What I did on my holidays

Sorry for the no-blog-updating of recent times. I’ve just got back to work after a year of research leave, and with teaching and administrating, and lots of fun talks and reading groups to go to, I’ve been pretty overwhelmed. For the time being, here’s a roundup of stuff I’ve been thinking about recently, plus some updates:

My joint paper with Elizabeth Barnes defending (metaphysically) vague parthood is coming out in PPQ.

Erkenntnis have accepted a paper on conditionals and indeterminacy for a special issue on conditionals and ranking functions. Special thanks to the Franz Huber et al who both organized an excellent conference in Konstanz on these topics, and who are co-editing the special volume in which this is to appear.

A paper on conditional excluded middle (which at times has been called “There is no might argument against conditional excluded middle” but is now called “Defending conditional excluded middle”) is now forthcoming in Nous. I’m bad at naming things—one of the main papers I cite is Stalnaker’s “A defense of conditional excluded middle”. But I guess noone’s going to confuse Bob Stalnaker’s paper for mine, though it might have been best to avoid the similarity. This isn’t the first time I’ve ended up with potentially confusing titles.

I’ve also got a few papers in draft—comments very welcome!

A paper on personal identity and indeterminacy. I give a (doubly qualified) defence of Bernard Williams’ scepticism about whether we can “comprehend” alleged indeterminacy in cases of our own survival. The most significant qualification is that I think this only has bite if we accept a “rejectionist” account of the cognitive role of indeterminacy. But that rejectionist take is something that at least arguably required by anyone who thinks indeterminacy leads to truth value gaps, or to the rejection of appropriate instances of the law of excluded middle. And that covers a great range of cases. This issue of the cognitive role of indeterminacy is also in play in the conditionals and indeterminacy paper mentioned above, and also appears in:

A paper on the claim that future contingents are indeterminate. You get into *big* trouble here if you go for one of those rejectionist takes on indeterminacy (as, for example, a standard interpretation says that Aristotle did). I consider a fictionalist response for the friend of the open future: rather than having beliefs about future contingents, we should indulge instead “opine” about them to various degrees—where opining is construed as a kind of fictional belief. I give some reasons, though, for scepticism about whether this approach will ultimately work.

Finally, a paper on the idea that survival is an “intrinsic matter” (an idea that is in play, in particular, in discussion of cases of personal fission). The most obvious ways of formulating this are unsustainable for reasons to do with maximality. I define a notion of part-intrinsicality that carves (what I think is) a maximality-compatible formulation of what’s right about the idea that being a person or surviving as a person is an “intrinsic matter”. I then use it to derive some perhaps uncomfortable results about how to respond to the “problem of the many”.

I’d like to particularly thank the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council for funding my year of research leave in 2007-8 in which much of the above work was written.

I’m going to be giving talks based on the indeterminate survival paper in Oxford and Cambridge in a couple of weeks time. I had a fun time in Manchester last week giving the same talk. I’ll also be presenting the part-intrinsic survival paper in Cambridge to the wonderfully named “Serious Metaphysics Group”.

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