Research Page

My Published Research

Hi there.  To make things a little easier on people interested in what I’ve been up to, I’ve organized my published papers under broad subject headings and have included brief descriptions of what happens in them.

Almost all of these papers can also be downloaded via my CV, and the full publication information is located there.  But you can download the papers here as well.

Being, Existence, Reality

Around late 2006 I began to get really interested in questions about the nature of being.  The overarching questions that really interested me (and continue to interest me!) are (1) whether everything is in the same way or whether there are different ways to be and (2) whether some things are more than others.

I have written a book on this stuff, which is titled The Fragmentation of BeingHere is a list of the table of contents:

Introduction
1. Ways of Being
2. A Return to the Analogy of Being
3. Ways of Being and Time
4. Categories of Being
5. Being and Almost Nothingness
6. Persons and Value
7. Degrees of Being
8. Being and Ground
9. Being and Essence
Concluding Unsystematic Postscript

There are also a number of papers on these topics. Some of them were revised and incorporated into the above book.

Ways of Being” was the first paper to come out of this period. In it I do three things. First, I show how contemporary metaphysicians can make sense of the doctrine that there are ways of being by appealing to the notions of naturalness (developed by David Lewis and Ted Sider) and restricted quantification.  Second, I explain the meta-ontology of Martin Heidegger circa Being and Time in terms of the framework I develop.  Third, I discuss some and defuse some common objections to the view that there are ways of being. Finally, I propose possible avenues of further research.

In “A Return to the Analogy of Being” I develop two general sufficient conditions for when a philosophically interesting property is an analogous property.  Roughly, an analogously property is something like a disjunctive property, but which has more unity than a merely disjunctive property.  (You’ll have to read the paper to get something less rough than that, I’m afraid.)  If a philosophically interesting property is an analogous property, it’s not a perfectly natural property and some specifications of it are more natural than it is. After developing these two sufficient conditions and illustrating them by appealing to certain views I have about the parthood relations, I turn to whether being or existence are analogous properties and argue that, given certain popular metaphysical views, they are.

In “Being and Almost Nothingness” I explore the idea that some things exist more than others.  For me, the paradigmatic examples of objects that are but are less than fully real are holes and shadows.  I call such entities “almost nothings” because it is an apt name but also because this way I could have a really cool paper title.  Anyways, using the frame work developed earlier in “Ways of Being” I show both how to make sense of the idea that some entities have less being than others but also how my way of making sense of this idea matches on to ideas found in the work of Aquinas and Suarez.

In “Degrees of Being” I argue that either the notion of naturalness and the notion of degree of being are inter-definable or naturalness should be understood in terms of the metaphysically prior notion that some entities have more being than others. I also argue that there is no reason to postulate a primitive grounding relation linking entities to entities since the notion of degree of being is sufficient to do the work that this sort of grounding relation is called to employ.

In “Ontological Pluralism and the Question of Why There is Something Rather than Nothing” I discuss ways in which the views that there are modes of being and degrees of being complicate the question of why there is something rather than nothing.

In “Existence and Number”, I critically evaluate what I take to be the most promising argument for the view that existence is not a property of individuals, but is rather a higher-order property of some sort. This argument is Frege’s argument from the analogy of attributions of existence and number. I argue that this argument fails.

“Pasnau on Category Realism: Remarks on Robert Pasnau’s Metaphysical Themes 1274-1671 is a revised version of my comments on Robert Pasnau’s ginormous tome, originally presented at a Pacific Division meeting of the American Philosophical Association. In this commentary, I discuss Pasnau’s interpretations of the ontological schemes of several historical figures with an eye towards the relevance of these schemes to contemporary concerns.

Finally, “Trenton Merricks’Truth and Ontology” is a critical study of Trenton’s book, but since there is some stuff concerning being discussed in it, I moved this study here.

Some of the papers in the section on history of philosophy also touch on these issues.

Modality

My dissertation director was Phillip Bricker and his dissertation director was David Lewis.  So an interest in modality is inscribed in my philosophical DNA.

In “Modal Realism with Overlap” I develop a version of modal realism in which objects are wholly present at more than one world. The view developed here is the modal analogue of endurantism. I also develop this view in the context of a pluralism about part-whole relations, a pluralism that Lewis himself rejected.

The goal of “Modal Realisms” is to develop the best version of possibilism by subjecting each of a series of different versions of possibilism to argumentative pressure and then showing how its successor view deflates that pressure. Just as in “Modal Realism with Overlap”, in the context of developing the versions of possibilism I engage in wider metaphysical disputes. Specifically, in this paper, I also develop a view of spacetime as a collection of spacetime points construed as tropes, a view of possible worlds as clusters of tropes (including but not limited to spacetime point-tropes), and a view of tropes in which the tropes are kind of like universals.

“Are There Essential Properties? Yes.”  This is a co-written paper with Steve Steward. We defend genuine essential properties from recent arguments by Meghan Sullivan.

I wrote “Discrete Space and Distance” as a graduate student. It makes a small point, namely that given Lewis’s views about recombination and spatial relations, there are possible worlds in which space is discrete and yet the Pythagorean theorem is true – contrary to the so-called Weyl-Tile argument that concluded that the Pythagorean theorem must fail if space is discrete.  I have a funny story about the slings and arrows involved in getting this paper (accepted for publication in 2002 or 2003?) in print.

Mereology and Persistence

With respect to persistence through time, I am broadly sympathetic with a kind of endurantism.  With respect to mereology, I am a compositional pluralist – I think there is more than one fundamental parthood relation.  I’m also interested in the relation between composition and identity, though I don’t think that relation is identity!

In “Structure-Making” I explore the nature of fact-composition. D.M. Armstrong’s theory of fact-composition and his version of compositional pluralism are critically evaluated.

Against Composition as Identity”.  Well, the name says it all I guess. I argue that composition as identity is incompatible with the possibility of emergent properties (as characterized in the paper) and so should be rejected.

In “Compositional Pluralism and Composition as Identity”, I argue that several forms of compositional pluralism are actually compatible with composition as identity.  I continue to find this result completely surprising.

Parthood is Identity?” is a strange but fun paper in which I explore how a version of relative identity (according to which the relation of identity holds between things only relative to a region of spacetime) can be developed into an unusual but philosophically powerful and intriguing version of the view that composition is identity.

Composition as Identity Does Not Imply Universalism”.  A short paper proving what the title says.

Tropes and Ordinary Physical Objects” was actually my first published paper. I wrote the first draft of it as an undergraduate in 1998, presented it at the Pacific APA the next year, and Lynne Rudder Baker allowed me to revise it as a seminar paper for her graduate class on material constitution. I then submitted it to Phil Studies.  In this paper, I argue for a version of mereological bundle theory that I call TOPO (for “Theory of Ordinary Physical Objects”).  TOPO says that ordinary physical objects are mereological sums of monadic and relational tropes.  I argue that TOPO provides a solution to puzzles of material constitution involving the alleged co-location of material objects. Additionally, two arguments that have played a prominent role in shaping the current debate, Mark Heller’s argument for FourDimensionalism and Peter van Inwagen’s argument against Mereological Universalism, are shown to be unsound given this version of the bundle theory.

Parts and Wholes” is an opinionated survey of some of the expansive literature on the metaphysics of parts and wholes.

My dissertation was on mereological simplicity. Most of it was either published previously or was published as papers. In Brutal Simples, I argued that there is no informative set of necessary and jointly sufficient conditions for being a simple. In Against MaxCon Simples, I argued against the view that something is a simple just in case it is a maximally continuous object. One of the arguments developed is what I call “the problem of spatial intrinsics”, which as the name suggests is the spatial analogue of the problem of temporal intrinsics. In Extended Simples, I present an argument for the possibility of extended simples, argue that the doctrine of arbitrary undetached parts is true only if the shape properties of  material objects are intrinsic properties, and then argue that these properties are extrinsic rather than intrinsic. “Gunky Objects in a Simple World” explores the mereological structure of objects that lack simple parts in worlds in which the spacetime regions that contain them do have simple parts.

Extended Simples and Qualitative Heterogeneity” was written some time later. I present an argument against Josh Parsons’ theory of fundamental distributional properties and argue for a trope-based solution to the problem of spatial intrinsics.

No Paradox of Multi-Location” is a defense of endurantism against an alleged paradox.

Miscellaneous Metaphysics 

This is stuff that doesn’t neatly fit into the other headings above. If eventually more papers appear here, and some sort of pattern emerges, I’ll change the title!

In “Normative Accounts of Fundamentality”, I describe a number of views in which metaphysical fundamentality is accounted for in normative terms.  After describing many different ways this key idea could be developed, I turn to developing the idea in one specific way. After all, the more detailed the proposal, the easier it is to assess whether it works.  The rough idea is that what it is for a property to be fundamental is for it to be prima facie obligatory to theorize in terms of that property.

In “Propositions: Individuation and Invirtuation“, I defend a theory of the individuation conditions of propositions that individuates them via a relation of non-factive grounding I call “invirtuation”.  Invirtuation is supposed to be a relation of metaphysical explanation that can have false propositions among its relata.  One of the tasks of this paper is provide precedents for this sort of relation. Another task is to compare the individuation condition defended with a version of a cognitive equivalence condition.

This is Metaphysics is an introductory text-book for metaphysics, designed to be approachable to a newcomer to philosophy who is willing to work.  It’s been through the refereeing process, and I am working on finalizing the manuscript.

History of Philosophy

Although I work mainly in metaphysics, I do have serious interests in the history of philosophy, although primarily the history of metaphysics.

In “A Philosophical Model of the Distinction between Appearances and Things in Themselves” I develop a technique for doing the history of philosophy that I call “philosophical modeling”.  A philosophical model is a worked out philosophical position that has features that are analogous to the historical position of which it is supposed to be a model of. But the philosophical model might have features that are ‘mere artifacts’ of the model, i.e., not part of the fully faithful account of the meaning of some statement of a historically important philosophical view. But still the philosophical model can be useful if the following conditions obtain. First, it is clear that the philosophical model is itself a coherent philosophical position, and second, when taken as a model for the historical position, it shows a way in which that historical position could be coherently maintained. This is especially important when the position in question is one whose coherence has often been doubted, as is the case with Kant’s distinction between things in themselves and appearances. And finally, there must be no elements in the model that are explicitly ruled out by the text.  In this paper, the distinction between things in themselves and appearances is modeled by the constitution relation.

Edith Stein: On the Problem of Empathy” is a paper forthcoming in Ten Neglected Philosophical Classics. Each paper in this collection focuses on an important work of philosophy that has received insufficient attention. I focus on Edith Stein, who was an important member of the phenomenological movement and Husserl’s first academic assistant, and her first major work, her book On the Problem of Empathy, which is roughly concerned with how we acquire knowledge of the mental lives of other persons.  Stein’s view is that there is an irreducible intentional state (that she calls empathy) by which we acquire this knowledge.

“Eternity in 20th Century Philosophy” discusses some of the central arguments for the existence of atemporal entities in the 20th century philosophy. Among the figures discussed are McTaggart, F.H. Bradley, and Kurt Goedel.

Heidegger famously distinguishes between that which is merely present-at-hand and that which is ready-to-hand.  In “Heidegger’s Metaphysics of Material Beings”, I argue that this is an ontological distinction between two different categories of entity and that no ready-to-hand entity is numerically identical with any present-at-hand entity.

Heidegger also famously says that Being depends on Dasein, even though beings in general do not. Wha???  “Heidegger and the “There Is” of Being” offers an interpretation of what’s going on in the passages in which this sort of assertion is made.

The Idealism of Mary Whiton Calkins” carefully discusses and critically evaluates the idealist metaphysics of Calkins, an important early 20th century American idealist.  Calkins defended a version of absolute idealism on which the Absolute is a person who is neither limited nor embodied and who contains other persons as parts. On my interpretation of Calkins, although finite persons are metaphysically grounded in the Absolute, they are nonetheless as real as the Absolute. Other interesting features of Calkins’ metaphysics are also discussed in this paper.

John McTaggart” is the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s entry on J.M.E. McTaggart, one of the most influential early 20th century metaphysicians.

“Pasnau on Category Realism: Remarks on Robert Pasnau’s Metaphysical Themes 1274-1671 is a revised version of my comments on Robert Pasnau’s fantastic and ginormous tome, originally presented at a Pacific Division meeting of the American Philosophical Association.

As the title suggests, in “Ontology and Philosophical Methodology in the Early Susanne Langer”, I describe the ontology and philosophical methodology of Susan Langer’s early period, which is roughly 1924-1942. There are interesting connections between both. Langer is one of the first persons, perhaps even the first person, to self-describe as an analytic philosopher and to articulate a rationale for grouping other philosophers under that heading. On her conception of philosophy, there are two fundamental tasks, both falling under the heading “the pursuit of meaning”. The first task is analytic: to understand meanings, which I argue are publicly accessible forms that are subjected to a mental act of abstraction. Forms in turn exist only relative to what Langer calls “a logical language”.  The second task is constructive: to construct new meanings that will serve the job of existent ones that are ill-suited for use in philosophical theorizing.

In “Metaphysics, History, Phenomenology”, I critically examine a phenomenological approach to metaphysics derived from Husserl circa the Logical Investigations.  If the approach is correct, there is an interesting explanation for the relevance of history of philosophy, cross-cultural philosophy, and a kind of experimental philosophy to contemporary philosophical theorizing. But there is some reason to think that this approach cannot support claims about fundamental metaphysics.

There’s also a book review of A.W. Moore’s The Evolution of Modern Metaphysics.

And a book review of Lucy Allais’s Manifest Reality: Kant’s Idealism and His Realism

I have written a critical review of Nick Stang’s Kant’s Modal Metaphysics as part of an author meets critics collection, to be published in the Kantian Review along with James van Cleve, Rae Langton, and replies from Nick Stang.

Ethics broadly construed

I also have interests in ethics construed broadly.

In “A Moorean View of the Value of Lives”, I revisit the question of whether the notion of something being intrinsically good (or bad) for a person can be reduced to the notion of being intrinsically good (or bad) full-stop.  There are three puzzle cases that suggest that it cannot, which I detail here.  However, if the basic bearers of intrinsic value include what I call totality states, then these puzzle cases can be defused.

Desires” is co-written with Ben Bradley.  We argue that desire is an attitude that relates a person not to one proposition but rather to two, the first of which we call the object of the desire and the second of which we call the condition of the desire.  This view of desire is initially motivated by puzzles about conditional desires.  It is not at all obvious how best to draw the distinction between conditional and unconditional desires. In this paper we examine extant attempts to analyse conditional desire. From the failures of those attempts, we draw a moral that leads us to the correct account of conditional desires. We then extend the account of conditional desires to an account of all desires. We attempt to explain the distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic desire in light of our account of desire. We show how to use our account to solve Wollheim’s paradox of democracy and to save modus ponens. Finally, we extend the account of desire to related phenomena, such as conditional promises, intentions, and commands.

Death and Desires” is also co-written with Ben Bradley. In this paper, we use the theory of desire defended in “Desires” to undercut Bernard Williams’s arguments for the undesirability of immortality, among other things.

Critical Study of On Myself, and Other, Less Important Subjects by Caspare Hare ” is a lengthy (4000+ word) study of Hare’s book, which addresses centrally important topics in both ethics and metaphysics.

I co-edited The Good, The Right, Life and Death, (along with Richard Feldman, Jason Raibley,  and Michael Zimmerman).  This book has many interested papers on value-theory therein, although none of them is written by me.

Since you made it this far, here’s another picture of my dog, Ranger.

 

ranger