Monthly Archives: July 2006

Illusions of gunk

I’ve just finished revisions to my “Illusions of gunk” paper. This defends microphysical mereological nihilists (folks who think that the only particulars that exist are microphysical simples) against Ted Sider’s argument that they run into gunky trouble.

The paper is up here, and the abstract follows:

The possibility of gunk has been used to argue against mereological nihilism. This paper explores two responses on the part of the microphysical mereological nihilist: (1) the contingency defence, which maintains that nihilism is true of the actual world; but that at other worlds, composition occurs; (2) the impossibility defence, which maintains that nihilism is necessary true, and so gunk worlds are impossible. The former is argued be ultimately unstable; the latter faces the explanatorily burden of explaining the illusion that gunk is possible. It is argued that we can discharge this burden by focussing on the contingency of the microphysicalist aspect of microphysical mereological nihilism. The upshot is that gunk-based arguments against microphysical mereological nihilism can be resisted.

One thing that I argue for in the paper is that microphysical mereological nihilists are committed to a more far reaching error-theory than you might initially have thought: not only are there no cats and dogs (or compound objects), but there could not have been cats and dogs (or compound objects). I mention in a footnote that this seems to me a real problem for the “counterfactual” fictionalist strategy that Cian Dorr favours to explicate nihilism. Basically, if “cat” isn’t even assigned an intension (as I argue), then “were things to compose but the arrangement of subatomic particles to be exactly as it actually is, then there’d be cats” will be false.

There are problems for alternatives to Dorr’s account too (e.g. I never understood what sense Van Inwagen is supposed to make out of English plural sentences such as “some authors admire only one another”). One future project of mine is to develop a way of doing vanilla possible world semantics in a nihilist world, by tweaking the story about how possible worlds, and possibilia, are constructed…

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Phil studies

Those nice people at Philosophical Studies (NB: no url link, because I haven’t found a way to link to specific springerlink journals) have just let me know that they will publish my paper on conversation and conditionals. What makes me particularly happy about this is that I whiled away many happy hours as a phD student playing “hunt the Stalnaker explanation” (Agustin Rayo being the guilty party who introduced me to this strangely addictive game…)

The idea is simple. The idea is to explain as many philosophical puzzles as possible using Bob Stalnaker‘s conversational dynamics. The consummate player is, of course, Stalnaker himself: read the papers in his Context and Content for the paradigmatic examples, including e.g. compelling explanations of what’s going on with Kripke’s puzzling Pierre, negative existentials, Referential/attributive distinction.

At the time, I was particularly keen to use it to try and explain some stuff about de re belief reports (for the cogniscienti: I was looking at Kaplan’s “youngest spy” counterexample to Quine’s principle of universal exportation). To my regret, I couldn’t make it work, and fell back in the end on using Gricean stuff rather than Stalnakerian stuff in the paper that resulted (and I always find relying on Grice unsatisfying, since I never understood where the various “cooperative maxims” come from).

Anyway, the conditionals paper makes use of the Stalnakerian framework to explain a couple of puzzles about conditionals: in particular, showing how to explain away “Sobel” and “reverse Sobel sequences” on any account of conditionals at least as strong as the material conditional; and showing how to explain away the “Gibbard phenomenon” on my favoured implementation of the Stalnaker-style “closest-worlds” account of the semantics of the indicative conditional.

folding up posts on blogger

I’ve been playing around with a blogger hack that allows short summaries of posts to be displayed on the main blog page: with full posts appearing when you view the main post (they appear “below the fold”.

It seems nicer to me: maybe others disagree. The only bit that irritates me is that you don’t get any indication, from viewing what appears on the main page, whether or not there’s extra content “below the fold”. So you have to write this in yourself.