Monday, December 3, 2012

Seminar: Metaphysics and Mind (Washington University in St Louis, June-July 2013)


NEH Summer Seminar
10 June-12 July 2013
Washington University in St Louis

A five-week National Endowment for the Humanities Seminar on metaphysical issues in the philosophy of mind led by John Heil, 10 June - 12 July 2013. Visiting faculty will include E. J. Lowe, Graham Oddie, and Alyssa Ney.

Sixteen participants will be chosen from among eligible applicants interested in metaphysical issues that arise in the philosophy of mind. Early sessions of the seminar will be devoted to discussion of fundamental metaphysical themes including the nature of properties, causality, laws of nature, powers, and qualities. Later sessions will be devoted to discussion of metaphysical themes of special interest to participants.

Seminar stipend: $3,900.

For more information, please visit the seminar website:

Monday, November 26, 2012

Job: Associate or Full Professor AOS: Metaphysics (St. Louis)

Saint Louis University, a Catholic Jesuit institution, dedicated to student learning, research, health care, and service, is seeking applicants for a senior appointment in Philosophy at the level of full or associate professor.  The position begins fall semester 2012.  Ph.D. required.  Teaching: two courses per semester, undergraduate and graduate; significant record of research and publication required.  Committee work; thesis and dissertation direction expected.  AOS: metaphysics.  AOC: open.  Qualified candidates must have knowledge of and be willing to contribute to Jesuit ideals and goals of education.  Salary dependent upon qualification and experience.  A complete dossier will contain a CV, letters of reference, and samples of publication.  Interested candidates must apply online at  Please direct all inquiries to: Theodore R. Vitali, C.P., Chair, Department of Philosophy, Saint Louis University, 3800 Lindell Boulevard, Suite 130, St. Louis, MO 63108.  Deadline: applications that are complete by Dec. 15, 2012 will be assured of the most careful consideration.  Saint Louis University is an affirmative action, equal opportunity employer, and encourages nominations of and applications from women and minorities. 

Job: Postdoc AOS: Metaphysics of Science (IHPST, Paris)

A postdoctoral position will be available at IHPST (Institut d'Histoire et de Philosophie des Sciences et des Techniques, Paris) within the French ANR funded project  “Metaphysics of Science”, for one year (September/October 2013 - August/September 2014), renewable for a second year (September/October 2014 - August/September 2015).
The successful candidate must pursue research, and already have some expertise, in at least one of the three domains in the focus of the project: 1) Levels of reality, 2) Individual objects in physics and biology, and 3) Dispositions in psychology and physics.

The post-doc will be expected to present his/her research at conferences and seminars, and to publish in peer-reviewed journals.

He or she will work at IHPST in Paris and will provide organizational support for the activities of the teams. Residence in Paris is strictly mandatory.

Major tasks will be to:
1) run the Metaphysics of Science seminar on a regular basis,
2) help organize the workshops of the research project,
3) create and maintain a website on the metaphysics of experimental sciences, which will provide tools of cooperation within the team and help disseminate the results of our research,
4) constitute a database on metaphysics of science.

Applicants must have a doctorate in philosophy. Knowledge of French is not required, but fluency in English is.

Salary will be approximately 2000 € net (2500 € gross) per month.

Application material:
-A cover letter addressed to Max Kistler, Metascience coordinator
-A CV with a list of publications
-A writing sample (e.g., a publication or a dissertation chapter)
-Three letters of recommendation
-A statement of research agenda that fits into one of the areas of the project (2-3 pages)

Applications should be submitted electronically, in a single PDF file, to:
Max Kistler:

Deadline for submission of application: 15 February 2013.
Candidates will be informed of the decision by 31 March 2013.

For further information, please contact Max Kistler.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Mereology Map

Recently, my colleague David Faraci posted a "flowchart" for metaethics on PeaSoup, and he impressed on me how much useful feedback he received. Not long ago, I composed something analogous for mereology, and was hoping to get feedback as well. (I realize my "road map" is incomplete, e.g., it does not address growing block theories, though I am hoping to revise it in the near future.)

The document is at:

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Grounding graphs

This may all be old-hat: I haven't been following the grounding literature.

Consider three propositions:

  1. (2) or (3) is true.
  2. (1) or (3) is true.
  3. The sky is blue.
Then, clearly, (3) grounds (1) and (2). But there is also another path to grounding (1). We could say that (3) grounds (2), and then (2) grounds (1). But if (2) grounds (1), then by an exact parallel (1) grounds (2). And that violates the noncircularity of grounding. This kind of thing is a standard worry.

What should we say about (1)-(3)? It was plausible to say that (3) grounds (1) and (2). But the line of thought that (3) grounds (2) and (2) grounds (1) was also plausible. We might say that there are three pathways to grounding among (1)-(3):

  • (3) to both (1) and (2)
  • (3) to (2) to (1)
  • (3) to (1) to (2)
All pathways seem acceptable. But we had better not confuse the pathways, since if we mix up grounding claims that belong to the last two pathways, we get (2) grounding (1) and (1) grounding (2).

There are multiple grounding pathways. Here is one way to formalize this. Take as the primitive notion that of a grounding graph. A grounding graph encodes a particular mutually compatible grounding pathway. Each grounding graph is a directed graph whose vertices are propositions. It will often be a contingent matter whether a given graph is or is not a grounding graph: the same graph can be a grounding graph in one world but not in another. The notion is not a formal one. Moreover, grounding graphs will be backwards-complete: they will go as far back as possible. But their futures may be incomplete.

Say that a parent of a vertex b in a directed graph G is any vertex a such that ab is an arrow of G, and then b is called a child of a. An ancestor is then a parent, or a parent of a parent, or .... An initial vertex is one that has no vertices.

We can say that a partly grounds b in G if and only if a is an ancestor of b in G and that a is fundamental in G if and only if a is initial in G. We say that a proposition a partly grounds b provided that there is a grounding graph G such that a partly grounds b in G, and that a proposition p is fundamental if and only if there is a grounding graph G such that p is fundamental in G. We say that the a partly grounds b compatibly with c partly grounding a provided that there is a single grounding graph in which both partial grounding relations hold.

We say that a finite or infinite sequence of vertices is a chain in G provided that there is an arrow from each element of the sequence to the next. We say that b is the terminus of a chain C provided that b is the last element of C.

We stipulate that a set S of vertices grounds b in G provided that (a) every vertex in S is an ancestor of b and (b) every chain whose terminus is b can be extended to a chain still with terminus b and that contains at least one member of S. In particular, the set of all the parents of b grounds b if it is non-empty.

We now have some bridge axioms that interface between the notion of a grounding graph and other notions:

  • Truth: Every vertex of a grounding graph G is true.
  • Explanation: Every non-initial vertex is explained by its parents.
  • Partial Explanation: Every parent partly explains each of its children.

We add this very metaphysical axiom, which is a kind of Principle of Sufficient Reason:

  • Universality: Every true proposition is a vertex of some grounding graph.

Now we add some structural axioms:

  • Noncircularity: There is no grounding graph G in which a is a parent of b and b is a parent of a.
  • Lower Bound: If C is a chain in a grounding graph G, then there is a vertex p of G which is the ancestor of all the vertices in C, other than p itself if p is in C.
  • Wellfoundedness: No vertex of a grounding graph is the terminus of an infinite chain.
  • Absoluteness of Fundamentality: No vertex is initial in one grounding graph and non-initial in another.
  • Truncation: If G1 is a grounding graph and G2 is a subgraph of G1 relatively closed under the parent relation (if b is in G2 and a is a parent of b in G1 then a is in G2 and a is a parent of b in G2), then G2 is a grounding graph.

Absoluteness of Fundamentality says that if a proposition is fundamental, it is fundamental in every grounding graph where it is found. Of course Wellfoundedness entails Noncircularity and Lower Bound. And Noncircularity plus Absoluteness of Fundamentality entails that if a partly grounds b and b partly grounds a, then (a) these two grounding relations do not hold in the same grounding graph and (b) in every grounding graph where one of these relations holds, at least one of a and b is grounded in something other than a and b, so that there are no fundamental circles.

We can now add some "logical axioms". These are just a sampling.

  • Disjunction Introduction: If a grounding graph G contains a vertex <p> but not the vertex <p or q>, then the graph formed by appending <p or q> to G together with an arrow from <p> to it is also a grounding graph.
  • Conjunction Introduction: If a grounding graph G contains vertices <p> and <q> but not the vertex <p&q>, then the graph formed by appending <p&q> to G toegther with arrows from <p> and <q> to it is also a grounding graph.
  • Existential Introduction: If a grounding graph G contains a vertex <Fa> but no vertex <(∃x)Fx>, then the graph formed by appending <(∃x)Fx> together with an arrow from <Fa> to <(∃x)Fx> is a grounding graph.
  • Conjunctive Concentration: If a grounding graph G contains a vertex b with distinct parents <p> and <q> but no vertex <p&q>, then the graph formed by removing the arrows from <p> and <q> to b, adding the vertex <p&q> and inserting arrows from <p> and <q> to <p&q>, and from <p&q> to b is a grounding graph.
  • No Disjunctive Overdetermination: If a grounding graph contains <p or q>, then it contains at most one of the arrows <p>→<p or q> and <q>→<p or q>.

Go back to our original example. There will be at least three distinct grounding graphs corresponding to the different grounding pathways. There will be a grounding graph where we have (3)→(2)→(1), and another where we have (2)→(3)→(1), and a third which contains (3)→(1) and (2)→(1). But there won't be a graph that contains both (2)→(1) and (1)→(2).

I don't really insist on this list of axioms. Probably the "logical axioms" are incomplete. Nor am I completely sure of all the axioms. But the point here is to indicate a way to structure further discussion.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Necessity and Concreteness

Speaking of 'necessity', here is an interactive survey to see if you have some beliefs or intuitions that bear on the question of necessary concreta: The survey showcases arguments relevant to the question, some of which are relatively unknown--and so may be of special interest to metaphysicians who care about this question. Your answers will be recorded for further analysis. Comments and criticisms are welcome.

The topic bears on this question: are necessary existence and concreteness compatible? If we say "no", then we can give the following simple criterion for being concrete: 'x is concrete iff x is not necessary' (unless non-necessary abstracta exist). On the other hand, if concreteness is compatible with necessary existence, then the possibility is open for us to give an ultimate explanation of the existence of non-necessary things in terms of the contingent activities of more basic, necessary things (be they fundamental particles or something else). So, answers to the question seem to have deep implications for fundamental ontology and cosmology.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Necessity Conference

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Postdocs: Philosophy of Cosmology (Rutgers)

The School of Arts and Sciences at Rutgers University is pleased to announce the availability pending funding (to be determined soon) of three postdoctoral fellowships in philosophy of cosmology. Fellows will be appointed in the Department of Philosophy in association with the multi-university  Project in Philosophy of Cosmology.  We hope to appoint one fellow in each of the following areas of concentration: 1) philosophy of physics, 2) cosmology, 3) philosophy of religion, metaphysics or philosophical theology.  For more information about the kinds of research that could be supported under these fellowships, please see the summaries of current project members’ research interests and aims here:  

Requirements for the fellowship include i) PhD in the last 5 years in a relevant area, ii) acquaintance with recent developments in cosmology and issues in philosophy of cosmology, iii) a research project related to the research of the Philosophy of Cosmology Project, iv) strong background in one of the three fields mentioned above.

The primary responsibility of a Fellow will be to conduct research on his/her project.  Fellows will also be responsible for teaching one course per year in their area of expertise. Fellows will be expected to participate in all of our conferences, seminars, and a summer school in the summer of 2013; they will work with faculty mentors in the organization, planning, editing and the other aspects of our project.

Fellows will be appointed for one year with the possibility of renewal for a second year. Appointments will be effective September 1, 2012 or January 1, 2013. Fellows will receive a stipend of $50,000 annually as well as an annual research allocation of $2,000; they will also receive Rutgers University health benefits. 

Requests for more informantion or applications, consisting of a CV, a research proposal, a writing sample, and the names of 3 references should be sent by email to Professor Barry Loewer at  Review of applications will commence on July 8 and continue until the positions are filled.

Rutgers University is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer. The institution values diversity in its faculty, staff, and students and especially encourages applications from women and underrepresented minorities.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Ruth Marcus Memorial Event (Yale, Sept 2012)

Students, colleagues, friends and admirers of Ruth are warmly invited to join us for a
Saturday afternoon, September 29th, 2012
Yale University Campus
New Haven, CT

Details of venue, time and program will be settled soon, and a more formal announcement will then be distributed.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Dispositions and Interferences: the Paper

As some of you may recall, a while ago I had a couple of posts in which I sketched a Qualified Counterfactual Analysis of disposition ascriptions. Well, after a few changes of mind, a very long gestation period and an equally long review process, I am pleased to announce that the paper that descended from those posts has been accepted for publication in Philosophical Studies (and can be downloaded here). I very much hope that the paper will contribute to debunking the myth that ceteris paribus clauses cannot be spelled out in a clear and non-circular manner.
Thanks again to all of you who commented on my original posts and, if you have any last-minute comments and suggestions, please do let me know as I haven't submitted the final version yet.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Internal space

As David Lewis taught us, time travel calls for something like a notion of internal time. If I am about to travel to the time of the dinosaurs, then maybe in an hour I will meet a dinosaur. But that's an internal time hour. If I am going to spend the rest of my life in the Mesozoic, then—assuming nothing kills me—I will grow old before I am born, but this "before" is tied to external time, since of course in internal time, I grow old after being born.

Perhaps ordinary travel calls for a notion of internal space. Let's say today I am in room 304 of the hospital, and yesterday I was in room 200. The doctor comes and asks: "Does it still hurt in the same place as it did yesterday?" I tell her: "No, because yesterday it hurt in room 200, and today it hurts in room 304." But that's external place, and the doctor was asking about internal place.

Internal place is moved relative to external place while the body as a whole is locomating. But it can also be moved when only parts of the body are moving. If my hands are hurting, and I clasp my hands to each other, I thereby make the internal places where it hurts be very close externally, but they are still as distant internally as they would be were I to hold my arms wide. If, on the other hand, my two hands grew together into a new super-hand, the two places would come to be close together.

I wonder: If I grow, does my head come to be internally further from my feet? I think so: There are more cells in between, for instance.

Rob Koons has suggested to me that the notion of internal place can help with Brentano's notion of "coincident boundaries": Suppose we have two perfect cubes, with the red one on top of the green one. Then it seems that the red cube's bottom boundary is in the same place as the green cube's top boundary. (Sextus Empiricus used basically this as an argument against rigid objects.) Question: But how can there two boundaries in the same place? Answer: There are two internal places in one external place here.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Podcasts: Power Structuralism in Ancient Ontologies Project

I think that Anna Marmodoro's Power Structuralism in Ancient Ontologies project is one of the most interesting metaphysics projects around at the moment. And it got even more interesting now that they have added to their website links to a series of podcasts, which include:

Jon Jacobs: "Is Causation a Relation?"
Peter Van Inwagen: "Relational vs. Constituent Ontologies"

I look forward to listening to all of them!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Metaphysical Mayhem 2012!!!

This makes me wish I was still a grad student :-)
Metaphysical Mayhem is back!!! Rutgers University will be hosting a 5-day summer school for graduate students May 14-18, 2012. John Hawthorne, Katherine Hawley, Ted Sider, Jonathan Schaffer, and Dean Zimmerman will lead the seminars on a variety of topics in metaphysics, including: natural properties, composition as identity, grounding, metaphysical explanation, and stuff like that...

For more information, see:

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Presentist counting

In a posthumous paper, David Lewis shows that one can find a presentist paraphrase of sentences like "There have ever been, are or ever will be n Fs" for any finite n. But his method doesn't work for infinite counting.

It turns out that there is a solution that works for finite and infinite counts, using a bit of set theory. For any set S of times, say that an object x exactly occupies S provided that at every time in S it was, is or will be the case that x exists and at no time outside of S it was, is or will be the case that x exists. For any non-empty set S of times, let nF(S) be a cardinality such that at every time t in S it was, is or will be the case that there are exactly nF(S) objects exactly occupying S. This is a presentist-friendly definition. Let N be any set of abstracta with cardinality nF(S) (e.g., if we have the Axiom of Choice, we should have an ordinal of that cardinality) and let eF(S) be the set of ordered pairs { <S,x> : xN }. We can think of the members of eF(S) as the ersatz Fs exactly occupying S. Let eF be the union of all the eF(S) as S ranges over all subsets of times. (It's quite possible that I'm using the Axiom of Choice in the above constructions.) Then "There have ever been, are or ever will be n Fs" can be given the truth condition |eF|=n.

This ersatzist construction suggests a general way in which presentists can talk of ersatz past, present or future objects. For instance, "There were, are or ever will be more Fs than Gs" gets the truth condition: |eG|≤|eF|. "Most Fs that have ever been, are or will be were, are or will be Gs" gets the truth condition |eFG|>(1/2)|eF|, where FG is the conjunction of F with G. I don't know just how much can be paraphrased in such ways, but I think quite a lot. Consequently, just as I think the B-theory can't be rejected on linguistic grounds, it's going to be hard to reject presentism on linguistic grounds.