These appear in the order in which they will be presented. Participants are invited to post their papers at the Pitt PhilSci Archive. This area remain open after the conference has ended.


Alexander Reutlinger (University of Münster)

“Woodward meets Russell. Does Causation in the Special Sciences fit into the World of Physics?”

Recent interventionist explications of causation lead to pressing metaphysical questions. These explications are conceptually non-reductive in the sense that a causal notion is explicated by means of (other) causal notions. According to interventionism, roughly, X causes Y if and only if there is a possible intervention on X such that the value of Y changes. Woodward’s (2003) interventionist approach to causation is conceptually non-reductive because it refers to interventions (which are explicitly introduced as causal notions) and it includes a clause to hold other causes fixed. What do such explications suggest about the metaphysics of causation? Some philosophers might be tempted to think that a conceptually non-reductive explication of causal notions at least strongly suggests that causal facts are ontologically irreducible and fundamental. This view certainly is a metaphysical option. However, many philosophers of science reject the view that causation is an irreducible, fundamental building block of the world. In On the Notion of Cause, Bertrand Russell argues that there is no room for causation in a world described by contemporary physics. Neo-Russellians weaken this original claim: there is no causation on the fundamental physical level, yet – contra Russell – there are causal relations in the realms of the special sciences. Interventionists have recently argued for this Neo-Russellian claim by the means of the Open-Systems-Argument. I provide three reasons to show that the Open-Systems-Argument fails. Finally, I will point out an alternative argument for the Neo-Russellian claim that is viable for interventionists: the statistical-mechanical approach to causation.

Graham Macdonald and Cynthia Macdonald (Queen's University–Belfast)

“Higher-order Causation Requires (Some) Metaphysics”

A recently formulated strategy for defending the autonomy of higher-order causation works by denying that there is any problem of causal over-determination arising from the presumed causal closure of the physical (List and Menzies, Woodward, Raatikanen). The strategy depends on a ‘difference-making’ account of causation, and proceeds without commitment to any metaphysical account of causes and effects. We argue that this is a fatal weakness: at least one (popular) metaphysics of events invalidates the conclusions arrived at by these difference theorists. (Some) difference-theorists have suggested that any such metaphysics is required only if a ‘biffy’ conception of causality is presumed. We argue that this is not so: the metaphysics will invalidate the conclusion even if the difference making account of causation is accepted. Our conclusion is that one cannot avoid the problems arising from putative over-determination on a metaphysics-lite diet.

Aaron Wright (Toronto)

“Challenges for an Ontic Structural Realist Account of Laws”

This paper considers an account of the metaphysics of natural law according to Ontic Structural Realism. It argues that more needs to be done to clarify the inner workings of OSR before such an account can be understood in detail. However, the recent discussion of laws within OSR offers an opportunity to attempt to clarify the status of different sorts of 'structure' within OSR. One way to do this is in terms of the mathematics of category theory. The paper describes what the OSR-ist needs to provide to have a coherent notion of 'structure' in terms of category theory. Equipped with a precise notion of structure, the paper proceeds to evaluate how OSR can relate the scientific law-statements it identifies with structure with the underlying metaphysical 'physical' structure in terms of modern field theory. OSR is left with serious challenges.

Gregory Lusk (Toronto)

“Natural Laws, Governance, and Dispositional Essentialism”

It is frequently supposed that the concept of ‘law of nature’ originates from an analogy to divine legislation. Wrapped up in this analogy is the notion that the entities or processes mentioned in the statements of law are governed by the laws themselves. The philosophy of science has not departed from the employment of this analogy. For example, the “covering law” account of explanation implies that the law of nature contained in the explanans somehow presides over the initial conditions and thus produces the expected outcome.  More recently however, the notion of governance has played a crucial role in the metaphysical debate over the status of natural laws.  Arguments have been presented which conclude that the concept of natural law should be dispensed with because they are not capable of fulfilling their role as things that govern. The very acceptance of natural laws into our ontology may rest on the notion of governance.

I argue that despite philosophic tradition, the notion of governance is not necessary for, nor should be connected with, the concept of natural law. In demonstrating this, I aim to undermine arguments which show that without governance we do not have laws.  My argument will proceed in two parts. In section one, I will show through a historical review of the origins of natural laws that the notion of governance is not a general feature of the natural law concept. Given that we are not required to connect laws with governance, the second section of the paper argues against those that employ governance in an attempt to dispense with the natural law concept all together. I conclude that not only do arguments in favor of natural lawlessness fail, but that a lawless realist view cannot be maintained.

Chris DiTerisi (George Mason University)

“Reclaiming Typology: ‘Typological Thinking’ and Typological Practice”


Andrea Borghini (Holy Cross) and Marco Nathan (Columbia)

“Identity and Development”

In metaphysics, it is standard to identify parts of individuals in terms of form, function, or causal history. Attention to the sciences, however, suggests a more fine-grained picture. Biology, for instance, distinguishes between two kinds of causal history: evolutionary history and developmental history. In this essay we set out to study the peculiarity of development as a criterion for identity, and its relation to other criteria. Examples of serial homologies and genetic reprogramming, where morphology (form) and function, even when supplemented with evolutionary history, are insufficient to identify a trait, show that the very notion of identity across both individuals and kinds must be reconsidered. Developmental mechanisms bring in a novel aspect to the business of part identification: identity of process. Entities can be type-identical in virtue of the fact that they were formed and developed through analogous processes.

Dan McArthur and Marc Champagne (York)

“When constraints fail to constrain: a critical look at Ross and Ladyman's information theoretic structural realism”

Ross and Ladyman in their recent book Everything Must Go: Metaphysics Naturalised defend both an ontology consisting entirely of relations and two important constraints that any proposed ontology must meet if it is not to be considered to be the product of empty speculation. These are the Principle of Naturalistic Closure (PNC) and the Primacy of Physics Constraint (PPC). They state that any proposed ontology must be consistent with well confirmed science, physics in particular. The PNC is also held to have the added benefit of helping to adjudicate between rival ontological proposals by identifying the ontology that best conceptually unifies disparate scientific domains such as the study of consciousness with that of micro-physics. Ross and Ladyman contend that their proposed ontology of relations fares best when adjudicated against their constraints. In this paper we criticise the purported role of the PPC and PNC by arguing that different ontologies can satisfy the constraints and conceptually unify disparate fields equally well. We show that, while there is a great deal of value in Ross and Ladyman's information theoretic reading of “real patterns” to unify disparate scientific domains, it nevertheless leaves ontology underdetermined. In so arguing we will also show that Ross and Ladyman's relational ontology is not as uniquely mandated by current physics as they claim.

Kerry McKenzie (Leeds)

“The Heuristic Conception of Metaphysics: Cutting a Deal between Analytic Metaphysics and Naturalistic Philosophy of Science”

Writing from the perspective of a philosopher of science, and with reference to the history of structuralism, I propose that we understand the relationship between philosophy of science and metaphysics in terms of an analogy with that between physics and mathematics.  Such an analogy suggests that – contrary to the claims of Ladyman and Ross – the philosopher of science should sanction scientifically disinterested metaphysical enquiry in virtue of its potential utility for future philosophy of science.  However, I also insist that certain minimal naturalistic constraints should be placed on metaphysical theorizing and, with reference to the work of David Lewis, I show that naturalistic considerations can place constraints even on the metaphysics of the non-actual and non-physicalistic.  The hope is that this conception of the relationship between the two fields represents a tenable middle ground between the more naturalistically-inclined and those who have been put on the defensive by recent anti-metaphysical works, one that reminds even the most esoteric of analytic metaphysicians that they need philosophers of science too. The picture ultimately produced is one of mutual intellectual dependence between the practitioners of either field.

P.D. Magnus (SUNY—Albany)

“Drakes, Seadevils, and Similarity Fetishism”

Homeostatic property clusters (HPCs) are offered as a way of understanding natural kinds, especially biological species. I review the HPC approach and then discuss an objection by Ereshefsky and Matthen, to the effect that an HPC qua cluster seems ill-fitted as a description of a polymorphic species. The standard response by champions of the HPC approach is to say that all members of a polymorphic species have things in common, namely dispositions or conditional properties. I argue that this response fails. Instances of an HPC kind need not all be similar in their exhibited properties. Instead, HPCs should instead be understood as unified by the underlying causal mechanism that maintains them. The causal mechanism can both produce and explain some systematic differences between a kind's members. An HPC kind is best understood not as a single cluster of properties maintained in stasis by causal forces, but as a complex of related property clusters kept in relation by an underlying causal process. This approach requires recognizing that taxonomic systems serve both explanatory and inductive purposes.

Stephen Boulter (Oxford Brookes University)

“On the Transition from Science to Metaphysics”

It is natural and appropriate that philosophers with an interest in the sciences should eventually find themselves preoccupied with topics normally associated with metaphysics. But metaphysics is not science. If the transition is to be managed successfully the methods and standards of this distinct discipline must be recognised. Unfortunately this is not always done. With an eye to the standard criticisms levelled at the very possibility of metaphysics, this position paper sketches an account of the metaphysical project and the aporetic method. This method relies heavily on the metaphysician’s familiarity with the sciences, and provides a mechanism for distinguishing genuine problems from pseudo problems. It is this method which allows one safely to manage the transition from science to metaphysics.

Katherine Brading (Notre Dame)

“Unity and Change in Newton's Physics”

Here is a problem at the heart of the metaphysics of the natural world: How, if at all, can a unity undergo change? This problem incorporates two questions. First, in virtue of what is a thing a *genuine unity*? And second, the issue that’s more obvious in the formulation of the question: how, if at all, can such a unity undergo change? There are two basic approaches to this problem present in Newton’s physics. The more familiar grounds unity and change in space and time, the second in the laws of nature. The latter approach is set out in this paper. I argue that a law-constitutive approach to the entities that are the subject-matter of Newton’s physics offers a principle of unity for things, be they simple or composite, and for the parts of composites, such that we also gain an account of what it is for a genuine unity to undergo change in its properties whilst retaining its numerical identity. I end by arguing that the law-constitutive approach favors endurantism over perdurantism. This paper is intended as an example of a particular approach to the relationship between metaphysics and philosophy of physics, according to which, as a philosopher, one engages with physics as a part of the history of philosophy, beginning with our deepest philosophical questions and using the development of physics read as a contribution to natural philosophy to explore how these questions are transformed, re-worked, addressed, and sometimes rendered non-questions.

Brian Epstein (Tufts)

“Metaphysics in Social Science”

Recent work in “esoteric metaphysics” — on such topics as coincident entities, ontological dependence, and the grounding relation — strikes many philosophers as a waste of philosophical talent, and as entirely irrelevant to the sciences.  In this paper, I defend some practical uses for esoteric metaphysics in the social sciences.  I begin by discussing ways in which errors about the supervenience of social entities has adversely affected models in the social sciences.  I argue that more “esoteric” problems in social ontology have similar implications for the construction of social models.

Christina Conroy (Morehead State University)

“The Relative Facts Interpretation and Everett's ‘note added in proof’”

One of the benefits of considering metaphysical interpretations of physics is that by doing so, one can hope to come to new and fruitful interpretations of seminal pieces of work.  I will argue that the development of what I take to be the most charitable, faithful and conservative interpretation of Hugh Everett's pure wave mechanics, the relative facts interpretation, [RFI], leads to a new and interesting reading of probably the most famous quote of his dissertation: the "note added in proof".  There are several difficulties facing any Everett interpreter: the question of probability, the preferred basis problem, the problem of determinate measurement records and how to make sense of Everett's claim that "all elements of a superposition (all "branches") are "actual," none any more "real" than the rest."  What concerns me here is the latter of these.  In what follows I present the RFI, in brief, and show how it leads, by necessity, to a new interpretation of the "note added in proof" using evidence found in unpublished letters written by and to Everett.  Given that this footnote is often the strongest proof offered for any of the various interpretations of Everett, it is of vital importance to the project of Everettian interpretation that one understands this footnote properly.

Claudio Calosi (University of Urbino)

“Persistence and Change in Minkowski Spacetime”

I consider a case in which considerations drawn from a particular physical theory, namely Special Theory of Relativity, help the formulation and the solution of the traditional metaphysical debate about metaphysics of persistence. I formulate rigorously the main alternatives in metaphysics of persistence, three and four-dimensionalism within the context of metrical Minkowski spacetime using four-dimensional geometry, classical mereology and a formal theory of location. I then go on to raise a new relativistic problem for a particular metaphysics of persistence, three-dimensionalism. I argue that, classical three-dimensionalist solutions to the so called puzzle of change, fail in Minkowski spacetime because, due to its geometric structure, the exact locations of a three-dimensional object typically overlap each other.

Johanna Wolff (Michigan)

“When is it metaphysics?”

The question of how much metaphysics is involved in doing science and/or doing philosophy of science is a pressing one. Some philosophers of science consider themselves ‘anti-metaphysicians’ and aim to avoid metaphysics altogether. Others, by contrast, propose that philosophers of science should do metaphysics, but a scientifically grounded metaphysics. These opposing views about the role of philosophers of science vis-a-vis metaphysics indicate a need for clarification: when we look for metaphysics in science, what are we even looking for? In this paper I distinguish two different ways in which metaphysics might be thought to be involved in science, and suggest three conditions for telling whether elements of scientific theories are metaphysics.

Martin Thomson-Jones (Oberlin)

“Against Bracketing and Complacency: Metaphysics and the Methodology of the Sciences”

There are many accounts of scientific representation, modelling, theory structure, and the like which engage in talk of mathematical structures, fictional objects, or both. It seems natural to ask, when faced with such accounts, whether there in fact are such things as mathematical structures or fictional objects, and if so, whether they are the sorts of things the accounts in question would need them to be—two straightforwardly metaphysical questions. A common reaction amongst philosophers of science is then to insist that, for the purposes of the philosophy of science, we can simply ignore such questions, and should best do so. I argue, however, that the argument for bracketing the metaphysical questions fails, and that, moreover, we cannot achieve certain of our central aims as philosophers of science without addressing them.

Matthew Haug (William and Mary)

“Toward a Naturalistic Reformation of Quinean Meta-ontology”

In this paper, I explore the prospects for reforming the standard Quinean approach to answering ontological questions. Drawing on and revising work by Penelope Maddy and Zoltan Szabo, I formulate and defend a schema for determining ontological commitments according to which it is not possible to read off such commitments from the theories one accepts. I argue that Maddy’s critique of confirmational holism and her focus on detection, a novel form of evidence that goes beyond Quinean theoretical virtues, can be used to improve Szabo’s account of ontological commitment, which holds that in some cases it is rational to believe that some entities exist while refusing to believe in such entities (i.e. while refraining from full-blown ontological commitment to those entities). I also show how elements of Szabo’s view can be used to formulate ontological reservations that are not motivated by worries about detection. The resulting hybrid account captures the grain of truth in skeptical attitudes toward ontology and has interesting implications for the nature of naturalized metaphysics and its relation to other disciplines.

Tuomas Tahko (Helsinki)

“Naturalizing Aprioristic Metaphysics”

The question about the relationship between metaphysics and (philosophy of) science is especially pressing for those of us who hold that metaphysics is an a priori discipline. The purpose of this paper is to examine the challenge for aprioristic metaphysics that emerges from recent literature, most forcefully presented by Ladyman and Ross. First, the Ladyman-Ross challenge will be analyzed with regard to their critique of the use of armchair intuitions and pseudo-scientific thought experiments in metaphysics. The upshot of this discussion is that they have somewhat misrepresented the methodology of aprioristic metaphysics. In the remainder of the paper a more charitable methodology of aprioristic metaphysics will be sketched and it will be suggested that even an aprioristic metaphysics can be reconciled with (philosophy of) science.

Michael Liston (Wisconsin—Milwaukee)

“Duhemian Lessons for Metaphysicians”

In this paper I discuss lessons that metaphysicians might learn from Duhem.  Given Duhem’s well known antipathy to metaphysics, you will likely think that this is a fairly inauspicious beginning with a predictable ending: i.e., physics is one thing, metaphysics another, and never the twain shall meet.  If you will bear with me, however, I hope to persuade you differently.  On the contrary, I will argue, Duhem was both a common sense and metaphysical realist, his nuanced views about the relationship between physics and metaphysics are poorly understood,  and properly understood contain important lessons for contemporary metaphysics.  I’ll spend most of the paper rehabilitating Duhem and finish with some lessons for metaphysicians.

Mauro Dorato (University of Rome 3)

“Physics, Metaphysics, and the Relationship between the Scientific and the Manifest Image of the World”

In this paper I argue that if physics is to become a coherent metaphysics of nature it needs an interpretation. An interpretation of a physical theory requires two main ingredients: (i) a precise formulation of its ontological claims and (ii) a clear explanation of how such claims are related to the world of our experience. I will first try to classify various attitudes that metaphysicians entertain and have entertained in the past towards physics, will then criticize prevalent attempts at combining physics and metaphysics and will finally articulate my own view of how, on the basis of (i) and (ii), the scientific image provided by physics and the manifest image elaborated by metaphysical theories should be related.

Alyssa Ney (Rochester)

“Ontological Reduction and the Wave Function Ontology”

An increasingly popular position among philosophers of physics and metaphysicians is wave function realism: the view that the wave function of quantum mechanics is a real, fundamental entity.  The central point of this paper is to state clearly the challenges one faces if one tries to produce a reduction of the objects of our ordinary experience to a wave function ontology. This case puts serious strain on standard theories of reduction one finds in the philosophy of mind and philosophy of science literature.  I spell out the complications and make a tentative proposal towards a new conception of ontological reduction that will better serve this case.

Tracy Lupher (James Madison University)

“Not Particles, Not Quite Fields: An Ontology for Quantum Field Theory”

There are significant problems involved in determining the ontology of quantum field theory (QFT). An ontology involving particles seems to be ruled out due to the problem of defining localized position operators, issues involving interactions in QFT, and, perhaps, the appearance of unitarily inequivalent representations. While this might imply that fields are the most natural ontology for QFT, the wavefunctional interpretation of QFT has significant drawbacks. A modified field ontology is examined where determinables are assigned to open bounded regions of spacetime instead of spacetime points.

Juha Saatsi (Leeds)

“Naturalistic Metaphysics and IBE: The Unbearable Lightness of Being-qua-Being”

According to some metaphysicians the use of inference to the best explanation in metaphysics is continuous with the use of inference to the best explanation in science. Based on the current state of the scientific realism debate, I argue that the use of IBE in metaphysics is problematic, even if there is (limited) room for IBE in science as a guide to the unobservable.

Jessica Wilson (Toronto)

“Fundamental Determinables”

Contemporary philosophers commonly suppose that any fundamental entities there may be are maximally determinate. More generally, they commonly suppose that, whether or not there are fundamental entities, any determinable entities there may be are grounded in, hence less fundamental than, more determinate entities. Hence, for example, Armstrong takes the physical objects entering into the presumed fundamental base to be “determinate in all respects” (1961, p. 59) and Lewis takes the properties characterizing things “completely and without redundancy” to be “highly specific” (1986, 60). Here I will look at the usually cited reasons for these suppositions, and argue that none of these is compelling (S1, S2, S3). The discussion in S3 will moreover identify a positive reason for taking some determinable entities to be part of a fundamental (or relatively fundamental) base. I will go on to sketch an account, patterned after theorizing in the natural sciences, of how certain determinables, along with certain determinates, might together enter into a (relatively) fundamental base (S4). It will not be a consequence of my arguments that all determinables are appropriately considered (relatively) fundamental; I will close by showing how special science entities will, by lights of the positive account and given certain plausible assumptions, typically turn out to be non-fundamental determinables (S5).