?
  • How does structuralism relate to ontological holism and to the thesis that there is no fundamental level to reality?
  • What is the relationship between primitive identity or haecceity and haecceitism about worlds?

It is anticipated that a volume of papers from the conference will be published.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Happy Birthday, MoS!!!

Today is Matters of Substance first birthday. With 48 posts, hundreds of subscribers, and over 28,000 visits from around the world, MoS seems to be doing well on its first birthday. (If anyone has any suggestions as to how it could do even better I'll leave the comments open).

In the meantime... happy birthday, MoS!!!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Contest: Can a property be a person?

According to some versions of the doctrine of divine simplicity, God is identical with the property of divinity. I am planning on writing up a (limited) defense of this identity, and to that end I am hereby offering an argument contest with very modest prizes, with the hope of getting really good submissions to argue against in my paper (unless perhaps I am convinced by the submissions!).

Here is the task for the contest. Grant for the sake of the argument that:

  1. There is at least one necessarily existing person.
  2. Realism about properties is correct.
Given these assumptions, argue against the following thesis: There exists a property which is (also) a person.

The reason why I ask that the arguments grant these assumptions is that I am not interested in variants on the following two arguments: (1) All properties are necessary beings, every person is contingent, and, therefore, no property is a person; (2) There are no properties, and, therefore, no property is a person.

The deadline is the end of February, 2010, Central Time.

I will give a $50 gift certificate to the person who, in my subjective judgment, has submitted the most powerful, reasonably brief (there is an approximately 6000 character limit) original argument (of course, an original argument can build on arguments by others, including arguments submitted to this contest). If your argument has already appeared in published work, you may use it for the contest--but don't give a reference in your submission, because then I'll think that it's not original, because I'll be judging blindly. In case I can't decide on the winner, I will do a random draw among those I consider to be finalists.

However, it is not necessary to submit an original argument to enter. All entrants who give a serious argument that was not already posted by the time their entry was submitted, even if that argument is not their own (hopefully it comes with a reference!), will have a chance to win a $30 gift certificate by random drawing. While the best-argument prize you can enter several times to improve your chances (with different arguments!), the random drawing you get only one chance at, no matter how many entries you submit.

Submissions must be posted via the form in this link. This ensures that judging will be done blindly--the entries are separated from the entrant names. But to be eligible for a prize, you must include your real name.

From time to time, I'll be posting serious submissions as comments on this blog post, without the entrant's name. (What counts as original will be relative to what was posted at the time.) At the end of the contest, I may post a comment identifying by name those entrants who checked the box releasing their names.

Prior to posting, you might want to see this discussion of the issue, as well as the comments below. This may also keep down the submissions of non-original arguments.

The comments to this post are open to discussion of the arguments posted. I may, for instance, post critical responses. You are free to submit an improved version of your argument--or a supplement to your argument--to be judged together with your original argument (in that case, reference your first version by entry number). But only arguments submitted via the above-linked form count as entries.

I am the final arbiter of how the contest proceeds, and no appeal is possible. I reserve the right to disqualify entries for any reasons I see fit. If computer problems destroy entries or fail to record them correctly, then that's just your tough luck. The winner is responsible for all the tax implications of the prize.

The arguments should not be written as complete papers. A simple, fairly concise numbered or informal argument suffices.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Againt Armstrong on Causation

I’m working on a short paper arguing that Armstrong’s account of causation fails. The argument seems so simple that I’m worried I’ve missed something obvious. Any suggestions are much appreciated.

Armstrong identifies singular causal relations with instantiations of a law—with instances of the necessitation relation. Let N(P, Q) represent P’s necessitation of Q. In the case of determinism, N(P, Q) is something like P probabilifies Q to degree x.

I claim that Armstrong’s theory fails in indeterministic contexts. Whenever N(P, Q) holds, every instance of P is related by N to Q. After all, instances of universals are, according to Armstrong, nothing other than the universal itself. But then in cases where P occurs but does not cause Q, the instance of P is still related by N to Q. The law is instantiated, but causation does not occur. Hence, causation is not the instantiation of a law.

Here’s a slightly different way of putting the same problem: Assume indeterminism. Let it be an indeterministic law that N(P, Q). Assume there is an instance of P that is not followed by an instance of Q. (This is possible, given the assumption of indeterminism.) Either the instance of P is related by an instance of N to Q or it is not. Suppose it is. Then P caused Q, contrary to our assumption. On the other hand, suppose P is not related by N to Q. Then there is an instance of P not related by N to Q. But, then it can’t be a law that N(P, Q), contrary to our assumption.

It seems to me that Armstrong needs singular causal relations in addition to laws, so that in indeterministic contexts, the law can be instantiated without the singular causal relation holding.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Armstrong on Lewis on causation

Armstrong claims that truthmakers for causal claims, for Lewis, are entirely this-worldly:

"Lewis's talk of possible worlds here is to a degree miselading. It is important to realize, as I did not originally realize, and I think many others have not realized, that these counterfactuals are supposed to hold solely in virtue of features of the world in which the causal relation holds. As I would put it, the truthmaker for causal truths is to be found solely in the world in which the relation holds. (I think this follows straight from the contingency of the causal relation, a contingency that Lewis does not doubt.) In his theory of causation the possible worlds enter as mere calculational devices. He has given me as an example the way that we might say with truth that a person is a Montague rather than a Capulet, without being being committed to the view that these families are actual. The fictional families are used as no more than a calculational device." ("Going through the Open Door Again: Counterfactual versus Singularist Theories of Causation," p. 445)

I must confess that I don't understand, so perhaps you all can help me understand. If the possible worlds are merely a calculational device, then there should be some way to make the calculation with a different device. (I could explain what was meant by a person being a Montague rather than a Capulet with different concepts if you had never read Shakespeare.) Assume, then that there are no possible worlds. What is it, in this world, that makes causal counterfactuals—had c not occurred, e would not have occurred—true (when they are)? It must have something to do with laws, but I'm not sure how that would go.

(I assume that Armstrong does not mean merely that the possible worlds don't need to be Lewisian worlds, that they might be linguistic constructions or sets of abstract states of affairs. The claim is not that the truthmakers don't have to be other-worldly; it's that they are entirely this-worldy.)

I'm also puzzled by Armstrong's parenthetical remark, that the this-worldy nature of truthmakers for causal claims follows directly from the contingency of causation. How is that argument supposed to go?

Friday, January 15, 2010

CfP: The Architecture of Reality


The Architecture of Reality
Deadline for submissions: April 30, 2010
Advisory Editor: Matthew H. Slater (Bucknell University)

Humans are dividers and systematizers, confidently wielding the classificatory knife in the natural sciences and in metaphysics alike. But are we carving nature at its joints? We can identify distinct ‘horizontal’ and ‘vertical’ components to this basic question. Horizontal: Is the world ‘intrinsically jointed’? Are there natural properties or natural kinds? Are there natural units which instantiate these properties and kinds? Vertical: Is reality divided into levels? If so, is there a fundamental level comprising reality’s ultimate furniture? If not, what? Presumably, these two sets of questions intersect. But how, precisely? What, in short, is the architecture of reality? Might we require multiple ‘architectural plans’ to describe nature correctly, or would just one do? We invite contributions on both the ground- level metaphysical issues (proposals for particular architectures or particular approaches to plan-drawing) and to methodological issues concerning these efforts.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Bellingham Summer Philosophy Conference (Bellingham, August 1-5)

The 2010 BSPC website is now online. There you can find a great deal of information about the conference as well as a call for papers, commentators, and chairs.

Although I've never been to the BSPC before, from what I've heard, it sounds like the ideal philosophy conference. One of my new year philosophy-related resolutions is to finally manage to go! Even if it's half as good as it seems on paper, I won't be disappointed.