Dr Leuenberger awarded AHRC Early Career Fellowship

Dr Leuenberger awarded AHRC Early Career Fellowship

Issued: Mon, 07 May 2012 12:00:00 BST

Dr Leuenberger has been awarded an AHRC Early Career Fellowship to work on a project entitled "The Contingency of Contingency", 1 September 2012-31 May 2013. (Principal Investigator S. Leuenberger, Co-Investigator A. Rieger.)

Dr Leuenberger describes his research as follows: Typically, inquiry is directed towards truths, towards what is actually the case. But it is also natural to take an interest in whether or not things might have been different from how they are. The distinction between those truths that could and those that could not have failed to hold - between contingent and non-contingent ones - is also important for our conceptions of ourselves: my identity is partly a function of whether or not I think I could have belonged to a different nationality, profession, class, race, gender, or even species. It is important for our conception of our own agency: whether we see ourselves as free may depend on whether we think we could have acted differently. Finally, it is important for how we view what happens to us. If we are fatalists, we take it to happen of necessity. If not, we tend to display emotions, such as regret, relief, or disappointment, which seem to presuppose that things could have gone differently. While the idea that things could have gone differently in some ways but not in others is typically only implicit in many of our ordinary thoughts, it has received a great deal of explicit discussion in philosophy. The notion of contingency and its cognates is central in many theories and arguments. I aim to address a simple question: which truths could have failed to hold, that is, which truths are contingent, and which ones are not? A good answer would not consist of a mere list, but should be principled and general. In a nutshell, my answer is that a truth is contingent unless it is a logical or conceptual truth. That answer, I shall argue, has surprising implications. Most strikingly, it leads us to conclude that contingency is itself a contingent matter - some truths about what could have been different are themselves not necessary. Traditionally, philosophers have seen themselves as seeking some special class of truths that are non-contingent. These include so-called "metaphysical" truths concerning the structure of the world, and truths about certain general and abstract matters. Typically, philosophers would have included truths about contingency in that category, without much by way of argument. If I am right, then these widely held assumptions need to be given up.

Stephan Leuenberger's website

AHRC website