"THE BAREST FLUTTER OF THE SMALLEST LEAF": UNDERSTANDING MATERIAL PLENITUDE, THE PHILOSOPHICAL REVIEW, 128 (2): 143-173, APRIL 2019.
According to material plenitude, every material object coincides with an abundance of other material objects which differ in the properties they have essentially and accidentally. Although this kind of plenitude is becoming increasingly popular, it isn’t clear how to make sense of the view beyond its slogan form. As I argue, it turns out to be extraordinarily difficult to do so: straightforward attempts are either inconsistent or fail to capture the target idea. Making progress requires us to engage in more delicate metaphysics than we might have expected, and along the way reveals substantive constraints on the material world. In this paper, I argue that any attempt to develop a coherent version of plenitude is subject to two under-appreciated challenges, and develop a version of plenitude (global plenitude) capable of overcoming both. (Penultimate version available here)
AGAINST CONSERVATISM IN METAPHYSICS (WITH JOHN HAWTHORNE), ROYAL INSTITUTE OF PHILOSOPHY SUPPLEMENT, 82: 45-75, JULY 2018.
In his recent book, 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, and in this we agree substantially with Korman. Our main 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 through our discussion of arbitrariness and parity, and along the way voice some further misgivings about Korman’s own appraisal of the “arguments from arbitrariness.” In the final section we discuss some larger methodological issues about the project of ontology.
A PARADOX OF MATTER AND FORM, THOUGHT: A JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY, 6: 33–42, MARCH 2017.
In the face of the puzzles of material constitution, some philosophers have been moved to posit a distinction between an object's matter and its form. A familiar difficulty for contemporary hylomorphism is to say which properties are eligible as forms: for example, it seems that it would be intolerably arbitrary to say that being statue shaped is embodied by some material object, but that other complex shape properties aren't. Anti-arbitrariness concerns lead quickly to a plenitudinous ontology. The usual complaint is that the super-abundance of material objects is too extraordinary to accept, but I want to raise a different worry: I argue that the most natural way of developing this picture is already inconsistent. I show that a simple version of plenitudinous hylomorphism is subject to a Russellian argument, but argue that we cannot treat the problem straightforwardly as an instance of Russell's Paradox of Sets. (Penultimate version available here.)
Selected Works In Progress
Click titles to expand the abstract. I am happy to share drafts where available!
ARBITRARINESS AND THE LONG ROAD TO PERMISSIVISM
Radically permissive ontologies like mereological universalism and material plenitude are typically motivated by concerns about arbitrariness or anthropocentrism: it would be objectionably arbitrary, the thought goes, to countenance only those objects that we ordinarily take there to be. But despite the prevalence of this idea, it isn’t at all clear what it is for a theory to be “objectionably arbitrary,” or what follows from a commitment to avoiding arbitrariness in metaphysics. This paper aims to clarify both questions, and examines whether arguments from arbitrariness really are the proper foundations for one or both varieties of ontological permissivism. I argue that these considerations (even when made more precise) are far less successful at motivating radical forms of permissivism than we often take them to be. To do better, permissivists must either supply a much more developed metaphysics of material objects, or a controversial (but tempting) conception of what we’re doing when we do metaphysics.
I answer a challenge from Williamson (2013) that the combination of two intuitive views about modality -- that individuals might have failed to exist, but properties exist necessarily -- involves an unacceptable asymmetry in the background theory of quantification. I argue that this asymmetry is justified by differences between the domains: while we have reason to endorse an unrestricted comprehension principle for properties, we aren't bound to endorse the analogously unrestricted ‘comprehension principle’ for individuals.
VARIETIES OF PLENITUDE
This paper explores the relationship between three broad families of plenitudinous proposals: 'profile' varieties (eg. Fairchild (2019), Bennett (2004)), 'path' varieties (eg. Hawthorne (2006)), and hylomorphic varieties (eg. Fine (1982, 1999)), and critically engages recent debates concerning plenitudinous ontologies. I focus on four places for puzzlement about plenitude: how it is motivated, how it is formulated, what the limits of plenitude might be, what to make of all the ontological 'junk' we are left with.
HYLOMORPHIC CHANGE (WITH SHIEVA KLEINSCHMIDT)
According to the Temporal Parts account of change, primary bearers of temporary properties are temporal parts of persisting objects, and the persisting objects (in some sense) derive temporary properties from them. Jeffrey Brower has presented an Aristotelian account of change that has a structure similar to a temporal parts account, but which is friendly to Three-Dimensionalists. On this solution, temporary objects have temporary properties and persisting objects as parts, and persisting objects (in some sense) derive temporary properties from the temporary objects they are successively parts of. We raise a dilemma for this view: either the solution cannot account for facts about how objects change in parts over time, or it requires rejecting the claim that, for any object, if it has a part present at a region, then the object is partly present at the region. We explore how theorists who endorse a hylomorphic view of material objects may be able to reject some common connections between parts and places, but we argue that they will not have plausible grounds to reject the principle about partial location when applied to material objects.
NO SUBSTITUTIONS: EXPLANATION AND ASYMMETRY IN PLATO'S EUTHYPHRO
Most commentators on Plato's Euthyphro have assumed that two crucial inferences of Socrates' argument against Euthyphro's Third Definition rely on a powerful principle of unrestricted substitution, according to which the relata of a true definition are mutually replaceable in explanatory contexts. I show that since Socrates is committed to Asymmetry (that explanatory relations are asymmetric) and to an Explanation Constraint on true definitions (that a true definition of F as G entails that x being F is explained by x being G), any such substitution principle would be inconsistent. Thus, we cannot charitably attribute an unrestricted substitution principle to Socrates. I then argue for a consistent non-substitutional interpretation of the argument (defended also by Richard Sharvy) which, in the presence of the other two principles, provides new insight into the dialogue.
SO MANY FUZZY THINGS
I develop a version of fuzzy plenitude, according to which the world contains not only an abundance of coincident “precise” objects, but also of “fuzzy” objects. I argue that this view is consistent -- and, in particular, doesn’t require vague identity -- and show how the resulting picture provides a more attractive picture of the material world than material plenitude alone.