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 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

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

To submit a paper, please register and login to Ergo's editorial
management system at:

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)

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 <> Canadian Journal of Philosophy<> 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<>

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.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Tübingen Metaphysics Workshop 2013: Existence, Truth and Fundamentality

The Tübingen Metaphysics Workshop is an annual international event organized and sponsored by the Chair of Theoretical Philosophy at the University of Tübingen.
The goal of the workshop is to bring together junior and senior scholars working on cutting edge issues in metaphysics and its methodology.
The focus of the 2013 edition are the notions of existence, truth and fundamentality, as well as their interrelation. Each paper will be followed by a response.
Attendance is free, registration not required.

More details can be found on the website

Saturday, March 30, 2013

MAWM 2013

On September 14-15, 2013 the University of Notre Dame will host the second Midwest Annual Workshop in Metaphysics (MAWM). We invite and encourage all interested parties to attend! 

Speakers will be Ben Caplan, Matti Eklund, Daniel Korman, Jennifer McKitrick, Gillian Russell, and Jessica Wilson.

MAWMs are targeted workshops for Midwestern faculty and graduate students working in metaphysics.  Each MAWM features 5-7 invited speakers, the majority of whom come from Midwestern institutions.  They provide a venue for sharing new research and building community among metaphysicians in the region. 

For more information and to register for the workshop, visit the website:

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Fundamentality and ungroundedness

I haven't been following the grounding literature, so this may be old hat, in which case I will be grateful for references.

The following seems pretty plausible:

  1. p is fundamental if and only if p is ungrounded.
But I think (1) may be false. I will put the argument in tensed fashion, but it could also be done a bit more awkwardly in a four-dimensional setting.

Let's suppose that <I ought to respect other persons> is a fundamental moral truth. Call this truth R. But now I validly promise to respect other persons. Then R comes to be grounded in <I ought to keep my promises and I promised to respect other persons>. If (1) is true, then R continues to be true but ceases to be fundamental. That doesn't sound right. It seems to me that if R is ever a fundamental moral truth, then it is always a fundamental moral truth. After I have promised to respect other persons, R gained a ground but lost nothing of its fundamentality.

Maybe I can motivate my intuition a little more. It seems that R has a relevantly different status from the status had by S, the proposition <I ought to come to your house for dinner every night>, after I promise you to come to your house for dinner every night. Each of R and S is grounded by a proposition about promises, but intuitively the fundamentality-and-grounding statuses of R and S are different. A sign (but only a sign--we want to avoid the conditional fallacy) of the difference is that R would still be true were the proposition about promises false. Another sign of the difference is that <I ought to respect you> is overdeterminingly grounded in <I ought to respect all persons> and <I promised to respect all persons and I ought to keep my promises>, while it is false that <I ought to come for dinner tomorrow night> is overdeterminingly grounded in <I ought to come for dinner every night> and <I promised to come for dinner every night and I ought to keep my promises>. The latter is not a case of overdetermination.

The above example is controversial, and I can't think of any noncontroversial ones. But it seems plausible that we should be open to phenomena like the above. Such prima facie possibilities suggest to me that ungroundedness is a negative property, while fundamentality is something positive. Normally, fundamental truths are also ungrounded. But they don't lose their fundamentality if in some world they happen to be grounded as well.

A somewhat tempting way to keep the above intuition while maintaining the idea that fundamentality is to drop the irreflexivity of grounding and say that:

  1. p is fundamental if and only if p grounds p.
Then we could say that R is overdeterminingly grounded by a proposition about promises as well as by R itself, while S is only grounded by a proposition about promises and not by S. And in ordinary language we do sometimes use expressions like "p because p" to express some kind of fundamentality of p. I am not that happy with this solution, but can't think of another one that keeps the idea that fundamentality is defined in terms of grounding. Of course, one could take fundamentality to be fundamental.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Thought Special Issue: Time and Modality

Thought is having a special issue on the metaphysics of time and modality.  Deadline is the end of May.  Call for papers follows:
Metaphysicians of modality argue over whether ontology extends beyond the actual just as metaphysicians of time argue over whether ontology extends beyond the present; and we might also ask whether it is a stable position to hold that reality includes the non-present but not the non-actual. There are modal analogues of McTaggart's infamous argument for the unreality of time, and we can ask whether the modal and temporal arguments stand or fall together. We might wonder whether trans-world identity should be treated differently from identity across time, and whether if existence is contingent it must also be temporary, etc.

For this special issue of Thought we invite papers that make a contribution to either the metaphysics of time or of modality, or that illuminate the connections between them. Papers should correspond to the standard Thought guidelines and be no longer than 4500 words, including footnotes. Papers are to be submitted before 31st May 2013. When submitting please ensure you select article type as “The Metaphysics of Time and Modality Special Issue” to ensure your paper is reviewed via the special issue route.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Metaphysical Virtues

Hi Folks,

Thanks for the kind invite to join up. I thought I'd extend an invitation for any interested parties to attend Metaphysical Virtues, a conference being held this March 15th-17th at Western Michigan University. For those interested, more information can be found here: Metaphysical Virtues.