The Space of Possibilities of Dispositional Essentialism (available online)
Published in Philosophical Studies.
How we define the space of possibilities of dispositional essentialism (DE) —that is, the set of possible worlds that are genuinely possible from the point of view of DE— has important consequences for central modal debates such as how to understand the concept of essence or the relation between DE and the necessity of laws of nature. In order to define the space of possibilities we need to explore DE’s consequences regarding both necessity and possibility. Unfortunately, the notion of possibility has not received much attention within the DE literature. In this paper, I attempt to fill this gap. I argue that the standard way of understanding possibility found in the literature —a proposition is possible iff it expresses the manifestation of some actual disposition— needlessly restricts the space of possibilities by not accepting global and absolute possibilities, including some alien properties, as genuinely possible. I propose instead to accept a more permissive understanding of possibility: a proposition is possible iff it does not contradict any of the necessities that follow from the core commitments of DE. This allows dispositionalists to expand their modal space and to account for modal intuitions that may otherwise undermine the tenability of DE.
Dodging the Fundamentalist Threat (with Nicholas Teh) (pre-print version)
Published in Neo-Aristotelian Perspectives on Modern Science, edited by Koons, R., Teh, N. & Simpson, W., Routledge Studies in the Philosophy of Science, Routledge.
Fundamentalism can be defined as a metaphysical thesis stating that the laws of a (hypothetical) unified physical theory exhaustively govern all of material reality. If true, fundamentalism undermines the pluralistic nature of most Neo-Aristotelian ontologies. Fundamentalists claim that their metaphysical position is supported by a thesis about scientific practice, Fundamental Unification: the success of science (especially fundamental physics) at providing a unifying explanation for phenomena in disparate domains is good evidence for fundamentalism. The goal of this paper is to recommend a particular set of resources to Neo-Aristotelians for resisting Fundamental Unification, and thereby fundamentalism. The set of resources in question originates in the work of Nancy Cartwright, who has famously drawn on the details of scientific practice in order to launch an argument against fundamentalism. We argue that anti-fundamentalism is a live option, because the best argument for Fundamental Unification rests on assumptions that beg the question against Cartwright’s epistemology of scientific models. While acknowledging that Cartwright’s approach is in many ways underdeveloped, we conclude by offering a general guide of how this approach can be more fully worked-out if it is to be incorporated into a compelling Neo-Aristotelian picture of the relationship between metaphysics and science.
Articles under Review / in Preparation
(drafts available upon request)
Understanding Regularities: Logical, Modal and Ontological Features
Traditionally, philosophers have cashed out the distinction between law-like and accidental regularities sharply: a regularity is either law-like, and thereby necessary, or accidental. However, Mitchel (2000) and Lange (2009) have drawn attention to the fact that some law-like regularities come in different degrees of necessity. For instance, the regularity expressed by “all electrons are negatively charged” has a greater degree of necessity than the one expressed by “all mammals are warm blooded,” even if both of them are true. Moreover, Mitchell argues that the dichotomy between accidental and necessary regularities is unable to capture the complexity of the causal structure of the world. Building on this, I argue that regularities do not only come in different degrees of necessity, but also have different formal features (domain scope, generality, etc.) and ontological features (they have different ontological grounds). All these features matter in order to make sense of the causal complexity of the world. Accordingly, I propose a new conceptual framework to analyze regularities with three mutually independent levels of analysis depending on whether we focus on their formal features, their degree of necessity, or their ontological grounds. This new framework can make sense of different degrees of necessity, and naturally accommodates a wide variety of scientifically-relevant regularities including those usually associated with laws of nature, but also those associated to biological mechanisms, or dispositional properties.
Against Nomological Modalism
Natural modality defines the limits of what is possible in worlds like ours. But, what are “worlds like ours”? A common way of characterizing those worlds that are relevantly like ours is by picking out those worlds that share the same laws of nature as the actual world. According to this approach, laws of nature (and their logical consequences) are naturally necessary and everything logically consistent with the laws (and their logical consequences) is naturally possible. However, I argue that this approach is unable to capture all and only the domain of natural modality. Close attention to the use of natural modality in scientific practice reveals three general difficulties showing that exclusive focus on the laws both excludes some natural possibilities that should be included, and includes some natural possibilities that should be excluded. I conclude that approaching natural modality by exclusively focusing on the laws of nature ultimately fails and that a proper account of natural modality should be sensitive to the different modal concepts that are used in scientific practice such as mechanisms and dispositions. Rejecting this approach not natural modality frees us from a particularly constraining way of understanding natural modality and opens the door to new, more fruitful approaches.
A Guide to the Modal Content of Scientific Theories: Towards a More Complete Theory-based Epistemology of Modality
Fischer (2017) develops a compelling naturalistic epistemology of modality that takes the modal knowledge provided by our best scientific theories to be the main source of modal knowledge. According to his Theory-based Epistemology of Modality (TEM), a person is justified in believing an interesting modal claim p iff (a) she is justified in believing a theory according to which p is true; (b) she believes p on the basis of that theory, and (c) she has no defeaters for the true belief in p. TEM is particularly compelling and attractive to naturalist metaphysicians and philosophers of science; however, as presented, this view is heavily underspecified. In particular, Ficher’s account of what does it take for p to be true according to a theory (i.e. (a)) is too simplistic and it does not stand up to the current standards of the philosophy of science literature. In this paper, I attempt to remedy that by proposing a general account of how to interpret the modal content of scientific theories that takes into account the diversity of modal concepts and practices that we find in science. I argue that, as a result of this modification, TEM is reinforced and it is better able to dispel some of its main criticisms.
Review of Scientific Metaphysics edited by Ross, D., Ladyman, J. and Kincaid, H. (with Katherine Brading)
Published in The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science.