New Waves in Metaphysics
Hazlett (Allan)
This Page provides (where held) the Abstract of the above Book and those of all the Papers contained in it.
Colour-ConventionsDisclaimerNotes Citing this Book


Amazon Book Description

  1. New Waves in Metaphysics presents a snapshot of the current and future state of metaphysics. Thirteen young scholars, working on the cutting edge of the discipline, have addressed themselves to a wide range of questions in contemporary metaphysics, including:
    • What exists, in the most fundamental sense?
    • What is the nature of human agency?
    • Does physics give us knowledge of the fundamental nature of the world?
    • What is causation?
    • What is race1? Are races2 real?
    • Do numbers exist? What might numbers be?
    • Do ecosystems exist?
    • Is intentionality a real feature of the world?
  2. These essays will be of interest to specialists in contemporary metaphysics as well as to anyone wanting to discover the diversity and depth of this ancient area of philosophical research.

  • Palgrave Macmillan; 2010 edition (20 Jan. 2010).
  • Also, proof copy dated 10/10/09 downloaded from, 24th January 2020

"Hazlett (Allan) - New Waves in Metaphysics: Introduction"

Source: Hazlett (Allan) - New Waves in Metaphysics

Author’s Abstract
  1. This book contains 13 new essays by more-or-less young metaphysicians, on a wide range of metaphysical issues: free will, mathematical objects, the reality of race1, the nature of ontology, causation, the existence and nature of fundamental intrinsic properties, and many others.
  2. This diversity of topics reflects the diversity of contemporary metaphysics; the field is vast, and this book presents a taste of metaphysics from the 13 young philosophers working within it.

  1. Metaphysics and its Discontents
  2. Physics or Metaphysics
  3. The Scope and 'Core' of Metaphysics

"Cameron (Ross P.) - Quantification, Naturalness, and Ontology"

Source: Hazlett (Allan) - New Waves in Metaphysics, Chapter 1

Author’s Abstract
  1. Quine (1948) said that the ontological question can be asked in three words, ‘What is there?’ and answered in one, ‘everything’. He was wrong. We need an extra word to ask the ontological question: it is ‘What is there, really?’; and it cannot be answered truthfully with ‘everything’ because there are some things that exist but which don’t really exist (and maybe even some things that really exist but which don't exist).
  2. You may doubt both the coherence of, and the motivation for, what I've just said; the purpose of this chapter is to motivate this departure from Quineanism and to show that it is perfectly coherent.

Author’s Conclusion
  1. I’m attracted to an ontology whereby what there really is is just: space-time, simple substances, and the location relations that fix what substances are at what locations at what times. These simple substances have their intrinsic natures essentially: they do not change in their intrinsic natures over time (thus making it harmless to say that they endure, and hence avoiding the need for temporal parts), nor could they have differed in their intrinsic nature (thus allowing them to be the truthmaker for the fact that they have the intrinsic nature they have, and hence avoiding the need for properties).
  2. Everything that is true is true in virtue of the distribution of these simple substances throughout spacetime. Sometimes there exist things arranged so as to make it true that there are people, tables, cities, universities, etc; other times, there are no such things. But more important than any particular ontology is the methodological lesson concerning how to do ontology. Common sense 'Moorean' truths about what there is can guide us in ontology; but we must be cautious about how we proceed: the task of the ontologist is to show how a perhaps sparse ontology is nevertheless sufficient for grounding the truth of those existential claims in English.

"Chant (Sarah Rachel) - Two Problems of Composition in Collective Action"

Source: Hazlett (Allan) - New Waves in Metaphysics, Chapter 2

Author’s Introduction
  1. Just as we may ask whether, and under what conditions, a collection of objects composes a single object, we may ask whether, and under what conditions, a collection of actions composes a single action. Peter van Inwagen calls the problem concerning material objects the 'special composition question' (van Inwagen 1985). I have argued elsewhere (Chant 2006) that van Inwagen's question may be applied to actions to pose what I have called 'the special composition question in action.'
  2. In this chapter, I shall introduce a second composition question in action. Here we will also ask whether, and under what conditions, a collection of agents constitutes a single collective agent. In this chapter, I will refer to the first composition question in action as 'CA1' and the second question regarding agents as 'CA2.' One might think, as a number of authors do, that a correct answer to CA1 determines a correct answer to CA2. For it is argued that if there is a single collective action that cannot be reduced to the actions of individuals, then there must be some single collective agent that is the author of that act. If this is right, then a correct answer to CA1 will guide us directly to a correct answer to CA2, or so the argument goes.
  3. In this chapter, I will argue that the two composition questions are not so closely related. In fact, there are excellent reasons to think that CA1 demands a positive solution that does not impose any restrictions on CA2. I will also argue for a solution to CA2; I will conclude that a proper understanding of collective agency helps shed light on issues concerning individual agency.

Author’s Conclusion
  1. In this chapter, I have argued for several theses:
    1. that the right analysis of collective action will make use of the causal consequences of the alleged collective action;
    2. that an analysis of collective action does not settle any important issues regarding collective agency;
    3. that an analysis of collective agency needs to be argued independently of questions regarding collective moral responsibility; and finally,
    4. that we may get closer to an account of collective agency by stripping the question of some of its ontological presuppositions.
  2. We may say a bit more about the last argument in an attempt to tie together some of the separate threads of this chapter. Earlier, I said that the existence of collective action and agency is really best thought of as a working hypothesis - that is, it is a working hypothesis that there is an informative analysis of the behaviour of groups that makes recourse to a vocabulary like that of the folk psychological theory of individual behaviour. If this working hypothesis is to be vindicated, then we have an additional reason to shift our attention from the question of collective agents to one of collective agency. For if we keep the question focused on the existence of a thing - the agent - then we will undoubtedly lose much of the relevant similarity between individuals and groups. After all, although I do not know what, from the perspective of metaphysics, a collective agent would turn out to be, I am reasonably confident that it would turn out to be extremely different from an individual agent. In other words, the similarity (if there is such) between individual and collective agents is not that the same thing exists in both cases. Rather, the similarity is that there is an important property or characteristic shared (at least sometimes) by both individuals and groups. The working hypothesis amounts to the assumption that this shared property can play the same explanatory role in accounting for the behaviour of individuals and for groups. Whether this hypothesis is borne out over the long run will depend on whether the details of the analysis yield a useful general theory of individual and group behaviour. If the arguments in this chapter are correct, then we have at least a roadmap for deriving such a theory.

"Glasgow (Joshua) - Another Look at the Reality of Race, By Which I Mean Race-f"

Source: Hazlett (Allan) - New Waves in Metaphysics, Chapter 3

Author’s Abstract
  1. Bucking previous trends, more and more researchers have been coming to endorse the proposition that race1 is real. Realist constructivists maintain that our practices' astoundingly significant consequences compel us to recognize that race2 has a social reality. As the saying goes, try telling a black person trying to hail a cab that race3 isn't real. It's real enough for discrimination, for reduced or privileged access to health care and education and car loans, and for being the glue that bonds identities. And that, say constructivists, is real enough to be real. At the same time, biological racial realism has also mounted a comeback lately. Fascinating new scientific data and complementary theoretical architecture, along with a commitment to relegating racist science to the past, have jointly provided powerful support for the doctrine that races4 are, very roughly, biologically real breeding populations.
  2. Despite the advances partisans of these views have been making, here I want to bolster the case for racial anti-realism. I'll go about this indirectly, by getting into some conceptual troubles that seem to have afflicted all three of these camps in the debate over race5's ontological status. In discussing these troubles, my primary stalking horse will be biological realism, so I'll have less to say about constructivism. However, a quick look at a basic argument against constructivism provides a glimpse of the thorny conceptual background against which our discussion takes place.
  3. The constructivist's basic thesis is that races6 are social kinds. Now constructivists disagree amongst themselves on exactly how races7 are social kinds, but the common thread is that if we think that some other social kinds are real, we should grant that races8 are real, too: if we allow that professional kinds, such as journalist or justice of the peace, though not biologically real, are nevertheless real in some other (social) sense, then we should also allow that races9 are real in the same (social) way. In very rough outline, Al Gore and Tony Blair are both white because certain social facts about them are true, while the Dalai Lama and Kofi Annan are not white, because other social facts are true of them. In this way, the relevant social facts, which might revolve around our practices of classification, access, discrimination, privilege, and so on, make race10 real as a social category.
  4. One objection to this view is that the groups structured by social forces - to which constructivists rightly direct our attention - are not races11, because racial terms, by definition, are meant to refer to something biological, rather than social. We might follow Lawrence Blum (2002) and others who call those groups structured by social forces 'racialized groups,' but whatever we want to call them, they aren't appropriately called ‘races12,’ at least if one constraint on appropriate labelling is conformity to ordinary discourse.
  5. As this objection illustrates, the truly metaphysical debate over race13 often boils down to semantic issues. Ron Mallon (2006) points out that otherwise opposed race14 theorists have actually formed an 'ontological consensus' concerning many facts about race15, such as that there are no racial essences and that race-related16 social forces affect us. Thus the real question about specifically racial constructivism is not whether groups structured by social forces are real, but whether it is appropriate to call them 'races17.' More broadly, pursuing what Mallon calls the 'semantic strategy,’ many of the participants in the race18 debate aim to constrain the meanings of racial terms such that, when joined with some ontological premises, those meanings either allow race19 to be real or guarantee its illusory status. So generally speaking, anti-realists maintain that 'race20' is defined biologically, which is to charge that when constructivists talk about something social that they call 'race21,' they aren't really talking about race22, at least not in the relevant, ordinary, folk sense of the term.
  6. Again, I will not be defending this criticism of constructivism here, but it illustrates how the semantic strategy might be used. What I want to do next is to pursue that strategy in another direction, by defending some of the conceptual premises in a parallel argument against the new biological realism, premises that have been called into question lately by Robin Andreasen, arguably biological realism's most dedicated partisan in philosophy. Since these issues are the bedrock source of a significant chunk of the contestation, the hope is that if we make progress at the conceptual level, we might make some metaphysical headway.

"Hazlett (Allan) - Brutal Individuation"

Source: Hazlett (Allan) - New Waves in Metaphysics, Chapter 4

Author’s Introduction
  1. There are several debates in metaphysics that centre on issues of arbitrary boundaries. Consider the question of composition: when do several things compose another thing? We want to draw a line between those sets of things that compose another and those sets of things that don't compose another. But where to draw the line, without being arbitrary? We want to rule in the set that contains (only) the jacket and the trousers of my suit, but rule out the set that contains (only) the trousers of your suit and the trousers of my suit. But this seems, in some inchoate way, metaphysically arbitrary: there seems to be no real, objective difference between the two sets. (The issue isn’t quite the same as the problem of vagueness, since even a vague boundary would seem arbitrary.)
  2. Three possible views, then.
    1. Mereological nihilism draws the boundary way to one side: it says that no set of putative parts is a set whose parts compose something else.
    2. And mereological universalism draws the boundary way to the other side: it says that every set of putative parts is a set whose parts compose something else.
    3. Finally, restricted composition says that there is a real, objective boundary between those sets whose members compose something else and those sets whose members don't compose something else, and that that boundary lies somewhere between the two extremes.
  3. There are two ways of developing the thesis of restricted composition.
    1. The first is to propose some unifying principle (or principles) of composition: putative parts compose only when they are touching each other, or stuck together somehow, or 'caught up in a life' (cf. van Inwagen 1991).
    2. The second is to reject any such unifying explanation of composition, and say that the many specific facts of composition are brute (Markosian 1998).
  4. A structurally similar issue arises when we consider the individuation of individual things in modal space. Given a plurality of possible worlds, we can ask after the modal boundaries of any individual thing: what merely possible things count as 'the same thing’ as this particular individual? To stay neutral on issues of trans-world identity (vs. counterpart theory), we can ask which things are versions of a given individual. To ask whether a possible thing y is a version of some actual individual x is just to ask whether x could have had the properties of y.
  5. The problem of arbitrariness arises here as well. We want to draw my modal boundaries so that I, with a haircut, lie inside the boundary, but so that the atoms that presently compose me, scattered across the universe a few hundred years from now, do not. But this seems metaphysically arbitrary. Three possibilities, then:
    1. to draw the boundaries of individuals in the extremely minimal way (so that no merely possible things count as versions of me);
    2. to draw the boundaries of individuals in the extremely maximal way (so that everything counts as a version of everything else); or, finally,
    3. to say that there are real, objective boundaries which fix the modal boundaries of individuals, and that these boundaries lie somewhere between the two extremes.
  6. One way of developing this thought is by talking about essential properties. We find this idea in Aristotle, where he writes that ‘the essence of each thing is what it is said to be in virtue of itself,' and that '[what... you are by your very nature is your essence' (Metaphysics Z, 1029b14). The temporal and modal boundaries of a thing extend just as far as those things that share that thing's essence, and it is the possession of this essence that explains why a thing's boundaries lie where they do. (More on this idea later in this chapter.)
  7. The aim of this essay is to motivate the rejection of individual essences, in their traditional form. My argument against them has two steps.
    1. First, I argue that we have prima facie reason to reject individual essences of two types: sortal properties and historical properties (Section 1).
    2. Then I criticize three arguments that suggest we need to posit essential properties, in spite of this (Section 2).
    I then consider alternative solutions to the problem of temporal and modal boundaries (Section 3). The view that I favour is brutal individuation, which is the temporal and moral analogue of Markosian's brutal composition: individuals have objective modal boundaries, but these facts don't admit of any further explanation.

"Judisch (Neal) - Bringing Things About"

Source: Hazlett (Allan) - New Waves in Metaphysics, Chapter 5

Author’s Introduction
  1. In this essay, I hope to dissolve a problem for naturalistic theories of human action.
  2. The problem I aim to dissolve is generated when two independently plausible theses concerning human action are combined:
    1. On the one hand, it is plausible that action consists in sequences of suitably related events - desires and beliefs give rise to mental events such as choices, or states such as intentions, which choices or intentions subsequently cause the agent's body to move in ways aimed at satisfying her goals.
    2. On the other hand, actions are distinct from 'mere happenings' in that they are brought about by the agents whose actions they are: actions are things agents do, not things that merely occur to or within their bodies.

"Kriegel (Uriah) - Interpretation: Its Scope and Limits"

Source: Hazlett (Allan) - New Waves in Metaphysics, Chapter 6

Author’s Abstract
  1. According to interpretivism, all there is to having an intentional property is being best interpreted as having it.
  2. I present a regress-or-circularity argument against this.
  3. In Section 1, I elucidate interpretivism, and in Section 2, I present the argument against it.

Author’s Conclusion
  1. The main purpose of this chapter has been to argue that interpretivism, properly understood, is unviable, inasmuch as it leads inevitably to a vicious regress.
  2. Subsidiary purposes have been to say how interpretivism is properly understood - that is, as (Int) - and sketch a kind of view of intentionality - that is, (HInt) - which I find plausible but have not defended here.

"Kutach (Douglas N.) - Empirical Analyses of Causation"

Source: Hazlett (Allan) - New Waves in Metaphysics, Chapter 7

Author’s Introduction
  1. Imagine a psychologist who has formulated a theory of how people understand various interactions among physical stuff, that is, an account of the implicit folk theory of physics. His model incorporates parameters for characterizing contingent conditions like a value for how dense an object is represented as being or an implicit estimate of how quickly a certain object will return to rest after being set in motion. It includes hypotheses about variances among people and performance limitations that affect how people's understanding is applied in practice. Suppose all the psychologist's work is methodologically unimpeachable and that the model is stunningly successful given the criteria psychologists use for evaluating theories, for example, making precise and accurate predictions of people's responses to questions about physics and predictions about how they will behave when confronted with practical problems that test what they know about physics.
  2. Now imagine the response our psychologist would receive if he suggested to the physics department that his psychological theory ought to be adopted as a constraint on their theories of force and energy and so forth. The physicist according to this program would be tasked with filling in the psychological theory's various parameters to arrive at a model that matches the structure of the external world. Or worse, imagine our psychologist arguing that regardless of any virtues the physicists' current theories have, they cannot really concern force, energy, mass, space, or time because in order for any theory to be pertinent to the topic of energy, for example, its claims would need to avoid conflict with folk wisdom concerning energy, for example, that exercise increases a person's energy. Whether a psychology of folk physics serves as good constraint on theories of real world physics is of course ultimately an empirical question, but not only do we have independent reasons to reject this program as an extremely implausible strategy for improving physics, there is no reason to believe that a successful physics must obey the implicit logic of folk physics (or naive opinions about the use of physics terms) on pain of not really being a theory of physics.
  3. Metaphysicians of causation routinely practice activities analogous to this hypothetical psychologist. All too frequently, theories designed to accommodate linguistic features of natural language are pressed into service as constraints on theories about the behaviour of the external world, with similar prospects for success. Metaphysical theories of causation are standardly required to concern the external world in the sense of being applicable to astronomy, ecology, and economics while at the same time vindicating the literal truth of folk intuitions about causes. The practice primarily steins from the routine use of a crippled form of conceptual analysis. While conceptual analysis of some sort is necessary for any useful intellectual investigation, malignant versions of it exert widespread influence over standard practices, including those of scholars who nominally disavow conceptual analysis.
  4. The presence of the bad kind of conceptual analysis is at least understandable in philosophical disciplines having little relation to science. What is striking about the kind of conceptual analyses standardly presupposed in the philosophical literature on causation, though, is that an alternative form of conceptual analysis is readily available: empirical analysis. What empirical analysis consists in, I think, has not yet been adequately articulated, as demonstrated by continuing puzzlement over its aims, for example, Bontley (2006). The negative part of my task here is to expose that aspect of the orthodox metaphysics of causation which should be rejected by serious investigators of causation, and the positive part is to sketch a viable alternative to the orthodox methodology.

Author’s Conclusion
  1. Returning to the food analogy, there is one respectable project of uncovering that which is nutritious. Another respectable project is to figure out people's psychology of food, i.e., why they categorize certain items as food and others as non-food. Whatever that story is, it almost certainly is going to involve as a first approximation that our food concept roughly tracks that which is nutritious. At a second order approximation, facts about perception, culture, the need for cognitive efficiency, and a whole bunch of other factors irrelevant to nutrition are going to come into play to explain why 'what is food' is not precisely the same as ‘what is nutritious.'
  2. Analogously, one respectable project is to find out how the external world is structured such that some events serve as good means for bringing about other events. That constitutes the metaphysics of causation. Another respectable project is to figure out people's psychology of causation, why they categorize certain happenings as causes and others as non-causes. Whatever that story is, it almost certainly will involve a first approximation that the causation concept roughly tracks whatever is responsible for the existence of effective strategies and general facts about them, e.g., that effective strategies are temporally asymmetric. At a second order approximation, facts about perception, our need to learn about causal regularities without running controlled experimental trials, cognitive efficiency, and perhaps even culture are all going to come into play to explain why 'what was the cause' is not equivalent to 'what was driving the world's temporal evolution.'

"Langton (Rae) & Robichaud (Christopher) - Ghosts in the World Machine? Humility and Its Alternatives"

Source: Hazlett (Allan) - New Waves in Metaphysics, Chapter 8

Authors’ Introduction
  1. At the heart of being lies a mystery, according to Kant: we have 'no insight whatsoever into the intrinsic nature of things.' Some people complain, but their complaints are misguided.
  2. The complainers cherish a hope that our minds should grasp how the things that appear to us may be 'in themselves.' But this is 'completely unreasonable and stupid.' And why? It amounts to a hope 'that we should be able to be acquainted with things without senses'.

Authors’ Conclusion
  1. You might accept that Humility is true, and say it doesn't matter. We are ignorant of fundamental intrinsic properties - and so what? There is nothing 'ominous' about such ignorance. There are many things we can't know about: perhaps we can’t know exactly where all the ants were standing, exactly 30 million years ago; perhaps we can't know what the fundamental intrinsic properties of things really are. But why worry? (Lewis 2009 denies Humility is 'ominous'; see also Whittle 2006; Hawthorne 2001; Schaffer 2005; Ney 2007; Locke 2009).
  2. Many discussions of Humility proceed on an assumption that it makes us ignorant of trivial properties, comparable to the haecceities of individuals: we are ignorant of a property's identity tag, so to speak, which it keeps from world to possible world, regardless of the dispositions it is associated with it. We suggest on the contrary that Kant is right on this question, and the shruggers are wrong. If there are fundamental intrinsic properties, and we don't know what they are, then we don't know that they are only trivial, identity-involving properties. All that we know is that they are intrinsic, or categorical. Kant says we cannot rule out the possibility that the fundamental intrinsic properties are thoughts; Humility cannot rule out pan-psychism, though it does not embrace it. But 'not knowing what the properties are’ means, not knowing what they are.
  3. So, to conclude, we admit ghosts in the world machine, properties that are non-physical, in the minimal sense that physics cannot find them; and we can't rule out their being non-physical in the more troubling sense that pan-psychists embrace. Humility is not to be shrugged off; but we can live with it.

"Mikkola (Mari) - Is Everything Relative? Anti-Realism, Truth, and Feminism"

Source: Hazlett (Allan) - New Waves in Metaphysics, Chapter 9

Author’s Introduction
  1. This chapter takes issue with feminist views that eschew objectivity: minimally, the view that there is an objective gap between what is the case and what we take to be the case. As I see it, doing so is politically worrying and philosophically unfounded. Imagine that a company CEO claims it is an acceptable part of normal working life to ask junior staff sexual favours in return for promotions (they are explicitly condoning quid pro quo sexual harassment). To the best of my knowledge, every feminist disagrees with the CEO. But following some feminist philosophical positions we cannot say that the CEO's claim is simply false. Such positions are (in my terms) anti-realist about objectivity. One such well-known position is Catherine MacKinnon's: for her, truth is relative being 'produced in the interests of those with power to shape reality' (1989, p. 118). There is no 'ungendered' reality (MacKinnon holds) that adjudicates between what is the case and what we think is the case because there is no 'ungendered' Archimedean perspective from which such reality can be described and inspected. Actually, those who are socially powerful can shape reality so that what they think is the case becomes the case.
  2. MacKinnon's metaphysical position has significant political implications.
    1. First, her anti-realism implies that there are different perspective dependent realities. It is true (relative to the CEO's worldview) that it is acceptable to ask for sexual favours in exchange for promotions; and it is true (relative to a feminist worldview) that it is not. This is not so only with evaluative judgements; all claims about reality are true or false relative to some perspective and conceptual scheme. Call this 'the relativist implication.'
    2. Second, MacKinnon's metaphysics implies that reality just is the enforced projection of the powerful group's needs and desires. So, if the powerful group constructs a reality where it is in fact acceptable to condone quid pro quo sexual harassment, the feminist claim that it is not turns out to be in fact false. Call this 'the quietist implication.'
  3. As a fellow feminist, as someone who thinks that unjust social arrangements disadvantaging women should be eradicated, I find these implications unnerving. Following the relativist implication, it is not possible to say that anti-feminist claims are just false; and following the quietist implication, feminist claims about reality end up being false. These consequences are politically worrying. If we allow anti-feminist perspectives to have a claim to truth, how can feminists justify their claim that some ways of treating women are just wrong? And if feminist claims about reality come out as false, how can feminists critique the way the world is? Now, MacKinnon does not intend her anti-realism to have these implications. Although she thinks that what is true of reality depends on one's perspective, MacKinnon does not intend to endorse 'anything goes' relativism: for her, a feminist reality is unequivocally better than an anti-feminist one. Further, she certainly does not intend to be quietist about gender oppression. Is there, then, a way to avoid these implications while retaining anti-realism about objectivity? I see no possible way to reconcile the quietist implication with feminist political goals: it is time to give up one's metaphysics, if it leads to such a quietist take on oppression. But, the situation is less straightforward with respect to the relativist implication. Some non-feminist philosophers, notably Hilary Putnam, have argued that it is possible to block radical relativism while endorsing worldview pluralism. Putnam's 'internal realism' takes there to be a plurality of conceptual schemes between which we cannot adjudicate by appealing to some scheme independent reality; nonetheless, we can rule out some schemes as being rationally unacceptable. Perhaps Putnam’s position, then, enables MacKinnon to retain her anti-realism about objectivity without problematic relativism.
  4. While many of Putnam's insights are attractive, I will nonetheless argue, they cannot save feminist anti-realism from relativism. Putnam's conception of objectivity simply isn't objectivist enough for feminist purposes. My discussion will take the following shape. A large bulk of this chapter deals with the claim that anti-realism is politically problematic.
    1. In Section 2, I will look at MacKinnon's anti-realism and its metaphysical implications. Since I hold that the quietist implication is a non-starter for feminism, I will leave it to one side and consider whether the relativist implication can be reconciled with feminist goals. With this in mind, I will explore whether Putnam’s internal realism can dispel my relativist worries.
    2. In Section 3,I will outline Putnam's view in more detail.
    3. However, in Section 4, I go on to argue that it cannot sufficiently undercut the relativism that anti-realist feminism implies.
    4. Finally, in Section 5, I will discuss why feminist anti-realism is philosophically unfounded claiming that the reasons given for why one should eschew objectivity are not good.

Author’s Conclusion
  1. I have argued that feminists should not eschew metaphysical objectivity. Those feminists who fear it fear something that need not be feared. And those who endorse anti-realism about objectivity grant too much to anti-feminist views doing feminism a serious political disfavour.
  2. As I see it, feminist metaphysical positions must not grant anti-feminist perspectives a claim to truth - otherwise, what would be the point of feminism as a political movement? What would be the point of a political movement that aims to do away with unjust gender oppression, if that movement's own metaphysics suggests that the existence of unjust gender oppression is somehow in doubt? I see no better way for feminists to undermine their own claims about the reality of oppression. This is why objectivity should be retained: it is needed to make good crucial feminist political claims.

"Miller (Kristie) - The Nature of Mathematical Objects: Minimalism and Modality"

Source: Hazlett (Allan) - New Waves in Metaphysics, Chapter 10

Author’s Introduction
  1. There are two influential schools of thought within the philosophy of maths.
    1. One of these, championed by Bob Hale and Crispin Wright, follows in the tradition of Fregean logicism. Within this tradition we find a common argument for the conclusion that we should be necessitarian Platonists: we should think that abstract mathematical objects exist, and necessarily so.
    2. A different school, championed by, among others, Hartry Field and Mark Colyvan, follows in the tradition of Quinean empiricism. Within this tradition we find a common argument for the conclusion that we should be contingent Platonists (or contingent fictionalists); we should think that mathematical objects exist in some, but not other worlds.
  2. Hale, Wright, Field, and Colyvan agree about some things. They agree that mathematical discourse is truth apt, and that it is true only if the entities that it quantifies over, namely mathematical objects, exist. And they agree that if mathematical objects exist, then, necessarily, they are abstracta: they agree, for instance, that non-error-theoretic brands of nominalism, such as those that identify mathematical objects with sets of concreta, are false. Hale, Wright, and Field agree about something else. Each is, broadly speaking, a minimalist about truth, though a minimalist of a somewhat different stripe. Field is a minimalist of the Quinean disquotationalist variety. Hale and Wright endorse a more Fregean style minimalism. But they agree that truth is not a substantial property and that sentences are not true in virtue of corresponding in the appropriate way to the way the world is. While, like Field, Colyvan is working within a broadly Quinean paradigm, he is best thought of as a maximalist about truth. This difference will turn out to be important.
  3. This chapter is interested in how disagreement about the nature of abstract mathematical objects, and about the modal status of those objects, can be traced to adoption of one or the other of the neo-Fregean or Quinean frameworks. The chapter
    1. explores the relationship between three arguments for the existence of mathematical objects that issue from these paradigms,
    2. it explores the nature of the mathematical objects that those arguments yield, and
    3. it explores the modal status of those objects.
    The three arguments in question are
    1. the argument from singular referring terms (from the neo-Fregean paradigm)
    2. the original indispensability argument (from the Quinean paradigm) and
    3. the new indispensability argument (in part from the Quinean paradigm).
  4. This chapter seeks to show that the argument from singular referring terms and the original indispensability argument yield what we might think of as minimal mathematical objects: they yield a commitment to mathematical objects whose nature is ontologically thin because it is exhausted either by the totality of true sentences that jointly make up scientific theory, or by the identity conditions used to stipulatively introduce those objects via an abstraction principle. It follows then, that for a wide range of properties mathematical objects neither have, nor lack, those properties.
  5. If successful, the argument from singular referring terms and the original indispensability argument yield apparently Platonist conclusions (at least with respect to some worlds). But in each case we might reasonably ask whether the entities to which we end up committed as so minimal that anything like true Platonism is really vindicated.
  6. Section 2 introduces the original indispensability argument and shows why it yields the conclusion that minimal mathematical objects exist contingently. Though it is not the primary focus of the chapter, along the way I point out some of the more problematic aspects of the Quinean framework that underpins this argument. In Section 2.1, I explicate the new indispensability argument and argue that, despite its proponents' claims, the modal force of its conclusion is unclear. The new indispensability argument rejects some of the minimalist assumptions of the original Quinean framework, and ultimately, I argue, its proponents are faced with a dilemma. Either they must accept the strong naturalism that is part of the Quinean paradigm, or they must reject that claim. If they reject strong naturalism they almost entirely jettison the Quinean framework, and in doing so concede that we must in part look to metaphysics to discern our ontological commitments. As I see it, the view would then collapse into the common view that our ontology should be guided by our metaphysical commitments, and would no longer count as an indispensability argument. Given this, I take it that proponents of the new indispensability argument must endorse strong naturalism. But if they do so, I argue, they must distribute their credences between the view that mathematical objects are minimal entities, and the view that they are non-minimal entities whose nature we can in principle never come to know, and can never have reason to suppose is one way rather than another. Either our ontology, or our epistemology, then, is thin.
  7. Section 3 outlines the neo-Fregean framework and shows why it yields a commitment to necessarily existing minimal mathematical objects. Finally, in Section 4, I explore the relationship between the neo-Fregean framework and the mathematical objects that issue from it, and the Quinean framework and the mathematical objects that issue from it. I suggest that there is a good deal in common between the two frameworks, and that this is what accounts for the fact that what we get, at the end, are minimal objects and that those who are predisposed towards Platonism have good reason to be suspicious that such objects are too minimal for the views that posit them to count as Platonist at all.

"Ney (Alyssa) - Are There Fundamental Intrinsic Properties?"

Source: Hazlett (Allan) - New Waves in Metaphysics, Chapter 11

Author’s Introduction
  1. David Armstrong once said:
      There is a certain picture of the physical world that we all cherish in our hearts, although in our philosophical thinking we may consider ourselves forced to abandon it in a greater or lesser degree. According to this picture, the physical world, including our bodies, consists of a single realm of material objects, and perhaps other objects, related in space and enduring and changing in time. Material objects have shape and size, they move or are at rest, they are hot or cold, hard or soft, rough or smooth, heavy or light, they are coloured, they may have a taste, and they may emit sounds or smells. These properties of objects are, on occasion, perceived; but objects continue to have these properties in a perfectly straightforward way when, as is usually the case, the objects, or particular properties of the objects, are not perceived. This is the picture of the physical world to which we are all instinctively drawn (even Berkeley was). We may think that relatively abstruse evidence garnered from scientific investigations forces us to modify this picture. But it is the picture we have gained through perception, and when we are not considering perception as philosophers, we do not think that the evidence of ordinary perception tends to overthrow it in any way.
      → "Armstrong (David) - A Materialist Theory of the Mind", 1968, pp. 239-40
  2. This intuitive picture of the physical world tells us that there are material objects located in space and time and possessing properties like shape, size, motion or rest (what Locke called the 'primary qualities' and contemporary philosophers call 'intrinsic properties') as well as properties like heat, colour, or smell (what both Locke and many contemporary philosophers call 'secondary qualities'). David Lewis offers a similar picture that adds a tentative commitment to spacetime itself:
      We have geometry: a system of external relations of spatiotemporal distance between points. Maybe points of spacetime itself, maybe point-sized bits of matter or aether or fields, maybe both. And at those points we have local qualities: perfectly natural intrinsic properties which need nothing bigger than a point at which to be instantiated.
      → "Lewis (David) - Philosophical Papers Volume II", 1986a, pp. ix-x
  3. These pictures constitute our way of understanding the physical world, in particular the physical world as it is fundamentally. As Armstrong puts it, these material bodies bearing intrinsic properties and spatial and temporal relations to each other are of what the physical world, including our bodies consists.
  4. This is no doubt an intuitive picture of the physical world at its most fundamental, a picture we can make sense of, to a large extent can visualize, and one which many of us as metaphysicians indeed do cherish due to our ability to understand it. But is it accurate? Do our best fundamental physical theories confirm this picture? In particular, do our best, fundamental physical theories reveal a physical world consisting of material bodies with intrinsic properties?
  5. Several philosophers have suggested that the answer to these questions is 'no.' When we consider the picture of fundamental reality given to us by physics, we find only extrinsic properties, relations. We do not find fundamental intrinsic properties. Here is Armstrong again:
      [I]f we look at the properties of physical objects that physicists are prepared to allow them, such as mass, electric charge, or momentum, these show a distressing tendency to dissolve into relations that one object has to another. What, then, are the things that have these relations to each other? Must they not have a non-relational nature if they are to sustain relations? But what is this nature? Physics does not tell us. (1968, p. 282)
  6. In a more recent book, James Ladyman and Don Ross argue for a similar conclusion:
      Both [quantum mechanics] and relativity theory teach us that the nature of space, time, and matter raises profound challenges for a metaphysics that describes the world as composed of self-subsistent individuals. In so far as quantum particles and spacetime points are individuals, facts about their identity and diversity are not intrinsic to them but rather are determined by the relational structures into which they enter … [A]ll the properties of fundamental physics seem to be extrinsic to individual objects. (2007, p. 151)
  7. Such claims then often lead to worries about whether or not a picture of a world fundamentally consisting of relations, with no fundamental intrinsic properties can even be made coherent. Although some philosophers are willing to accept such a conclusion and happily endorse such a metaphysical structuralism (Ladyman and Ross are a clear example; John Hawthorne (2001) also takes the idea seriously), many cling to the intuitive picture. These philosophers reluctantly end up endorsing a kind of Kantian position: material bodies have fundamental intrinsic properties, but since fundamental physical science only reveals the relations these bodies bear to each other, we can never know how things fundamentally are in themselves, what their fundamental intrinsic properties are.
  8. Our task here will be to evaluate the truth of this claim: that all of the properties of fundamental physics are extrinsic properties. As I will argue, although certainly a lot of what we might have previously thought were cases of intrinsic properties are revealed by physics to be extrinsic, this does not entail that no properties of fundamental physics are intrinsic. Mass, charge, momentum: these may all be extrinsic properties. However, this does not entail the non-existence of fundamental physical properties that are intrinsic. Indeed current, fundamental physical theories do posit intrinsic properties, and in doing so are able to support another picture of fundamental reality that we may cherish.
  9. We will begin by making more precise the distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic properties that this debate presupposes. The next sections will investigate the status of fundamental intrinsic properties in quantum mechanics1. To make the discussion somewhat manageable and compact, I have put off the question of intrinsic properties in relativity theory and our theories of fundamental interactions to another day, though certainly there are more places to look if one wants to know if there exist fundamental intrinsic properties.

Author’s Conclusion
  1. In this chapter, I have tried to show that despite an interesting argument to the contrary, at least some properties of fundamental physics are intrinsic. And these are indeed the properties that ground the causal powers of material objects in our world.
  2. Thus, we have no reason at this time to fear that we cannot know the intrinsic natures of things, how they are in themselves.

"Odenbaugh (Jay) - On the Very Idea of an Ecosystem"

Source: Hazlett (Allan) - New Waves in Metaphysics, Chapter 12

Author’s Introduction
  1. In this chapter, I consider several different issues.
    1. First, I examine how token ecosystems are individuated by ecologists.
    2. Second, I examine whether ecosystems, or more specifically their components, can have functions. Philosophers have offered two accounts of functions, a selected effect function account and a systemic capacity account. On the former, functions are understood in terms of evolutionary history and on the latter in terms of nested dispositions. Here I side with systemic capacity functions as providing the more reasonable account of functional ascriptions in ecosystem ecology. However, this has downstream implications with regard to the next topic.
    3. Thirdly, many ecologists and conservationists have taken to talking of 'ecosystem health.' Some treat this as mere metaphor but others construe it literally. The notion of ecosystem health is intimately tied to the notion of ecosystemic functions. However, the notion of a 'healthy' or 'diseased' state requires norms of performance, which are noticeably absent on a systemic functions view.
  2. In summary, I offer an extended argument there are mind-independently existing ecosystems, which have functions, but which are neither healthy nor diseased.

Author’s Conclusion
  1. In this chapter, I have offered an extended argument for moderate realism about ecosystems. Likewise, I have provided an account of ecosystem functions that derives from the systemic capacity account used more generally.
  2. Finally, I attempted to show that the popular notion of ecosystem health cannot be made sense of in terms of systemic capacity functions, since they do not provide norms of performance which are required for any notion of health.

"Sartorio (Carolina) - The Prince of Wales Problem for Counterfactual Theories of Causation"

Source: Hazlett (Allan) - New Waves in Metaphysics, Chapter 13

Author’s Introduction
  1. In 1992, as part of a larger charitable campaign, the Prince of Wales (Prince Charles, Queen Elizabeth's older son and heir) launched a line of organic food products called 'Prince's Duchy Originals'. The first product that went on sale was an oat cookie: 'the oaten biscuit.' Since then the oaten biscuit has been joined by hundreds of other products and Duchy Originals has become one of the leading organic food brands in the United Kingdom. Presumably, the Prince of Wales is very proud of his Duchy Originals products, and of the oaten biscuits in particular. Let's imagine that he is so proud of the biscuits that he eats them regularly. Also, let's imagine that one day Queen Elizabeth asks the prince to water her plant. As she explains to him, she'll be gone for the day and the plant needs to be watered every afternoon. But the prince decides not to water the plant. Instead of watering it, he spends his afternoon savouring some oaten biscuits, and the plant dies.
  2. What caused the plant’s death? If you were to ask the queen, she would presumably say: the prince, plus some 'natural causes' (including the fact that the plant was particularly delicate and needed intensive watering). Now, in virtue of what could the prince be a cause of the plant's death? When we say that an agent caused some event in the world, we typically mean to say that there is something that the agent did, or something that the agent failed to do, which caused the outcome. There are several things that the prince did and failed to do that afternoon: he ate some oaten biscuits, he read the newspaper, he scratched his nose, he didn't phone a friend, he didn’t watch TV, he didn't water the queen’s plant, and so on. Among these, we clearly want to say that his not watering the plant is relevant to the plant's death: the plant died because he didn't water it. Under slightly different circumstances, some of the things he did would also be relevant. Imagine, for instance, that the oaten biscuits are so amazingly good that they induce some kind of psychological trance that makes you forget any obligations that you might have. So maybe the prince was determined to water the plant until he ate the biscuits, at which time he forgot all about it. In that scenario his eating the biscuits would also be a cause of the plant's death. But note that, even in that case, the prince's contribution to the plant's death is ultimately 'negative' in nature. For his eating the biscuits causes the plant's death by means of causing the prince's subsequent failure to water the plant. At the end of the day, the plant still dies because of something that the Prince doesn't do: it dies because he doesn't water it.
  3. Scenarios of this kind suggest that omissions, and absences in general, can be causes, and that our reconstructions of the causal histories of the outcomes are somehow flawed if they don't include the omissions of agents or the absences of certain events but instead include only 'j five’ causes. For, again, in these cases, the outcomes seem to happen, at least partly, because of something that someone doesn't do, or because of something that doesn't happen, not (just) because of something that someone does, or because of something that actually happens. I will call the apparent failure of positive causes to adequately account for the outcome's occurrence in these cases 'the inadequacy fact about positive causes.' The inadequacy fact about positive causes is an important motivation for accepting negative causes.
  4. Now, assuming that we want to make room for negative causes, how could we make sense of omissions and absences being causes? A natural thought is to appeal to the notion of counterfactual dependence. We can say that the prince's not watering the plant is a cause of the plant's death because the plant's death counterfactually depends on the prince's failure to water it: had his failure to water the plant not occurred (i.e., had he watered the plant), the plant wouldn't have died. In other words: in the closest possible world(s) where the prince waters the plant, the plant doesn't die. Counterfactual theories of causation claim that the causal facts are grounded in facts about counterfactual dependence. On these views, causes are ‘difference-makers’ with respect to their effects in that effects (at least typically) counterfactually depend on their causes (Lewis 1986a).
  5. Now, this idea has to be refined in two kinds of ways.1 First, as cases of 'pre-emption' suggest, sometimes effects don't counterfactually depend on their causes. For example, an assassin can cause his victim's death even if the death would still have happened if he hadn't shot him, given that a backup assassin would then have shot the victim himself. This suggests that counterfactual dependence is not necessary for causation. At least originally, Lewis thought that we can sidestep this problem by taking causation to be, not simple counterfactual dependence, but the ancestral of counterfactual dependence. Second, counterfactual dependence also doesn't seem to be sufficient for causation: some counterfactual dependencies track 'tighter,' non-causal connections, such as logical and mereological relations. For example, my writing the word 'cat' counterfactually depends on my writing the letter 'c' but my writing 'c' isn't a cause of my writing 'cat' (Kim 1973). So the relevant concept of counterfactual dependence would have to be circumscribed accordingly. Lewis does this by setting constraints on potential causes and effects. On Lewis's view, a necessary condition for C to cause E is that C and E be fully 'distinct,' where C and E are not fully distinct if, for example, one is part of the other. Also, some counterfactual conditionals express counterfactual relations that aren't causal because they arc backtracking - as when I say 'If my friend had invited me to his birthday party today, then we wouldn't have had a fight yesterday.' Lewis's suggestion is that we should restrict our focus to ordinary or standard contexts, in which backtracking counterfactuals aren't true.
  6. In spite of these problems, the claim that counterfactual views have at least identified a sufficient condition for causation once counterfactual dependence has been restricted in these ways has seemed quite plausible to people. In particular, at least in recent times, it has seemed much more plausible than the converse claim that counterfactual dependence, or something close to it, is necessary' for causation (the consensus seems to be that counterfactual theories have a really hard time addressing the pre-emption problem). From now on I will focus on the sufficiency claim only. I'll call it 'the counterfactual criterion':
      (CC) If there is counterfactual dependence of the ordinary (nonbacktracking) kind between C and E, and if C and E are fully 'distinct' (e.g., they are not logically or mereologically related), then C is a cause of E.
    CC seems to be initially plausible: if E counterfactually depends on C, then C is a difference-maker with respect to E - it makes the difference between E's occurring and E's not occurring - and so (if the counterfactual dependence is of the ordinary kind and if C and E are fully distinct) it is plausible to think that C is one of the things (among potentially multiple things) that causally contributed to E's occurrence.
  7. Given CC's initial plausibility, an advantage of counterfactual theories seems to be that they have the basic resources to accommodate causation by omission, which many other theories lack. For example, theories according to which a causal relation requires the transfer of some physical quantity, like energy or momentum (Salmon 1994), or any other kind of physical interaction, don’t have the resources to do this. For there is no physical interaction between the Prince and the plant in virtue of which he caused the plant's death. Counterfactual dependence, by contrast, doesn't require the existence of physical interaction: on the basis of CC, we can say that the Prince caused the plant's death even if he never physically interacted with it. So the ability to accommodate causation by omission appears to be at least a prima facie advantage of counterfactual theories over theories that don't allow- for this type of causation.
  8. I will argue that this is a misconception. I will argue that, despite appearances to the contrary, the ability to accommodate causation by omission is not a prima facie advantage of counterfactual views, at least to the extent that we take the main motivation for believing in causation by omission to be the inadequacy fact about positive causes (as I am assuming we do). For I will argue that, even if omissions are causes, and even if counterfactual views can accommodate causation by omission, those views still fail to respect the inadequacy fact about positive causes. Although my main focus will be counterfactual theories of causation, in the final section I will suggest that the arguments of this chapter apply, more generally, to theories that attempt to account for the contribution of agents' omissions in counterfactual terms, regardless of whether this is a causal contribution or not.

Author’s Conclusion
  1. I have argued that counterfactual views of causation cannot accommodate causation by omission while remaining faithful to the motivation for accepting that kind of causation. In this final section I attempt to generalize this result.
  2. Some philosophers reject the possibility of causation by omission. Still, some of these philosophers feel the need to provide an account of the relation that omissions can bear to outcomes, in virtue of which agents can be morally responsible for those outcomes. Notably, Dowe has offered an account of a relation of this kind, which he called 'quasi-causation' (Dowe 2000, 2001, 2004). According to Dowe, omissions can quasi-cause outcomes, and it is in virtue of this relation of quasi-causation that agents can be morally responsible by omission. Quasi-causation is a counterfactual relation. Basically, whereas for a counterfactual theorist of causation who believes in causation by omission counterfactual dependence between an omission and an outcome is the mark of a causal relation between the omission and the outcome, for Dowe it is the mark of a quasi-causal relation. As far as I can see, everything I’ve said about the prospects of a counterfactual theory of causation can be said, mutatis mutandis, about a counterfactual theory of quasi-causation like Dowe’s.
  3. Briefly, for someone like Dowe, the problem arises as follows. We think that agents can be responsible for outcomes in the world in different ways. Sometimes they are responsible in virtue of having caused those outcomes. Other times they are responsible without causing those outcomes. So we need to find a new way to account for the agents' responsibility in these scenarios. Let’s call this fact 'the inadequacy fact about causes.' The inadequacy fact about causes motivates the search for a new theory, a theory of 'quasi-causation.' It is natural to try to give such a theory in counterfactual terms. But a counterfactual theory of quasi-causation would face the Prince of Wales problem. For similar arguments to those offered here would show that there are 'fake' counterfactual dependencies between genuine causes and the upshots of quasi-causes as well as between quasi-causes and the upshots of genuine causes. As a result, a counterfactual theory of quasi-causation would fail to respect the initial motivation for giving a theory of that kind, i.e. the inadequacy fact about causes.
  4. To conclude: the Prince of Wales problem is not just a problem for counterfactual theories of causation. It is a more general problem that arises for any theory that attempts to understand the contribution of omissions in counterfactual terms.

Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2021
  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)

© Theo Todman, June 2007 - Jan 2021. Please address any comments on this page to File output:
Website Maintenance Dashboard
Return to Top of this Page Return to Theo Todman's Philosophy Page Return to Theo Todman's Home Page