Research Overview


2. Fundamentality and Metaphysical Dependence (under contract)
Oxford University Press

1. Metaphysical Emergence Both the special sciences and ordinary experience suggest that there are metaphysically emergent entities and features: macroscopic goings-on (including mountains, trees, humans, and sculptures, and their characteristic properties) which depend on, yet are distinct from and distinctively efficacious with respect to, lower-level physical configurations and features. These appearances give rise to two key questions. First, what is metaphysical emergence, more precisely? Second, is there any metaphysical emergence, in principle and moreover in fact? Metaphysical Emergence provides clear and systematic answers to these questions. Wilson argues that there are two, and only two, forms of metaphysical emergence of the sort seemingly at issue in the target cases: 'Weak' emergence, whereby a dependent feature has a proper subset of the powers of the feature upon it depends, and 'Strong' emergence, whereby a dependent feature has a power not had by the feature upon which it depends. Weak emergence unifies and illuminates seemingly diverse accounts of non-reductive physicalism; Strong emergence does the same as regards seemingly diverse anti-physicalist views positing fundamental novelty at higher levels of compositional complexity. After defending the in-principle viability of each form of emergence, Wilson considers whether complex systems, ordinary objects, consciousness, and free will are actually metaphysically emergent. She argues that Weak emergence is quite common, and that there is Strong emergence in the important case of free will.
Oxford University Press (2021)


All co-authored publications are fully co-equal, with authors listed in alphabetical order. If you have difficulties accessing an article, feel free to email me for a copy.

45. On the Notion of Diachronic Emergence Is there a need for a distinctively diachronic conception of metaphysical emergence? Here I argue to the contrary. In the main, my strategy consists in considering a representative sample of accounts of purportedly diachronic metaphysical emergence, and arguing that in each case, the purportedly diachronic emergence at issue either can (and should) be subsumed under a broadly synchronic account of metaphysical emergence, or else is better seen as simply a case of causation. In addition, I consider and argue against the suggestion that 'in-principle unpredictability' accounts of diachronic emergence support there being distinctively diachronic metaphysical emergence.
Rethinking Emergence (Amanda Bryant and David Yates, eds.) forthcoming

44. Does Anti-exceptionalism About Logic Entail that Logic is A Posteriori? (with Stephen Biggs) The debate between exceptionalists and anti-exceptionalists about logic is often framed as concerning whether the justification of logical theories is a priori or a posteriori (for short: whether logic is a priori or a posteriori). As we substantiate (S1), this framing more deeply encodes the usual anti-exceptionalist thesis that logical theories, like scientific theories, are abductively justified, coupled with the common supposition that abduction is an a posteriori mode of inference, in the sense that the epistemic value of abduction is (and, indeed, must be) a posteriori. In past work, however, we have argued that this common supposition is incorrect: abduction is an a priori mode of inference, in the sense that the epistemic value of abduction is (and indeed, must be) a priori (Biggs and Wilson 2017a, 2017b, 2019). After sketching our two main argumentative strategies for this conclusion (S2), we go on (S3) to consider its import on the proper understanding of anti-exceptionalism about logic.
Synthese (2022) 200:1--17

43. Metaphysical Indeterminacy in the Multiverse (with Claudio Calosi) One might suppose that Everettian quantum mechanics (EQM) is inhospitable to metaphysial indeterminacy (MI), given that, as A. Wilson (2020) puts it, "the central idea of EQM is to replace indeterminacy with multiplicity" (77). But as Wilson goes on to suggest, the popular decoherence-based understanding of EQM (henceforth: DEQM) appears to admit of indeterminacy in both world number and world nature, where the latter indeterminacy---our focus here---is plausibly metaphysical. After a brief presentation of DEQM (S1), we bolster the case for there being MI in world nature in DEQM (S2). The remainder of the paper is devoted to a comparative assessment of the two main approaches to MI for purposes of accommodating this MI---namely, a metaphysical supervaluationist approach (as per Barnes and Williams 2011) and a determinable-based approach (as per Wilson 2013 and Calosi and Wilson 2018 and forthcoming). We briefly describe each approach (S3), then offer arguments in favour of a determinable-based approach to world nature MI in DEQM (S4).
Quantum Ontology and Fundamentality (Valia Allori, ed.) (2022). Springer:375--385

42. In Defense of Countabilism (with David Builes) Inspired by Cantor's Theorem (CT), orthodoxy takes infinities to come in different sizes. The orthodox view has had enormous influence in mathematics, philosophy, and science. We will defend the contrary view---Countablism---according to which, necessarily, every infinite collection (set or plurality) is countable. We first argue that the potentialist or modal strategy for treating Russell's Paradox, first proposed by Parsons (2000) and developed by Linnebo (2010, 2013) and Linnebo and Shapiro (2019), should also be applied to CT, in a way that vindicates Countabilism. Our discussion dovetails with recent independently developed treatments of CT in Meadows (2015), Pruss (2020), and Scambler (2021), aimed at establishing the mathematical viability, and therefore epistemic possibility, of Countabilism. Unlike these authors, our goal isn't to vindicate the mathematical underpinnings of Countabilism. Rather, we aim to argue that, given that Countabilism is mathematically viable, Countabilism should moreover be regarded as true. After clarifying the modal content of Countabilism, we canvas some of Countabilism's many positive implications, including that Countabilism provides the best account of the pervasive independence phenomena in set theory, and that Countabilism has the power to defuse several persistent puzzles and paradoxes found in physics and metaphysics. We conclude that in light of its theoretical and explanatory advantages, Countabilism is more likely true than not.
Philosophical Studies (2022) 179:2199--2236

41. On Mary Shepherd's Essay upon the Relation of Cause and Effect Mary Shepherd (1777-1847) was a fierce and brilliant critic of Berkeley and Hume, who moreover offered strikingly original positive views about the nature of reality and our access to it which deserve much more attention (and credit, since she anticipates many prominent views) than they have received thus far. By way of illustration, I focus on Shepherd's 1824 Essay Upon the Relation of Cause and Effect, Controverting the Doctrine of Mr. Hume, Concerning the Nature of that Relation (ERCE). Among other contributions here, Shepherd provides a distinctively metaphysical argument for the claim that nothing can begin to exist 'of itself' (going beyond an appeal to the Principle of Sufficient Reason), leverages difference-making considerations to make the case that a single 'experimentum crucis' can justify causal belief (anticipating Mill's 'method of difference'), offers an account of causation as singularist and local (anticipating Ducasse and Anscombe) and as involving synchronic interactions (anticipating Mill's and certain contemporary accounts), and offers an account of objects are essentially characterized by their causes and effects (anticipating contemporary causal or dispositional essentialist positions).
Neglected Classics of Philosophy, (Eric Schliesser, ed.) (2022), Oxford University Press

40. Quantum Indeterminacy and the Double-Slit Experiment (with Claudio Calosi) In Calosi and Wilson (Phil Studies 2019/2018), we argue that on many interpretations of quantum mechanics (QM), there is quantum mechanical indeterminacy (QMI), and that a determinable-based account of metaphysical indeterminacy (MI), as per Wilson 2013 and 2016, properly accommodates the full range of cases of QMI. Here we argue that this approach is superior to other treatments of QMI on offer, both realistic and deflationary, in providing the basis for an intelligible explanation of the interference patterns in the double-slit experiment.
Philosophical Studies (2021) 1--27, DOI=10.1007/s11098-021-01602-7

39. Between Scientism and Abstractionism in the Metaphysics of Emergence I identify two desiderata on an account of metaphysical emergence---first, that the account should make clear how reduction is avoided, and second, do so in an illuminating fashion; I then canvass representative accounts of metaphysical emergence, arguing that unlike powers-based accounts, `scientistic' and `abstractionist' accounts fail to satisfy one or the other criteria.
Routledge Handbook of Metaphysical Emergence (Sophie Gibb, Robin Hendry, and Tom Lancaster, eds.), (2019) 157--176

38. Relativized Metaphysical Modality: Index and Context (with Benj Hellie and Adam Murray) Relativized Metaphysical Modality (RMM: Murray and Wilson, 'Relativized metaphysical modality', Oxford Studies in Metaphysics, 2012; Murray, Perspectives on Modal Metaphysics, 2017) exploits 'two-dimensionalist' resources to metaphysical, rather than epistemological, ends: the second dimension offers perspective-dependence without contingency, diverting attacks on 'Classical' analyses of modals (in effect, analyses validating S5 and the Barcan Formulae). Here, we extend the RMM program in two directions. First, we harvest resources for RMM from Lewis's 1980 'Context--Index' (CI) framework: (a) the ban in CI on binding into context-arguments (akin to Kaplan's 'monstrosity' ban) projects a bright line between perspective-dependence and contingency; and (b) CI-postulated connections among meaning, content, truth, argument-structure, context, and modality collectively generate a 'Generalized Humphrey Problem' for any non-Classical analysis (examples covered include appeals to accessibility, contingent domains, and counterpart relations). Second, we sharpen the tools of RMM-based metaphysical analysis, and extend their domain of coverage across familiar anomalies for Classical modals: we revisit earlier RMM-based bulwarks for S5 (against 'Chisholm's Paradox' for moderate flexibility of essence, and nomological necessitarianism); and we now similarly shore up the Barcan Formulae (against the apparent contingency of existence and nonexistence).
The Routledge Handbook of Modality (Otavio Bueno and Scott Shalkowski, eds.) (2020) Routledge: 82--99

387 Abduction versus Conceiving in Modal Epistemology (with Stephen Biggs) How should modal reasoning proceed? Here we compare abduction-based and conceiving-based modal epistemologies, and argue that an abduction-based approach is preferable, and by a wide margin.
Synthese. (2018), DOI=10.1007/s11229-019-02117-9

36. Quantum Metaphysical Indeterminacy (with Claudio Calosi) On a wide variety of presently live interpretations, quantum mechanics violates the classical supposition of 'value definiteness', according to which the properties ('observables') of a given particle or system have precise values at all times. Here we consider whether two recent approaches to metaphysical indeterminacy---a metaphysical supervaluationist account, on the one hand, and a determinable-based account, on the other---can provide an intelligible basis for quantum value indeterminacy (QMI). We argue that previous arguments (Darby 2010, Skow 2010) according to which supervaluationism cannot accommodate QMI are unsuccessful; we then provide more comprehensive arguments for this conclusion, which moreover show that the problems for supervaluationism extend far beyond the orthodox interpretation. We go on to argue that a determinable-based approach can accommodate the full range of sources of quantum MI.
Philosophical Studies. (2019/2018) 176:2599--2627

35. Must Strong Emergence Collapse? (with Umut Baysan) Some claim that the notion of strong emergence as involving ontological or causal novelty makes no sense, on grounds that any purportedly strongly emergent features or associated powers 'collapse', one way or another, into the lower-level base features upon which they depend. Here we argue that there are several independently motivated and defensible means of preventing the collapse of strongly emergent features or powers into their lower-level bases, as directed against a conception of strongly emergent features as having fundamentally novel powers.
Philosophica (2017) 91: 49--104

34. Three Barriers to Philosophical Progress I argue that the present (if not insuperable) lack of fixed standards in philosophy is associated with three barriers to philosophical progress, pertaining to intra-disciplinary siloing, sociological rather than philosophical determinants of philosophical attention, and the encouraging of bias.
Philosophy's Future: The Problem of Philosophical Progress (Russell Blackford and Damien Broderick, eds.), (2017) 91--104

33. Abductive Two-Dimensionalism: A New Route to the A Priori Identification of Necessary Truths (w/ Stephen Biggs) Epistemic two-dimensional semantics (E2D), advocated by Chalmers (2006) and Jackson (1998), among others, aims to restore the link between necessity and a priority seemingly broken by Kripke (1972/1980), by showing how armchair access to semantic intensions provides a basis for knowledge of necessary a posteriori truths (among other modal claims). The most compelling objections to E2D are that, for one or other reason, the requisite intensions are not accessible from the armchair (see, e.g., Wilson 1982, Melnyk 2008). As we substantiate here, existing versions of E2D are indeed subject to such access-based objections. But, we moreover argue, the difficulty lies not with E2D but with the typically presupposed conceiving-based epistemology of intensions. Freed from that epistemology, and given the right alternative---one where inference to the best explanation (i.e., abduction) provides the operative guide to intensions---E2D can meet access-based objections, and fulfill its promise of restoring the desirable link between necessity and a priority. This result serves as a central application of Biggs and Wilson 2016 (summarized here), according to which abduction is an a priori mode of inference.
Synthese (2020) 197:59--93 (published online in 2017)

32. Determinables and Determinates This is a comprehensive discussion of determinables, determinates, and their relation ('determination', for short), covering the historical development of these notions, the theoretical options for understanding them, and certain of their contemporary applications.
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2017).

31. Are There Indeterminate States of Affairs? Yes Here I compare two accounts of metaphysical indeterminacy (MI): first, the 'meta-level' approach described by Elizabeth Barnes and Ross Cameron in the companion to this paper, on which every state of affairs (SOA) is itself precise/determinate, and MI is a matter of its being indeterminate which determinate SOA obtains; second, my preferred 'object-level' determinable-based approach, on which MI is a matter of its being \emph{determinate}---or just plain true---that an indeterminate SOA obtains, where an indeterminate SOA is one whose constitutive object has a determinable property, but no unique determinate of that determinable. In S1, I first note an important difference between our accounts, concerning whether MI is taken to induce propositional indeterminacy; in S2, I highlight and defend certain advantages of my account; in S3, I address certain of Barnes and Cameron's objections to my account.
in Current Controversies in Metaphysics (Elizabeth Barnes, ed.) (2017) 105--125.

30. Grounding-based Formulations of Physicalism I problematize Grounding-based formulations of physicalism. I argue, first, that motivations for adopting a Grounding-based formulation of physicalism are unsound; second, that such formulations lack illuminating content and that attempts to stipulate content are problematic; third, that conceptions of Grounding as constitutively connected to metaphysical explanation conflate metaphysics and epistemology, are ultimately either circular or self-undermining, and controversially assume that physical dependence is incompatible with explanatory gaps; fourth, that to appropriately distinguish physicalism from strong emergentism, a Grounding-based formulation must introduce one and likely two primitives in addition to Grounding (NOTE: the overall argument of this section develops an argument I previously gave in footnote 27 of 'No Work for a Theory of Grounding', Inquiry 2014, but the paragraph beginning with "More promising, perhaps, is the orthodox view" presents unpublished work by Stephen Leuenberger based on a talk I heard in 2015 and slides I requested but forgot to cite; a correction has been published and is available on PhilPapers with some backstory in the abstract); and fifth, that understanding physical dependence in terms of Grounding gives rise to 'spandrel' questions, including, e.g., 'What Grounds Grounding?', which arise only due to the overly abstract nature of Grounding.
Topoi (2016) doi: 10.1007/s11245-016-9435-7

29. The A Priority of Abduction (with Stephen Biggs) Here we challenge the orthodoxy according to which abduction is an a posteriori mode of inference. We start by providing a case study illustrating how abduction can justify a philosophical claim not justifiable by empirical evidence alone. While many grant abduction's epistemic value, nearly all assume that abductive justification is a posteriori, on grounds that our belief in abduction's epistemic value depends on empirical evidence about how the world contingently is. Contra this assumption, we argue, first, that our belief in abductionÕs epistemic value is not and could not be justified a posteriori, and second, that attention to the roles experience plays in abductive justification supports taking abduction to be an a priori mode of inference. We close by highlighting how our strategy for establishing the a priority of abduction positively contrasts with strategies in Bonjour (1998), Swinburne (2001), and Peacocke (2004) aiming to establish the a priority of certain ampliative modes of inference or abductive principles.
Philosophical Studies (2017) 174:735--758 (published online in 2016)

28. Free Will and Mental Quausation (with Sara Bernstein) Free will, if such there be, involves free choosing: the ability to mentally choose an outcome, where the outcome is 'free' in being, in some substantive sense, up to the agent of the choice. As such, it is clear that the questions of how to understand free will and mental causation are connected, for events of seemingly free choosing are mental events that appear to be efficacious vis-a-vis other mental events as well as physical events. Nonetheless, the free will and mental causation debates have proceeded largely independently of each other. Here we aim to make progress in determining how the free will and mental causation debates bear on one another. We first argue that the problems of free will and of mental causation can be seen as special cases of a more general problem, concerning whether and how mental events of a given type may be efficacious, qua the types of event they are---qualitative, intentional, freely deliberative---given their apparent causal irrelevancy for effects of the type in question; here we generalize what Horgan 1989 identifies as 'the problem of mental quausation' (S1). We then build on this result to identify fruitful parallels between hard determinism and eliminative physicalism (S2) and soft determinism and non-reductive physicalism (S3).
Journal of the American Philosophical Association (2016) 2:310-331

27. The Unity and Priority Arguments for Grounding Grounding, understood as a primitive posit operative in contexts where metaphysical dependence is at issue, is not able on its own to do any substantive work in characterizing or illuminating metaphysical dependence---or so I argue in 'No Work for a Theory of Grounding' (Inquiry, 2014). Such illumination rather requires appeal to specific metaphysical relations---type or token identity, functional realization, the determinable-determinate relation, the mereological part-whole relation, and so on---of the sort typically at issue in these contexts. In that case, why posit 'big-G' Grounding in addition to the 'small-g' grounding relations already in the metaphysician's toolkit? The best reasons for doing so stem from the Unity argument, according to which the further posit of Grounding is motivated as an apt unifier of the specific relations, and the Priority argument, according to which Grounding is needed in order to fix the direction of priority of the specific relations. I previously considered versions of these arguments, and argued that they did not succeed; in two papers, however, Jonathan Schaffer aims to develop a better version of the Unity argument, and offers certain objections to my reasons for rejecting the Priority argument. Here I consider these new arguments for Grounding.
in Scientific Composition and Metaphysical Ground (Ken Aizawa and Carl Gillett, eds.) (2016) 171--204

26. Carnap, the Necessary A Posteriori, and Metaphysical Anti-realism (with Stephen Biggs) In Meaning and Necessity (1947/1950), Carnap advances an intensional semantic framework on which modal claims are true in virtue of semantical rules alone, and so are a priori. In 'Empiricism, Semantics, and Ontology' (1950), Carnap advances an epistemic-ontological framework on which metaphysical claims are either trivial or meaningless, since lacking any means of substantive confirmation. Carnap carried out these projects two decades before Kripke influentially argued, in Naming and Necessity (1972/1980), that some modal claims are true a posteriori. How should a neo-Carnapian respond to Kripke's results? Some (notably, Chalmers and Jackson, in their 2001) have suggested that an extension of intensional semantics along lines of "epistemic two-dimensionalism" can accommodate Kripke's results while largely preserving commitment to the semantics-based a priority of modal claims. Here we consider how best to implement this suggestion, and how the resulting semantics fits with Carnap's second project. We find that the most promising (and most Carnapian!) post-Kripke version of CarnapÕs semantics---abductive two-dimensionalism---presupposes an epistemology which undermines Carnap's metaphysical anti-realism.
Ontology After Carnap (Stephen Blatti and Sandra LaPointe, eds.) (2016) 81--101

25. Essence and Dependence I argue that Kit Fine's essence-based account of ontological dependence is subject to various counterexamples. I first discuss Fine's distinctive 'schema-based' approach to metaphysical theorizing, which aims to identify general principles accommodating any intelligible application of the notion(s) at issue. I then raise concerns about the general principles Fine takes to schematically characterize the notions of essence and dependence, which principles enter into his account of ontological dependence. The problem, roughly speaking, is that Fine supposes that an object's essence makes reference just to what it ontologically depends on, but various cases suggest that an object's essence can also make reference to what ontologically depends on it. As such, Fine's essence-based account of ontological dependence is subject to the same objection he raises against modal accounts of essence and dependence---that is, of being insufficiently ecumenical.
Metaphysics, Meaning and Modality: Themes from Kit Fine (Mircea Dumitru, ed.) (2020) 283--300

24. Metaphysical Emergence: Weak and Strong Metaphysical emergence combines broadly synchronic dependence with some degree of ontological and causal autonomy, as motivated, in particular, by the seeming broadly hierarchical structure of the sciences. Reflecting the diverse, frequently incompatible interpretations of the notions of dependence and autonomy, however, accounts of emergence diverge into a bewildering variety. Here I argue that much of this apparent diversity is superficial. By attention to strategies for resolving the problem of higher-level causation, I identify two distinct schema for metaphysical emergence---'Weak' and 'Strong' emergence, respectively. Each schema imposes a condition on the powers of (features of) entities taken to be emergent: Strong emergence (associated with British emergentism) requires that higher-level features have more token powers than their dependence base features, whereas (following Wilson 1999) Weak emergence (associated with non-reductive physicalism) requires that higher-level features have a proper subset of the token powers of their dependence base features. Importantly, the notion of 'power' at issue here is metaphysically neutral, primarily reßecting commitment just to the plausible thesis that what causes an entity may (perhaps only contingently) bring about are associated with how the entity is---that is, with its features.
Metaphysics in Contemporary Physics; Poznan Studies in the Philosophy of the Sciences and the Humanities (Tomasz Bigaj and Christian Wuthrich, eds.) (2015) 251--306

23. Hume's Dictum and Metaphysical Modality: Lewis's Combinatorialism Many contemporary philosophers accept Hume's Dictum (HD), according to which there are no metaphysically necessary connections between distinct, intrinsically typed entities; but clear reasons to accept this thesis have been lacking. Tacit in Lewis's work is a potential motivation for HD, according to which one should accept HD as presupposed by the best account of the range of metaphysical possibilities---namely, a combinatorial account, applied to spatiotemporal fundamenta. Here I elucidate and assess this Ludovician motivation for HD. Most criticisms of LewisÕs combinatorialism have targeted seeming ways in which the theory overgenerates the desired space, letting in as possible what, by some or other lights, is impossible; I rather argue that Lewis's combinatorialism seriously undergenerates the desired space, for possibilities involving broadly scientific entities in particular.
The Blackwell Companion to David Lewis (Barry Loewer and Jonathan Schaffer, eds.) (2015) 138--158)

22. No Work for a Theory of Grounding It has recently been suggested that a distinctive metaphysical relation---"Grounding"---is ultimately at issue in contexts where some goings-on are said to hold "in virtue of"", be (constitutively) "metaphysically dependent on", or be "nothing over and above" some others (see Fine 2001, Schaffer 2009, and Rosen 2010). Grounding is supposed to do good work (better than merely modal notions, in particular) in illuminating metaphysical dependence. I argue that Grounding is also unsuited to do this work. To start, Grounding alone cannot do this work, for bare claims of Grounding leave open such basic questions as whether Grounded goings-on exist, whether they are reducible to or rather distinct from Grounding goings-on, whether they are efficacious, and so on; but in the absence of answers to such basic questions, we are not in position to assess the associated claim or theses concerning metaphysical dependence. There is no avoiding appeal to the specific metaphysical relations typically at issue in investigations into dependence---e.g., type or token identity, functional realization, classical mereological parthood, the set membership relation, the proper subset relation, the determinable/determinate relation, and so on---that are typically at issue in contexts where metaphysical dependence is at issue, and which are capable of answering these questions. But, I argue, once the specific relations are on the scene, there is no need for Grounding, either as tracking a coarse-grained but still useful level of investigation, as needed for the specific relations to fix the direction of priority, or as unifying the specific relations.
Inquiry (2014) 57:535--579

21. A Determinable-based Account of Metaphysical Indeterminacy Many phenomena appear to be indeterminate, including material macro-object boundaries, predicates or properties admitting of borderline cases, and certain open future claims. Here I provide an account of indeterminacy in metaphysical, rather than semantic or epistemic, terms. Previous such accounts have been "meta-level" accounts, taking metaphysical indeterminacy (MI) to involve its being indeterminate which of various determinate states of affairs obtain. On my alternative, "object-level" account, MI involves its being determinate (or just plain true) that an indeterminate (less than maximally specific) SOA obtains. I more specifically suggest that MI involves an object's (i) having a determinable property, but (ii) not having any unique determinate of that determinable. I motivate the needed extension of the traditional understanding of determinables, then argue that a determinable-based account of MI accommodates, in intuitive and intelligible fashion, indeterminacy in both material object boundaries and in the open future, while satisfactorily treating the usual concerns to accounts of MI stemming from Evans's argument and the problem of the many.
Inquiry (2013) 56:359--385

20. Three Dogmas of Metaphysical Methodology In what does philosophical progress consist? 'Vertical' progress corresponds to development within a specific paradigm/framework for theorizing (of the sort associated, revolutions aside, with science); 'horizontal' progress corresponds to the identification and cultivation of diverse paradigms (of the sort associated, conservativism aside, with art and pure mathematics). Philosophical progress seems to involve both horizontal and vertical dimensions, in a way that is somewhat puzzling: philosophers work in a number of competing frameworks (like artists or mathematicians), while typically maintaining that only one of these is correct (like scientists). I diagnose this situation as reflecting that we are presently quite far from the end of inquiry into philosophical methodology. The good news is that we appear to be making advances on this score. The bad news is that failure to recognize or make explicit that our standards are in flux often leads to dogmatism, as I illustrate by attention to three assumptions presently operative in metaphysical and metametaphysical contexts. I close by identifying a tension between vertical and horizontal progress in philosophy, and suggesting an updated version of Carnap's principle of tolerance for new philosophical forms.
Philosophical Methodology: The Armchair or the Laboratory? (Matthew Haug, ed.) (2014) 145-165

19. The Regress Argument against Cartesian Skepticism I argue that Cartesian skepticism about the external world leads to a vicious regress of skeptical attitudes, the only principled and unproblematic response to which requires refraining from taking the very first skeptical step.
Analysis (October 2012) 72:668-773

18. Hume's Dictum and the Asymmetry of Counterfactual Dependence Why believe Hume's Dictum, according to which there are, roughly speaking, no necessary connections between wholly distinct entities? Schaffer ('Quiddistic Knowledge', 2009) suggests that HD, at least as applied to causal or nomological connections, is motivated as required by the best account of (the truth) of counterfactuals---namely, a similarity-based possible worlds account, where the operative notion of similarity requires 'miracles'---more specifically, worlds where entities of the same type that actually exist enter into different laws. The main cited motivations for such an account of similarity are first, that some salient contexts presuppose CF asymmetry, and second, that accounts of CFs failing to presuppose CF asymmetry are epistemologically problematic, such that under conditions of determinism, the variations in initial micro-conditions needed to implement a given counterfactual antecedent would result in so many changes to macro-states that evaluation of CFs would be rendered practically impossible. Against the first reason, I argue that no non-artificial contexts presuppose CF asymmetry; against the second, I observe that such micro-variation is compatible, in principle, with significant similarity as regards macroscopic states of affairs---enough, in particular, to allow CFs to be appropriately evaluated.
Chance and Temporal Asymmetry (Alastair Wilson, ed.) (2014) 258--279

17. Nonlinearity and Metaphysical Emergence The nonlinearity of a composite system, whereby certain of its features (including powers and behaviors) cannot be seen as linear or other broadly additive combinations of features of the system's composing entities, has been frequently seen as a mark of metaphysical emergence, coupling the dependence of a composite system on an underlying system of composing entities with the composite system's ontological autonomy from its underlying system. But why think that nonlinearity is a mark of emergence, and moreover, of metaphysical rather than merely epistemological emergence? Are there diverse ways in which nonlinearity might enter into an account of properly metaphysical emergence? And what are the prospects for there actually being phenomena that are metaphysically emergent in any available sense? Here I explore the mutual bearing of nonlinearity and metaphysical emergence, with an eye towards answering these and related questions.
Metaphysics and Science (Stephen Mumford and Matthew Tugby, eds.) (2013) 201-235

16. Fundamental Determinables Contemporary philosophers commonly suppose that any fundamental entities there may be are maximally determinate, or that in any case determinables are grounded in, hence less fundamental than, more determinate entities. Here I argue that the usually cited reasons for these suppositions are not compelling; I moreover identify a positive reason for taking some determinable entities to be part of a fundamental (or relatively fundamental) base.
Philosophers' Imprint' (January 2012) 12:1--17

15. Relativized Metaphysical Modality (with Adam Murray) It is commonly supposed that metaphysical modal claims are to be evaluated with respect to a single domain of possible worlds: a claim is metaphysically necessary just in case it is true in every possible world, and metaphysically possible just in case it is true in some possible world. We argue that the standard understanding is incorrect; rather, whether a given claim is metaphysically necessary or possible is relative to which world is indicatively actual. We motivate our view by attention to discussions in Salmon 1989 and Fine 2005, in which various data are taken to support rejecting the transitivity of accessibility (Salmon) and modal monism (Fine); we argue that relativized metaphysical modality can accommodate these data compatible with both standard modal logic(s) and modal monism. Noting an analogy with two-dimensional semantics, we argue that metaphysical modality has a complex structure, reflecting what is counterfactually possible, relative to each indicatively actual world. In arguing for the need for relativization, we are broadly on the same side with Crossley and Humberstone (1977) and Davies and Humberstone (1979); our contribution here is, first, to offer distinctively metaphysical reasons for relativization, and second, to show that relativization can be incorporated in ways minimally departing from standard modal logic(s).
Oxford Studies in Metaphysics (2012) (Karen Bennett and Dean Zimmerman, eds.) Oxford: Oxford University Press; 189-286

14. Much Ado about 'Something': Critical Notice of Metametaphysics Every paper in this collection is worth reading, for one reason or another. Still, due to certain problematic metametaphysical presuppositions most of these discussions miss the deeper mark, on the pessimist as well as the optimist side. The moral is that real progress in metametaphysics is likely to occur less by attention to semantic issues pertaining to representation, translation and quantification and more to non-semantic issues pertaining to epistemology and metaphysical determinacy.
Analysis (2011) 71:172--188

13. Non-reductive Realization and the Powers-based Subset Strategy I argue that satisfaction of a certain condition on token powers is sufficient and plausibly necessary for non-reductive realization. (Here I refine and defend the powers-based subset strategy first presented in Wilson 1999.) In terms of states, the condition requires that the token powers of a realized state on an occasion be a proper subset of the token powers of the realizing state on that occasion. I motivate the strategy and argue that it does not require endorsement of a causal essentialist account of properties/states; I argue that it makes room for realized states to be ontologically and causally autonomous, without inducing problematic causal overdetermination, and compatible with both Physicalism and Non-reduction; I show that several accounts of non-reductive realization arguably implement the strategy; I argue that alternative accounts (in terms of supervenience, token identity, and constitution) are problematic.
The Monist issue on powers (2011) 94:121--154

12. What is Hume's Dictum, and Why Believe It? Hume's Dictum (HD) says, roughly and typically, that there are no metaphysically necessary connections between distinct, intrinsically typed, entities. HD plays an influential role in metaphysical debate, both in constructing theories and in assessing them. One should ask of such an influential thesis: why believe it? Proponents do not accept Hume's arguments for his dictum, nor do they provide their own; however, some have suggested either that HD is analytic or that it is synthetic a priori (that is: motivated by intuitions we have no good reason to question). Here I explore whether belief in HD is directly justified on either grounds. I motivate and present more formal characterizations of HD; I show that there are good prima facie cases to be made for HD's being analytic and for its being synthetic a priori; I argue that each of the prima facie cases fails, some things considered.
Philosophy and Phenomenological Research (2010) 80:595--637

11. Non-reductive Physicalism and Degrees of Freedom Some claim that Non-reductive Physicalism (NRP) is an unstable position, on grounds that NRP either collapses into reductive physicalism (contra Non-reduction), or expands into emergentism of a robust or ``strong'' variety (contra Physicalism). I argue that this claim is unfounded, by attention to the notion of a degree of freedom---roughly, an independent parameter needed to specify states upon which the law-governed properties and behavior of a given (type of) entity functionally depend. In particular, I argue that what I call "eliminations in DOF"---when strictly fewer degrees of freedom are required to characterize certain special science entities than are required to characterize (systems consisting of) their composing physical/physically acceptable entities---provide a basis for making sense of how certain special science entities can be both physically acceptable and ontologically irreducible to physical entities.
British Journal for Philosophy of Science (2010) 61:279--311

10. From Constitutional Necessities to Causal Necessities Humeans and non-Humeans typically agree that there may be necessary connections between entities that are identical or merely partly distinct. Following Hume's Dictum (HD), however, Humeans maintain that there are no necessary causal connections between wholly distinct entities. The Humean's differential treatment appears principled, in that commonly accepted necessary connections involve constitutional relations, whereas causally connected entities do not constitute each other. I argue that the best account of what facts in the world plausibly warrant our beliefs in certain constitutional necessities involving natural kinds, known either a priori (`necessarily, everything scarlet is red') or a posteriori (`necessarily, anything that is an electron is negatively charged')---shows that the appearance of principle is not genuine, as per Constitutional -> Causal: If one accepts certain constitutional necessities, one should accept certain causal necessities.
Classifying nature: the semantics and metaphysics of natural kinds, Helen Beebee and Nigel Sabbarton-Leary, eds. (2010) New York: Routledge; 192--211

9. The Causal Argument against Component Forces Do component forces exist in conjoined circumstances? Cartwright (1980) says no; Creary (1981) says yes. I'm on Cartwright's side in this matter, but find several problems with her argumentation. My primary aims in this paper are first, to canvass these problems and second, to present a better, distinctly causal, argument against component forces. A secondary aim is to show that rejecting component forces does not require, pace Cartwright, rejecting the 'facticity' account of laws of nature, according to which laws express facts about what happens.
Dialectica issue on forces (2010) 63:525--554

8. Determination, Realization, and Mental Causation How can mental properties bring about physical effects, as they seem to do, given that the physical realizers of the mental goings-on are already sufficient to cause these effects? This question gives rise to the problem of mental causation (MC) and its associated threats of causal overdetermination, mental causal exclusion, and mental causal irrelevance. Some (e.g., the Macdonalds and Yablo) have suggested that understanding mental-physical realization in terms of the determinable/determinate relation (henceforth, `determination') avoids all three threats. Others (e.g., Ehring, Funkhauser, and Walter) have objected that mental-physical realization can't be determination, since such realization lacks one or other characteristic feature of determination. I argue that on a proper understanding of the features of determination key to solving the problem of MC these arguments can be resisted.
Philosophical Studies (2009) 145:149--169

7. Resemblance-based Resources for Reductive Singularism Following Hume, it has been commonly assumed that Causal reductionism requires Causal generalism (whereby causal relations are constituted, in part, by causal laws). I argue that causal reductionists have resources for making sense of Causal singularism, associated with an underexploited relation: resemblance. The core idea I explore is that causation may be metaphysically and epistemologically indicated by the coming-to-be of a resemblance. Comings-to-be of resemblances are epistemically available in the singular instance, and can justify singular causal belief; hence Hume's general argument for generalism fails. Such resemblances also provide valuable resources for contemporary singularist accounts: while neither changes (Ducasse) nor transfers of physical quantities (Fair, Dowe, Salmon) provide a sufficiently fine-grained basis for the individuation of causes, either changes or transfers, in combination with comings-to-be of resemblances, can do so.
The Monist issue on singularist causation (2009) 92:153--190

6. Newtonian Forces Newtonian forces are pushes and pulls, possessing magnitude and direction, that are exerted (in the first instance) by objects, and which cause motions. I defend Newtonian forces against the four best reasons for denying or doubting their existence: (1) that Newtonian mechanics is unfit to deliver ontological conclusions on grounds of having been superseded by energy-based theories; (2) that Newtonian forces are unobservable, and hence are, at best, instrumentalist fictions; (3) that since we can construct a theory empirically equivalent to Newtonian mechanics that eliminates all reference to forces, Ockhamís razor counsels accepting the more parsimonious theory, and rejecting forces; and (4) that since Newtonian forces cause effects that non-force entities already cause, the posit of forces leads to an unacceptable problem of causal overdetermination. A running theme in my defense of forces will be the suggestion that NM is a special science, and as such has certain prima facie ontological rights and privileges, that may be maintained against various challenges.
British Journal for Philosophy of Science (2007) 58:173--205

5. On Characterizing the Physical How should physical entities be characterized? Physicalists, who have most to do with the notion, usually characterize the physical by reference to two components: 1. The physical entities are the entities treated by fundamental physics with the proviso that 2. Physical entities are not fundamentally mental (that is, do not individually possess or bestow mentality) Here I explore the extent to which the appeals to fundamental physics and to the NFM (no fundamental mentality) constraint are appropriate for characterizing the physical, especially for purposes of formulating physicalism. Ultimately, I motivate and defend a version of an account incorporating both components: The physics-based NFM account: An entity existing at a world w is physical iff (i) it is treated, approximately accurately, by current or future (in the limit of inquiry, ideal) versions of fundamental physics at w, and (ii) it is not fundamentally mental (that is, does not individually either possess or bestow mentality)
Philosophical Studies (2006) 131:61--99

4. Supervenience-based Formulations of Physicalism The physicalist thesis that all entities are nothing over and above physical entities is often interpreted as appealing to a supervenience-based account of "nothing over and aboveness”, where, schematically, the A-entities are nothing over and above the B-entities if the A-entities supervene on the B-entities. The main approaches to filling in this schema correspond to different ways of characterizing the modal strength, the supervenience base, or the supervenience connection at issue. I consider each approach in turn, and argue that the resulting formulation of physicalism is compatible with physicalism’s best traditional rival: a naturalist emergentism. Others have argued that supervenience-based formulations of physicalism fail. My aim here, besides addressing the full spectrum of supervenience-based approaches, is to show how certain philosophical and scientific theses concerning naturalism, properties, and laws give us new reasons to think that supervenience-based formulations of physicalism are untenable.
Nous (2005) 29:426--459

3. Causal Powers, Forces, and Superdupervenience Horgan (1993) proposed that \superdupervenience"|supervenience preserving physicalistic acceptability|is a matter of robust explanation. I argued against him (1999) that (as nearly all physicalist and emergentist accounts respect) superdupervenience is a matter of Condition on Causal Powers (CCP): every causal power bestowed by the supervenient property is identical with a causal power bestowed by its base property. Here I identify a problem with CCP: it threatens to render physicalism trivially true, for on standard accounts of causation, a necessitating entity inherits every causal power of any entity it necessitates. I offer a revised version of a causal powers account not rendering physicalism trivially true, based in the fact that causal powers are grounded in particular sets of fundamental forces or interactions. The revised account (which applies to cases of diachronic as well as synchronic necessitation) characterizes over and aboveness in 'force-relative' terms (such that, e.g., a physicalist would maintain, and an emergentist would deny, that no mental state had or bestowed a causal power that its necessitating brain state didn't bestow, relative to the set of fundamental physical forces/interactions).
Grazer Philosophische Studien (2002) 63:53--78

2. Could Experience Disconfirm the Propositions of Arithmetic? Alberto Casullo ("Necessity, Certainty, and the A Priori", Canadian Journal of Philosophy 18, 1988) argues that arithmetical propositions could be disconfirmed by appeal to an invented scenario, wherein our standard counting procedures indicate that 2 + 2 != 4. Our best response to such a scenario would be, Casullo suggests, to accept the results of the counting procedures, and give up standard arithmetic. While Casullo's scenario avoids arguments against previous "disconfirming" scenarios, it founders on the assumption, common to scenario and response, that arithmetic might be independent of standard counting procedures. Here I show, by attention to tallying as the simplest form of counting, that this assumption is incoherent: given standard counting procedures, then (on pain of irrationality) arithmetical theory follows. §
Canadian Journal of Philosophy (2000) 30:55--84

1. How Superduper does a Physicalist Supervenience Need to Be? Horgan claims that physicalism requires "superdupervenience" -- supervenience plus robust ontological explanation of supervenient in terms of base properties. I argue that Horgan's account fails to rule out physically unacceptable emergence. I rather suggest that this and other unacceptable possibilities may be ruled out by requiring that each individual causal power in the set associated with a given supervenient property be numerically identical with a causal power in the set associated with its base property. Satisfying this condition is all that is needed to render supervenience superduper. I go on to show that a wide variety of physicalist accounts, both reductive and non-reductive, are implicitly or explicitly designed to meet this condition, and so are more similar than they seem.
Philosophical Quarterly (1999) 49:33--52

Shorter things

9. Review of Ehring's Tropes Mind (2020) DOI=10.1093/mind/fzaa047
8. Review of Morris's Physicalism Deconstructed: Levels of Reality and the Mind-Body Problem Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews (2020)
7. Comments on Karen Bennett's Making Things Up Philosophy and Phenomenological Research (2019) DOI=10.1111/phpr.12583
6. The Question of Metaphysics The Philosophers' Magazine (Summer 2016) 90--96
5. Review of Martin's The Mind in Nature Mind (2010) 119:503--511
4. Review of Rodriguez-Pereyra's Resemblance Nominalism Philosophy and Phenomenological Research (2006) 72:241--246
3. Force Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2006):690--692 (addendum to Max Black's entry)
2. Causality The Philosophy of Science: An Encyclopedia (2006):90--100
1. Review of Perry's Knowledge, Possibility, and Consciousness The Philosophical Review (2002) 111(4):598--601


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