I have research interests in general metaphysics (modality, fundamentality, indeterminacy, metametaphysics), the metaphysics of science/mind (inter-theoretic relations; physicalism vs. emergentism, mental causation, the metaphysical status of forces), and epistemology (especially involving a priori deliberation about mathematical and modal claims).
Modality. One of my projects in modality involves assessing Hume's Dictum, the principle (roughly speaking) that there are no metaphysically necessary connections between distinct entities. In 'What is Hume's Dictum, and Why Believe It?' (Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 2010) and 'From Constitutional Necessities to Causal Necessities' (in Classifying Nature: The Semantics and Metaphysics of Natural Kinds, Helen Beebee and Nigel Leary, eds.), I argue that Hume's Dictum is not directly justified as either analytic or synthetic a priori; in 'Hume's Dictum and Natural Modality: Counterfactuals' (forthcoming in A Companion to David Lewis, Barry Loewer and Jonathan Schaffer, eds.) and 'Hume's Dictum and Natural Modality: Combinatorialism' (forthcoming in Chance and Temporal Asymmetry, Alastair Wilson, ed.), I assess whether Hume's Dictum is indirectly justified, as required by similarity-based accounts of counterfactuals or combinatorial accounts, respectively, of what is possible for natural (broadly scientific) entities. One of my SSHRC grants targets the production of a book on this topic, tentatively titled Hume's Dictum: On the Denial of Necessary Connections. In another area of modal investigation I present, along with Adam Murray, a new 'relativized' account of metaphysical modality ('Relativized Metaphysical Modality', forthcoming in Oxford Studies in Metaphysics, Karen Bennett and Dean Zimmerman, eds.), according to which what is metaphysically necessary and possible is relative to which world is indicatively actual.
Fundamentality, grounding, determinables and determinates, indeterminacy. In work on fundamentality I argue that there may be fundamental determinables ('Fundamental Determinables', forthcoming in Philosopher's Imprint), and I offer an account, inspired by the sort of framework common in the science involving both general laws and specific initial conditions, for making sense of how both determinables and determinates might jointly enter into a fundamental or relatively fundamental base for all else ('Determinables and Determinates Together in a Fundamental Base', in progress). I am slated to write the new Stanford Encyclopedia article on the determinable/determinate relation (expected completion summer 2012). In a recent project, I use a conception of determinables as potentially fundamental as a basis for a new account of metaphysical indeterminacy in the world; here the rough idea is that what it is for a given state of affairs to be metaphysically indeterminate is not (contrary to practically uniform assumption) for it to be indeterminate which of various determinate states of affairs obtains, but rather for it to be determinate (or just plain true) that a certain determinable state of affairs obtains---more specifically, a determinable state of affairs that is either not further determined or else is multiply determined ('Indeterminacy in the World', in progress). In a recent paper I also argue, against recent suggestions (by, e.g., Jonathan Schaffer and Gideon Rosen) that a single primitive relation of "grounding" is generally at issue in cases where some entities are supposed to hold "in virtue of" or to be "less fundamental than" or "nothing over and above" some others, that such a primitive relation cannot do the work it is supposed to do in illuminating the structure of metaphysical dependence, and moreover conflates a number of specific grounding relations ('The Multiplicity of Grounding', in progress).
Metametaphysics, philosophical progress, and metaphysical methodolology. In work on metametaphysics I provide reasons for thinking that the recent broadly semantic (especially quantificational) approach to metametaphysical investigations is misguided ('Much Ado about 'Something': Critical Notice of Metametaphysics', Analysis 2010). In work on the nature of philosophical progress I argue, with Benj Hellie, that philosophy differs from other, typically subject-matter-oriented disciplines in being primarily concerned with constructing and cultivating new theories that are of at least potential use to other disciplines ('The Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit of Theory', in progress). Using resources of our view I identify a (resolvable) tension between 'vertical' and 'horizontal' progress in philosophical contexts ('Three Dogmas of Metaphysical Methodology', forthcoming in a volume on philosophical methodology, Matthew Haug, ed.), whereby the rigorous development of a given theory (associated with 'vertical' philosophical progress) seems to require commitment to the presuppositions of the theory, contrary to the broader philosophical aim of ecumenically identifying and developing a diversity of theories (associated with 'horizontal' philosophical progress).
Intertheoretic relations and associated theses about natural reality. Much of my work in the metaphysics of science and mind has concerned how best to characterize intertheoretic relations (e.g., emergence, realization, the determinable-determinate relation) and notions (e.g., the physical) relevant to formulating certain comprehensive metaphysical theses about natural reality (especially reductive and non-reductive physicalism, and emergentism). In 'Supervenience-based Formulations of Physicalism' (Nous 2005) I argue against supervenience-based approaches to (nothing) over and aboveness; in 'How Superduper does a Physicalist Supervenience Need to Be?' (Philosophical Quarterly 1999) and 'Causal Powers, Forces, and Superdupervenience' (Grazer Philosophische Studien 2002), I offer alternative accounts of (nothing) over and aboveness based in powers and in fundamental forces/interactions, respectively; in 'On Characterizing the Physical' (Philosophical Studies 2006) I defend a physics-based 'no fundamental mentality' account of the physical; in 'Determination, Realization, and Mental Causation' (Philosophical Studies 2009) I argue that the determinable/determinate relation, properly understood, can provide a basis for understanding mental/physical realization; in 'Metaphysical Emergence: Weak and Strong' (forthcoming in Metaphysics and Science, Stephen Mumford and Matthew Tugby, eds.) I provide a two-part metaphysically-neutral-powers-based taxonomy of emergence (one kind being compatible with physicalism, one not); in 'Non-reductive Realization and the Powers-based Subset Strategy' (The Monist 2011, issue on powers), I defend an approach to such realization against opponents and competitors.
Specific investigations in the metaphysics of science: forces/interactions, degrees of freedom, non-linear phenomena, etc. I also have interests pertaining to certain broadly scientific notions---in particular, forces/interactions and degrees of freedom---which are both interesting in their own right and useful for illuminating philosophical debates. I advance an account of Newtonian forces as special science entities ('Newtonian Forces', British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 2007), argue that component forces do not exist in conjoined circumstances ('The Causal Argument against Component Forces', Dialectica 2010 issue on the metaphysics of vectors), and argue that attention to (reduction or elimination of) degrees of freedom as characteristic of certain special science entities makes room for non-reductive physicalism ('Non-reductive Physicalism and Degrees of Freedom', British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 2010). In recent work-in-progress I argue that my degrees of freedom-based account of weak emergence provides a basis for a properly metaphysical account of the kind of emergence at issue in non-linear phenomena ('The Metaphysical Basis of Non-linear Emergence', in progress) and phase transitions ('Two Routes to Emergence in the Thermodynamic Limit', in progress). Another of my SSHRC grants targets the production of a book on this topic, tentatively titled Metaphysical Emergence: The Ontological and Causal Autonomy of Special Science Entities.
Epistemology. In work on epistemology I have argued, by attention to tallying as the simplest form of counting, that (contra Albert Casullo) experience could not disconfirm the propositions of arithmetic (Canadian Journal of Philosophy, 1999). In a recent paper Stephen Biggs and I argue that objections to the epistemic two-dimensionalist strategy for reforging the link between a priority and necessity are objections not to the strategy per se, but to the conceivability-based epistemology of intensions that is assumed (for example, in David Chalmers's and Frank Jackson's implementation of the strategy); we argue that abduction is on a par with conceivability so far as eventuating in beliefs that are justified a priori, and we show how an abduction-based epistemology of intensions has the resources to respond to previous objections to epistemic two-dimensionalism ('Abductive Two-Dimensionalism: A New Route to the A Priori Identification of Necessary Truths', in progress).
This page created by Benj Hellie and maintained by Jessica Wilson
Last modified October 6, 2011