Workshop: The Metaphysics of Totality

30–31 March 2017, University of Glasgow

Thursday 30th

[9-9.30: coffee]
9.30-11: Aaron Cotnoir & Bruno Jacinto (St Andrews) – A Formal Semantics for the Theory of Embodiments
11.15-12.45: Stephan Leuenberger (Glasgow) – Totality Operators and Metaphysical Defaults
2.15-3.45: Anna-Sofia Maurin (Gothenburg) – Regress and Metaphysical Explanation
4-5.30: Louis deRosset (Vermont) – The Metaphysical Transparency of Truth
[7: dinner]

Friday 31st

[9-9.30: coffee]
9.30-11: Philipp Blum (Lucerne) – Every Thing is Positive
11.15-12.45: Naomi Thompson (Southampton) – Fictionalism about Grounding
2.15-3.45: Bruno Whittle (Glasgow) – Mathematical Anti-Realism and Explanatory Structure
4-5.30: Alexander Skiles (NYU) – Existence and Second-Order Quantification 
[7: dinner]

All talks were in the Reid Room, of 69 Oakfield Avenue. 


Philipp Blum (Lucerne) – Every Thing is Positive 

Abstract. To account for the negativity of our thinking and speaking, many philosophers have been tempted to posit negativity in the world. In my talk, I ask what this might possible mean and argue that, even in its most plausible version, belief in negativity is still mistaken: what accounts for the truth of our negative judgments and thoughts is the contingency of the positive things there are. There are no, nor could there be, any negative things.
To account for how contingent positive facts make true negative claims, I sketch a Kant-inspired account of totality facts as only transcendentally, but not empirically, real. In the transcendental dialectic of the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant claims that even though it cannot, in principle, be given to us, the idea "world", the "transcendental idea of the absolute totality in the series of conditions", is nevertheless necessary to have and plays a legitimate role in synthetic inferences. I apply this idea to truthmaking.

Aaron Cotnoir & Bruno Jacinto (St Andrews) – A Formal Semantics for the Theory of Embodiments

Abstract. In a series of papers (Fine 1982, Fine 1994a, Fine 1999) Kit Fine develops his theory of embodiments. In this note, we supply a formal semantics for this theory that is adequate to the principles laid down for it. Along the way we discuss various choice points in modeling the view including whether the theory commits to serious actualism, the admissible range of second-order quantifiers, and to what extent the construction of embodiments is indefinitely extensible. We also draw several philosophical lessons from the formal semantics; in particular two of the main objections to Fine's view are misguided.  

Louis deRosset (Vermont) – The Metaphysical Transparency of Truth

Abstract. I outline a new version of deflationism about truth, a metaphysical transparency theory. I argue that this theory enjoys two sources of support. First, it simultaneously accommodates two powerful intuitions about truth. The correspondence intuition holds that, e.g., it is true that there are human beings in virtue of there being human beings; the transparency intuition holds that its being true that there are human beings nonetheless "adds nothing" to there being human beings, in a sense badly in need of explication. The metaphysical transparency theory captures both of these intuitions, while offering an account of the (entirely bearable) lightness of truth that is as clear as the notion of one fact's obtaining in virtue of another. The second source of support is that the theory solves certain puzzles concerning how truth ascriptions are grounded.

Stephan Leuenberger (Glasgow) – Totality Operators and Metaphysical Defaults

Abstract. Metaphysical theories face what Frank Jackson termed the "location problem" for any given feature the world: to show that a world fundamentally described by the metaphysical theory in question can contain the feature. Physicalists, for example, need to solve the location problem for minds. According to Jackson, to solve the location problem is to establish a certain entailment claim ("entry by entailment"). Others proposed that what needs to be shown is not an entailment claim, but a supervenience claim. I criticize both these proposals, and argue that the location problem is best articulated in terms of totality operators, and ultimately in terms of the notion of a metaphysical default.

Anna-Sofia Maurin (Gothenburg) – Regress and Metaphysical Explanation

Abstract. Accounting for the existence of everything, either in the sense of coming up with truthmakers for every truth or in the sense of coming up with grounds for the existence of every (contingent) state of affairs, gives rise to well-known problems. One such problem is the infinite – and presumably vicious – regress some such accounts supposedly engender (think of the infinite regress of Armstrongian totality facts, or of the non-foundationalist grounding theorist’s infinite regress of grounds). Of course, whether or not these accounts really give rise to regress and, not least, whether or not the regress they give rise to is vicious, is debated. One possibility, arguably at work in at least some debates about the very regresses mentioned above, is to distinguish vicious from benign regress in terms of (metaphysical) explanation. If the regress is vicious, is the idea, the existence of the regress hinders whatever gives rise to it from achieving this status. Rather, explanation is infinitely deferred, but never achieved (to paraphrase Schaffer). The same is not true if the regress is benign. In this case, the fact that it gives rise to an infinity, does not hinder it from constituting the explanation we seek. Rather, explanation is achieved already in the regress’s first step. In this talk, I argue that on closer scrutiny neither truthmaking nor grounding should be understood as explanatory by nature. But if they are not, metaphysical explanation must be something distinct from and other than the relations it tracks. Thus understood, metaphysical explanation is most likely more like ‘normal’, mind-involving, context-dependent, and essentially ‘epistemic’ explanation. This seems to make metaphysical explanation a less suitable arbitrator between the vicious and the benign, a fact that might turn some of the arguments offered in debates about totalities and about grounding on their heads.

Alexander Skiles (NYU) – Existence and Second-Order Quantification 

Abstract. What is it to exist? Most work in contemporary metaontology assumes that it is simply to be something or other, and expressible using the resources of first-order logic. In this talk, I will explore an alternative view: to exist is to be somehow or other, and only expressible using the resources of second-order logic. 

Naomi Thompson (Southampton) – Fictionalism about Grounding

Abstract. The term ‘grounding’ is semi-technical, having both a use in ordinary language and a much-discussed technical meaning amongst philosophers. In all its guises, the term ‘ground’ conveys some kind of explanatory relationship between the ground and what is grounded, such that the latter exists or obtains because or in virtue of the former. In this paper, I challenge the assumption that there is any worldly grounding relation picked out by expressions generally thought to convey such a relation. I argue that utterances of sentences about grounding ought instead to be understood as a kind of fiction or pretence. The grounding fiction is not disconnected from the world. It arises out of a need to make commensurable the numerous dependence relations with which reality is furnished, and is projected back on to reality by those who engage with it.

Bruno Whittle (Glasgow) – Mathematical Anti-Realism and Explanatory Structure

Abstract. It is plausible that standard mathematical claims, such as ‘there are infinitely many primes’ are true, despite the fact that mathematical objects are not among the fundamental furniture of the universe. This can be made sense of by providing such claims with paraphrases, which make clear how their truth does not require the fundamental existence of mathematical objects. This talk will explore the consequences of this type of position (‘paraphrase anti-realism’) for explanatory structure. In particular, it is commonly held that there is a straightforward relationship between logical and explanatory structure: logically complex claims are explained by logically simpler ones; e.g. conjunctions are explained by their conjuncts, generalizations by their instances, etc. I will argue that if paraphrase anti-realism is correct, then the relationship is quite different. Indeed, the purported explanatory connections will often be reversed: e.g. conjunctions will explain their conjuncts, and generalizations their instances.