- This volume is based on the lectures given in London as The Royal Institute of Philosophy’s annual lecture series for 2016–7. The topic chosen for the series was Metaphysics, an area where at the moment there is much exciting and innovative work being done. As will be clear from the list of authors, many of the leading figures in contemporary metaphysics are represented here. The volume thus testifies to the fruitfulness of the subject, as well as making a significant contribution to its development.
- Several papers in the volume consider the nature of metaphysical explanation, its scope and limits. The currently fashionable notion of grounding is taken up by a number of our authors, while there are also papers arguing for optimism about the potential scope of metaphysical explanation and against conservative restrictions on what should be countenanced in metaphysics. The prospects for a Fregean account of number are considered, as well as the question of quantifier variance.
- As would be expected, there are papers on such central metaphysical topics as essence, necessity, possibility and identity. Ranging wider, and testifying to the breadth of metaphysics as a subject, there are treatments of free will, of solipsism in Wittgenstein’s philosophy of the 1930s, of the nature of social practices, of the notion that the conceptual recommendations of metaphysics are to do with assessing and perhaps changing the way we live, and also a consideration of the ontological status of the foetus and the unborn child.
- We have, unfortunately, to note with deep sadness the death in December 2017 of one of our contributors, Bob Hale. Bob was a much admired figure philosophically and personally, and while he was able to give his lecture, in the preparation of his paper for publication we have been assisted by Jessica Leech, another of our contributors, to whom we are very grateful.
- On behalf of the Royal Institute of Philosophy, I would like to express thanks to all the contributors, both for their lectures, and for their written contributions, and also to Adam Ferner for compiling the index.
Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplements, Volume 82 (Metaphysics) - July 2018
"Button (Tim) - Wittgenstein on Solipsism in the 1930s: Private Pains, Private Languages, and Two Uses of ‘I’"
Source: Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplements, Volume 82 (Metaphysics) - July 2018, pp. 205-229
- In the early-to-mid 1930s, Wittgenstein investigated solipsism via the philosophy of language. In this paper, I want to reopen Wittgenstein’s ‘grammatical’ examination of solipsism.
- Wittgenstein begins by considering the thesis that only I can feel my pains. Whilst this thesis may tempt us towards solipsism, Wittgenstein points out that this temptation rests on a grammatical confusion concerning the phrase ‘my pains’. In §1, I unpack and vindicate his thinking.
- After discussing ‘my pains’, Wittgenstein makes his now famous suggestion that the word ‘I’ has two distinct uses: a subject-use and an object-use. The purpose of Wittgenstein’s suggestion has, however, been widely misunderstood. I unpack it in §2, explaining how the subject-use connects with a phenomenological language, and so again tempts us into solipsism.
- In §§3–4, I consider various stages of Wittgenstein’s engagement with this kind of solipsism, culminating in a rejection of solipsism (and of subject-uses of ‘I’) via reflections on private languages.
"Fairchild (Maegan) & Hawthorne (John) - Against Conservatism in Metaphysics"
Source: Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplements, Volume 82 (Metaphysics) - July 2018, pp. 45-75
- In his recent book1, Daniel Korman contrasts ontological conservatives with permissivists and eliminativists about ontology. Roughly speaking,
- Conservatives admit the existence of ‘ordinary objects’ like trees, dogs, and snowballs, but deny the existence of ‘extraordinary objects’, like composites of trees and dogs (‘trogs’).
- Eliminativists, on the other hand, deny many or all ordinary objects, while
- Permissivists accept both ordinary and extraordinary objects.
- Our aim in this paper is to outline some of our reasons for being drawn to permissivism, as well as some of our misgivings about conservative metaphysics.
- In the first section, we discuss a tempting epistemic line of argument against conservatism. This isn’t a line of argument we find especially promising.
- Our most basic complaint against conservatism is not that conservatism has poor epistemic standing even if true, but instead that conservatism is weird. We develop this thought in the second part of the paper.
- In the final section we discuss some larger methodological issues about the project of ontology.
In-Page Footnotes ("Fairchild (Maegan) & Hawthorne (John) - Against Conservatism in Metaphysics")
Footnote 1: Daniel Korman, Objects: Nothing Out of the Ordinary (Oxford University Press, 2015).
"Finn (Suki) & Bueno (Otávio) - Quantifier Variance Dissolved"
Source: Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplements, Volume 82 (Metaphysics) - July 2018, pp. 289-307
- Quantifier variance faces a number of difficulties.
- In this paper we first formulate the view as holding that the meanings of the quantifiers may vary, and that languages using different quantifiers may be charitably translated into each other.
- We then object to the view on the basis of four claims:
- quantifiers cannot vary their meaning extensionally by changing the domain of quantification;
- quantifiers cannot vary their meaning intensionally without collapsing into logical pluralism;
- quantifier variance is not an ontological doctrine;
- quantifier variance is not compatible with charitable translation and as such is internally inconsistent.
- In light of these troubles, we recommend the dissolution of quantifier variance and suggest that the view be laid to rest.
"Hale (Bob) - The Basis of Necessity and Possibility"
Source: Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplements, Volume 82 (Metaphysics) - July 2018, pp. 109-138
- The article argues that modal concepts should be explained in terms of the essences or nature of things:
- necessarily p if, and because, there is something the nature of which ensures that p;
- possibly p if, and because, there is nothing whose nature rules out its being true that p.
- The theory is defended against various objections and difficulties, including ones arising from attributing essences to contingent individuals.
"Haslanger (Sally) - What is a Social Practice?"
Source: Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplements, Volume 82 (Metaphysics) - July 2018, pp. 231-247
- This paper provides an account of social practices that reveals how they are constitutive of social agency, enable coordination around things of value, and are a site for social intervention.
- The social world, on this account, does not begin when psychologically sophisticated individuals interact to share knowledge or make plans. Instead, culture shapes agents to interpret and respond both to each other and the physical world around us. Practices shape us as we shape them.
- This provides resources for understanding why social practices tend to be stable, but also reveals sites and opportunities for change. (Challenge social meanings! Intervene in the material conditions!)
"Hawley (Katherine) - Almost Identical, Almost Innocent"
Source: Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplements, Volume 82 (Metaphysics) - July 2018, pp. 249-263
- In his book "Lewis (David) - Parts of Classes" (1991), David Lewis discusses the idea that composition is identity, alongside the idea that mereological overlap is a form of partial identity1. But this notion of partial identity2 does nothing to help Lewis achieve his goals in that book. So why does he mention it?
- I explore and resolve this puzzle, by comparing Parts of Classes with Lewis’s invocation of partial identity3 in his 1993 paper "Lewis (David) - Many, But Almost One", where he uses it to address Peter Unger’s problem of the many4.
- I raise some concerns about this way of thinking of partial identity5, but conclude that, for Lewis, it is an important defence against accusations of ontological profligacy.
COMMENT: (To be) annotated hard copy filed in "Various - Papers on Desktop".
"Kingma (Elselijn) - Lady Parts: The Metaphysics of Pregnancy"
Source: Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplements, Volume 82 (Metaphysics) - July 2018, pp. 165-187
- What is the metaphysical relationship between the fetus / embryo and the pregnant organism? In this paper I apply a substance metaphysics view developed by "Smith (Barry) & Brogaard (Berit) - Sixteen Days" to argue, on the basis of topological connectedness, that Foetuses / embryos are Lady-Parts: part of the maternal organism up until birth.
- This leaves two options.
- Either mammalian organisms begin at birth, or
- we revise our conception of organisms such that mammalian organisms can be part of other mammals.
- The first option has some advantages: it is numerically neat; aligns with an intuitive picture of organisms as physically distinct individuals; and ties ‘coming into existence’ to a suitably recognisable and important event: birth. But it denies that the fetus survives birth, or that human organisms existed prior to their birth.
- The second option allows us to recognise that human organisms exist prior to and survive their birth, but at a cost: it leaves the question of when an organism comes into existence unanswered, and demands potentially far-reaching conceptual revision across a range of domains.
COMMENT: (To be) annotated hard copy filed in "Various - Papers on Desktop".
"Koslicki (Kathrin) - Towards a Hylomorphic Solution to the Grounding Problem"
Source: Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplements, Volume 82 (Metaphysics) - July 2018, pp. 333-364
- Concrete particular objects (e.g. living organisms) figure saliently in our everyday experience as well as our in our scientific theorizing about the world. A hylomorphic1 analysis of concrete particular objects holds that these entities are, in some sense, compounds of matter (hūlē) and form (morphē or eidos).
- The Grounding Problem asks why an object and its matter (e.g. a statue and the clay2 that constitutes it) can apparently differ with respect to certain of their properties (e.g. the clay’s ability to survive being squashed, as compared to the statue’s inability to do so), even though they are otherwise so much alike.
- In this paper, I argue that a hylomorphic3 analysis of concrete particular objects, in conjunction with a non-modal conception of essence of the type encountered for example in the works of Aristotle and Kit Fine, has the resources to yield a solution to the Grounding Problem.
"Leech (Jessica) - Essence and Mere Necessity"
Source: Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplements, Volume 82 (Metaphysics) - July 2018, pp. 309-332
- Recently, a debate has developed between those who claim that essence can be explained in terms of de re modality (modalists), and those who claim that de re modality can be explained in terms of essence (essentialists).
- The aim of this paper is to suggest that we should reassess. It is assumed that either necessity is to be accounted for in terms of essence, or that essence is to be accounted for in terms of necessity.
- I will argue that we should assume neither. I discuss what role these key notions – essence and necessity – can reasonably be thought to contribute to our understanding of the world, and argue that, given these roles, there is no good reason to think that we should give an account of one in terms of the other.
- I conclude: if we can adequately explain de re modality and essence at all, we should aim to do so separately.
"Mackie (Penelope) - Compatibilism, Indeterminism, and Chance"
Source: Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplements, Volume 82 (Metaphysics) - July 2018, pp. 265-287
- Many contemporary compatibilists about free will and determinism are agnostic about whether determinism is true, yet do not doubt that we have free will. They are thus committed to the thesis that free will is compatible with both determinism and indeterminism.
- This paper explores the prospects for this version of compatibilism, including its response to the argument (traditionally employed against incompatibilist accounts of free will) that indeterminism would introduce an element of randomness or chance or luck that is inimical to free will and moral responsibility.
"O'Hear (Anthony), Ed. - Metaphysics"
Source: O'Hear (Anthony), Ed. - Metaphysics
"Rush (Penelope) - Metaphysical Optimism"
Source: Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplements, Volume 82 (Metaphysics) - July 2018, pp. 365-393
- This paper seeks to identify and defend an approach to inquiry dubbed ‘metaphysical optimism’, particularly as it is evidenced at crisis points in the fields of physics, mathematics and logic.
- That the practice of metaphysical optimism at such moments, wherein it has appeared that there is no clear way to proceed or understand where we have arrived, is both reasonable and useful suggests it is to be taken seriously as capable of progressing fields and increasing knowledge.
- Given this, the paper then looks in more depth at what such an approach involves and why it might be useful both as a methodological approach in general and to help clarify positions along the realism / anti-realism spectrum in philosophy.
- From here, the paper arrives at a possible argument in defence of the realist attitude to transcendence.
"Schaffer (Jonathan) - Laws for Metaphysical Explanation"
Source: Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplements, Volume 82 (Metaphysics) - July 2018, pp. 1-22
- I argue that, just like causal explanation requires laws of nature, so metaphysical explanation requires laws of metaphysics.
- I offer a minimal rendition of the argument for laws of metaphysics, assuming nothing about grounding or essences, and little about explanation.
- And I offer a positive and minimal functional conception of the laws of metaphysics, coupled with an argument that some laws of metaphysics are fundamental.
"Snyder (Eric), Shapiro (Stewart) & Samuels (Richard) - Cardinals, Ordinals, and the Prospects for a Fregean Foundation"
Source: Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplements, Volume 82 (Metaphysics) - July 2018, pp. 77-107
- There are multiple formal characterizations of the natural numbers available. Despite being inter-derivable, they plausibly codify different possible applications of the naturals – doing basic arithmetic, counting, and ordering – as well as different philosophical conceptions of those numbers: structuralist, cardinal, and ordinal.
- Some influential philosophers of mathematics have argued for a non-egalitarian attitude according to which one of those characterizations is ‘more basic’ or ‘more fundamental’ than the others.
- This paper addresses two related issues.
- First, we review some of these non-egalitarian arguments, lay out a laundry list of different, legitimate, notions of relative priority, and suggest that these arguments plausibly employ different such notions.
- Secondly, we argue that given a metaphysical-cum-epistemological gloss suggested by Frege’s foundationalist epistemology, the ordinals are plausibly more basic than the cardinals.
- This is just one orientation to relative priority one could take, however. Ultimately, we subscribe to an egalitarian attitude towards these formal characterizations: they are, in some sense, equally ‘legitimate’.
"Thomasson (Amie L.) - Changing Metaphysics: What Difference does it Make?"
Source: Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplements, Volume 82 (Metaphysics) - July 2018, pp. 139-163
- I have argued elsewhere for a deflationary conception of metaphysics, which takes well-formed metaphysical questions to be answerable using nothing more mysterious than empirical information and descriptive and normative conceptual work.
- Here I examine the ways in which our practices of metaphysics should change, if we adopt the deflationary reconception of metaphysics.
- Adopting this approach does not mean abandoning metaphysics, but it does lead to important differences regarding which debates and positions are worth taking seriously. It also requires us to re-evaluate which criteria for choosing metaphysical views are appropriate – particularly where debates about existence are concerned.
"Thompson (Naomi) - Irrealism about Grounding"
Source: Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplements, Volume 82 (Metaphysics) - July 2018, pp. 23-44
- Grounding talk has become increasingly familiar in contemporary philosophical discussion.
- Most discussants of grounding think that grounding talk is useful, intelligible, and accurately describes metaphysical reality. Call them realists about grounding.
- Some dissenters reject grounding talk on the grounds that it is unintelligible, or unmotivated. They would prefer to eliminate grounding talk from philosophy, so we can call them eliminitivists about grounding.
- This paper outlines a new position in the debate about grounding, defending the view that grounding talk is (or at least can be) intelligible and useful. Grounding talk does not, however, provide a literal and veridical description of mind-independent metaphysical reality. This (non-eliminative) irrealism about grounding treads a path between realism and eliminativism.
"Williamson (Timothy) - Spaces of Possibility"
Source: Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplements, Volume 82 (Metaphysics) - July 2018, pp. 189-204
- We care not just how things are but how they could have been otherwise – about possibility and necessity as well as actuality.
- Many philosophers regard such talk as beyond the reach of respectable science, since observation tells us how things are but (allegedly) not how they could have been otherwise. I argue that, on the contrary, such criticisms are ill-founded: possibility and necessity are studied in natural science, for example through phase spaces, abstract mathematical representations of the possible states of a physical system. The possibility is objective, not merely epistemic, though it may be more restricted than pure metaphysical possibility.
- The elements of a phase space are very similar to Kripke’s possible worlds, despite being time slices rather than total histories. The absence of explicit modal operators in the mathematical models used by scientists does not show science to be nonmodal; rather, it manifests reliance on a mathematical framework for theorizing about objective possibility similar to the mathematical framework of possible worlds model theory.
Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
- Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2019
- Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)