EXPLANATION AND EXPLICATION. Forthcoming in Chris Daly, ed., The Palgrave Handbook on Philosophical Methods (Palgrave Macmillan).
There are at least two importantly different ways for a philosophical theory to account for something. Explanations account for why something exists or occurs or is the way it is. Explications account for what it is for something to exist or occur or be a certain way. Both explanation and explication do important philosophical work. I show what it takes to defend genuine philosophical explanations. The sort of explanation I am interested in is incompatible not only with an eliminative treatment of the target phenomenon, but also with a reductive treatment of it. I show how explication comes into play in determining whether some phenomenon can plausibly be given either a reductive or eliminative treatment. Explication helps us distinguish certain kinds of reductive and eliminative views, gives us a graded account of the philosophical cost of eliminations, and furnishes us with a certain limit upon what resources an eliminative view can plausibly claim. This last point exposes a defect in a family of eliminative views that seek to retain truths about what they eliminate. Before concluding, I offer a brief defense of common sense as a legitimate, though defeasible, source of philosophical evidence.
HOW TO RULE OUT DISJUNCTIVE PROPERTIES. Nous 47:4, December 2013, pp. 748-66. The official Nous version is available here.
Are there disjunctive properties? This question is important for at least two reasons. First, disjunctive properties are invoked in defense of certain philosophical theories, especially in the philosophy of mind. Second, the question raises the prior issue of what counts as a genuine property, a central concern in the metaphysics of properties. I argue here, on the basis of general considerations in the metaphysics of properties, that there are no disjunctive properties. Specifically, I argue that genuine properties must guarantee similarity-in-a-respect among their instances, and must inhere in their bearers (two notions to be clarified). Disjunctive properties would fail both requirements. I compare the case of disjunctive properties with mere Cambridge properties, determinable properties, and functional properties, and show how my conception of properties remains compatible with determinables and functional properties while ruling out disjunctive and mere Cambridge properties.
CAUSATION, COINCIDENCE, AND COMMENSURATION. Philosophical Studies 162:2, January 2013, pp. 447-464. The official Phil Studies version is available here.
What does it take to solve the exclusion problem? An ingenious strategy is Stephen Yablo's idea that causes must be commensurate with their effects. Commensuration is a relation between events. Roughly, events are commensurate with one another when one contains all that is required for the occurrence of the other, and as little as possible that is not required. According to Yablo, one event is a cause of another only if they are commensurate. I raise three reasons to doubt that this account solves the exclusion problem successfully. First, it leaves a mystery about what determines a particular's causal capacities. Second, because there are two ways of construing coincidence between particulars, a dilemma arises: either the solution to the exclusion problem is threatened, or the account of coincidence loses an attractive feature concerning ontological economy. Third, even if we assume the commensuration constraint, a plausible principle about overdetermination seems to regenerate the exclusion problem.
GROUNDING: TOWARD A THEORY OF THE IN-VIRTUE-OF RELATION. The Journal of Philosophy 109:12, December 2012, pp. 685-711.
This paper argues that the phrase 'in virtue of' expresses a primitive, non-causal relation of determination, grounding, that is closely tied to the natures of properties. Section 1 argues that grounding must be recognized in order to make sense of certain non-causal explanations. Section 2 lays out the generic notion of determination, of which grounding and causation are both species. Section 3 describes the relation between grounding and the natures of properties. Section 4 sets forth the logical principles that govern grounding, and examines their metaphysical consequences. Section 5 argues for a worldly rather than conceptual approach to grounding, and argues that grounding is incompatible with reduction (understood metaphysically). Section 6 considers the broader role of grounding in ontology, distinguishes grounding from broadly compositional relations, and argues that grounding does not diminish ontological commitments.
POWERS, PROPERTIES, AND THE SUBSET ACCOUNT OF REALIZATION. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 84:3, May 2012, pp. 654-74. The official PPR version is available here.
According to the subset account of realization, a property, F, is realized by another property, G, whenever F is individuated by a non-empty proper subset of the causal powers by which G is individuated (and F is not a conjunctive property of which G is a conjunct). This account is especially attractive because it seems both to explain the way in which realized properties are nothing over and above their realizers, and to provide for the causal efficacy of realized properties. It therefore seems to provide a way around the causal exclusion problem. There is reason to doubt, however, that the subset account can achieve both tasks. The problem arises when we look closely at the relation between properties and causal powers, specifically, at the idea that properties confer powers on the things that have them. If realizers are to be ontically prior to what they realize, then we must regard the conferral of powers by properties as a substantive relation of determination. This relation of conferral is at the heart of a kind of exclusion problem, analogous to the familiar causal exclusion problem. I argue that the subset account cannot adequately answer this new exclusion problem, and is for that reason ill-suited to be the backbone of a non-reductive physicalism.
A CLARIFICATION AND DEFENSE OF THE NOTION OF GROUNDING. In Fabrice Correia and Benjamin Schnieder, eds., Metaphysical Grounding: Understanding the Structure of Reality (CUP, 2012), pp. 101-21.
This paper defends a particular version of the idea that there is a non-causal relation of determination, grounding, often expressed by the phrase 'in virtue of'. This relation corresponds to certain non-causal explanations, including those philosophers give, e.g., in saying that a statue has its aesthetic properties in virtue of its physical properties, or that a thing has its dispositional features in virtue of its categorical features, or that a person has a reason to believe that p in virtue of her perceptual experiences. Indeed, it is the fact that there are such explanations, together with the fact that their correctness cannot be underwritten by any causal relation obtaining between the relata, that makes it incumbent on us to recognize grounding. In this paper, I sketch my own view of grounding and show how it differs from other views on the subject, and then address various objections to the notion of grounding.
PRIMITIVE CAUSAL RELATIONS AND THE PAIRING PROBLEM. Ratio 24:1, March 2011, pp. 1-16. The official Ratio version is available here.
There is no doubt that spatial relations aid us in pairing up causes and effects. But when we consider the possibility of qualitatively indiscernible things, it might seem that spatial relations are more than a mere aid--they might seem positively required. The belief that spatial relations are required for causal relations is behind an important objection to Cartesian Dualism, the pairing problem. I argue that the Cartesian can answer this objection by appeal to the possibility of primitive causal relations, a possibility I defend. This topic is of importance beyond the philosophy of mind; the possibility that causal relations might sometimes hold brutely is of general metaphysical importance. I close with a discussion of what Cartesians should say about embodiment, and how that bears on issues of mental causation.
Associate Professor of Philosophy