It is the aim of this paper to develop and defend an interpretation of level of scientific discipline within the truth-maker framework. In particular, I exploit the mereological relation of proper parthood, which is integral to truth-maker semantics, in order to provide an account of scientific level.
This expository paper presents a general framework for representing levels and inter-level relations. The framework is intended to capture both epistemic and ontological notions of levels and to clarify the sense in which levels of explanation might or might not be related to a levelled ontology. The framework also allows us to study and compare different kinds of inter-level relations, especially supervenience and reduction but also grounding and mereological constitution. This, in turn, enables us to explore questions such as whether (...) supervenience implies explanatory reducibility and whether there can be irreducible higher-level explanations or even “emergent” higher-level properties. The paper finally discusses some further philosophical applications: to the free-will debate, the determinism-indeterminism distinction, indexicality and consciousness, and the relationship between positive and normative facts. (shrink)
The disappearing agent problem is an argument in the metaphysics of agency. Proponents of the agent-causal approach argue that the rival event-causal approach fails to account for the fact that an agent is active. This paper examines an analogy between this disappearing agent problem and the exclusion problem in the metaphysics of mind. I develop the analogy between these two problems and survey existing solutions. I suggest that some solutions that have received significant attention in response to the exclusion problem (...) have seen considerably less attention in response to the disappearing agent problem. For example, one solution to the exclusion problem is to reject the exclusion assumption. Analogously, one solution to the disappearing agent problem could be to deny the claim that the agent-causal approach and the event-causal approach are mutually exclusive. Similarly, proportionality theories of causation, a solution to the exclusion problem, can be transferred to the disappearing agent problem. After establishing the plausibility of the analogy between the two problems, I examine how this latter solution in particular can be transferred from the one problem to the other. (shrink)
The aim of this expository paper is to give an informal overview of a plausible naturalistic case for free will. I will describe what I take to be the main naturalistically motivated challenges for free will and respond to them by presenting an indispensability argument for free will. The argument supports the reality of free will as an emergent higher-level phenomenon. I will also explain why the resulting picture of free will does not conflict with the possibility that the fundamental (...) laws of nature are deterministic, and I will address some common objections. (shrink)
Amie Thomasson challenges advocates of layered conceptions of reality to explain “how layers are distinguished” and “what holds them together” by “examining the world” (2014). One strategy for answering such questions is mereological, treating inter-layer relations as parthood relations, where layers exist whenever composition does, and the number of layers will be equivalent to the number of answers to Peter Van Inwagen’s Special Composition Question, while answers to his General Composition Question explain what holds the layers together (1987). Various answers (...) have been proffered for these questions, from the physicalist atomism of Richard Feynman (2015), Hilary Putnam (1958), and Kit Fine (1992) to the holism of Jonathan Schaffer (2010), the two-layer emergentism of Van Inwagen himself (1995), Tim Maudlin’s three-layered “flash ontology” (2011), and Rob Koons two-layered “thermal substances” (2019). In this PhD project, I seek to meet Thomasson’s challenge by identifying which of these proposals are compatible with plausible interpretations of quantum physics. Atomist answers may have difficulty with relativity, while holistic and emergentist models have trouble giving an account of experimental conditions. Maudlin and Koons’ views, meanwhile, may make testable predictions about the scope of entanglement. Examining the world can lead us to sharply winnow our theories about how layers are distinguished and what holds them together. (shrink)
The scientific successes of the last 400 years strongly suggest a view on which things are organized into layers, with phenomena in higher layers dependent on and determined by what goes on below. Philosophers have recently explored the idea that we can make sense of this idea by appeal to a relation called grounding. This book develops the rudiments of a theory of grounding, and applies that theory to questions of independent interest. The theorizing consists in saying in more detail (...) what grounding is and how it relates to explanations of the relevant sort, discussing objections to the deployment of a notion of grounding, and drawing points of contrast between a grounding-centered approach to relative fundamentality and other approaches in the literature. The book then turns to a demonstration of how this theorizing bears fruit in the investigation of other interesting questions. The applications are to central questions concerning (i) how to distinguish between truths that say how objective reality is in itself, quite independently of us, and truths that do not; (ii) the nature of truth; and (iii) the relation between fundamental physical facts and the rich panoply of other facts that depend on and are determined by them, including facts concerning our own doings. The aim is to advance our understanding of one of the deepest and thorniest questions which the stunning scientific achievements of the last 400 years pose: how higher-level phenomena, including ourselves, fit into an ultimately physical world. (shrink)
Emergence can be described as a relationship between entities at different levels of organization, that looks especially puzzling at the transitions between the major levels of matter, life, cognition and culture. Indeed, each major level is dependent on the lower one not just for its constituents, but in some more formal way. A passage by François Jacob suggests that all such evolutionary transitions are associated with the appearance of some form of memory–genetic, neural or linguistic respectively. This implies that they (...) have an informational nature. Based on this idea, we propose a general model of informational systems understood as combinations of modules taken from a limited inventory. Some informational systems are “semantic” models, that is reproduce features of their environment. Among these, some are also “informed”, that is have a pattern derived from a memory subsystem. The levels and components of informed systems can be listed to provide a general framework for knowledge organization, of relevance in both philosophical ontology and applied information services. (shrink)
Some views articulate reality's hierarchical structure using relations from the fundamental to representations of reality. Other views instead use relations from the fundamental to constituents of non-representational reality. This paper argues against the first kind of view.
Antirealism about metaphysical explanation is relatively underexplored. This paper maps out the territory for the antirealist, explaining what it would take to be an antirealist given various different conceptions of metaphysical explanation, and of the relationship between metaphysical explanation and grounding.
On the standard analysis, a counterfactual conditional such as “If P had been the case, then Q would have been the case” is true in the actual world if, in all nearest possible worlds in which its antecedent (P) is true, its consequent (Q) is also true. Despite its elegance, this analysis faces a difficulty if the laws of nature are deterministic. Then the antecedent could not have been true, given prior conditions. So, it is unclear what the relevant “nearest (...) possible worlds” are. David Lewis suggested that they are ones in which a local breach of the laws occurred: a “small miracle”. Others have suggested that they are ones in which the initial conditions were different (“backtracking”). I propose another response. It builds on the idea that the special sciences, where counterfactual reasoning is most common, operate at a higher level of description from fundamental physics, and that the world may behave indeterministically at higher levels even if it behaves deterministically at the fundamental physical one. The challenge from determinism can then be bypassed for many special-science counterfactuals. (shrink)
This article introduces a non‐cognitivist account of metaphysical explanation according to which the core function of judgements of the form ⌜x because y⌝ is not to state truth‐apt beliefs. Instead, their core function is to express attitudes of commitment to, and recommendation of the acceptance of certain norms governing interventional conduct at contexts.
This paper defends Flatland—the view that there exist neither determination nor dependence relations, and that everything is therefore fundamental—from the objection from explanatory inefficacy. According to that objection, Flatland is unattractive because it is unable to explain either the appearance as of there being determination relations, or the appearance as of there being dependence relations. We show how the Flatlander can meet the first challenge by offering four strategies—reducing, eliminating, untangling and omnizing—which, jointly, explain the appearance as of there being (...) determination relations where no such relations obtain. Since, plausibly, dependence relations just are asymmetric determination relations, we argue that once we come mistakenly to believe that there exist determination relations, the existence of other asymmetries (conceptual and temporal) explains why it appears that there are dependence relations. (shrink)
Unity of science was once a very popular idea among both philosophers and scientists. But it has fallen out of fashion, largely because of its association with reductionism and the challenge from multiple realisation. Pluralism and the disunity of science are the new norm, and higher-level natural kinds and special science laws are considered to have an important role in scientific practice. What kind of reductionism does multiple realisability challenge? What does it take to reduce one phenomenon to another? How (...) do we determine which kinds are natural? What is the ontological basis of unity? In this Element, Tuomas Tahko examines these questions from a contemporary perspective, after a historical overview. The upshot is that there is still value in the idea of a unity of science. We can combine a modest sense of unity with pluralism and give an ontological analysis of unity in terms of natural kind monism. This title is available as Open Access on Cambridge Core. (shrink)
The paper addresses a question concerning George Ellis’s theory of top-down causation by considering a challenge to the “level-picture of nature” which he employs as a foundational element in his theory. According to the level-picture, nature is ordered by distinct and finitely many levels, each characterised by its own types of entities, relations, laws and principles of behavior, and causal relations to their respective neighbouring top- and bottom-level. The branching hierarchy that results from this picture enables Ellis to build his (...) model of modular hierarchical structure for complexity, his account of same-level, bottom-up and top-down causation, of emergence, equivalence-classes and multiple realisability. The three main arguments for the level-picture in Ellis’s works are reconstructed and shown to face serious problems. Finally, the paper presents a possible solution to this challenge by introducing a reformulation of certain fundamental points of Ellis’s theory that does without the level-picture of nature. This allows us to preserve all of his central claims about the model of complexity, the three types of causation, emergence, equivalence-classes and multiple realisability. Any problems pertaining to the level-picture can be remedied in the context of Ellis’s theory of top-down causation. (shrink)
Both the special sciences and ordinary experience suggest that there are metaphysically emergent entities and features: macroscopic goings-on (including mountains, trees, humans, and sculptures, and their characteristic properties) which depend on, yet are distinct from and distinctively efficacious with respect to, lower-level physical configurations and features. These appearances give rise to two key questions. First, what is metaphysical emergence, more precisely? Second, is there any metaphysical emergence, in principle and moreover in fact? Metaphysical Emergence provides clear and systematic answers to (...) these questions. Wilson argues that there are two, and only two, forms of metaphysical emergence of the sort seemingly at issue in the target cases: 'Weak' emergence, whereby a dependent feature has a proper subset of the powers of the feature upon it depends, and 'Strong' emergence, whereby a dependent feature has a power not had by the feature upon which it depends. Weak emergence unifies and illuminates seemingly diverse accounts of non-reductive physicalism; Strong emergence does the same as regards seemingly diverse anti-physicalist views positing fundamental novelty at higher levels of compositional complexity. After defending the in-principle viability of each form of emergence, Wilson considers whether complex systems, ordinary objects, consciousness, and free will are actually metaphysically emergent. She argues that Weak emergence is quite common, and that there is Strong emergence in the important case of free will. (shrink)
Morris’s book is a valuable contribution. For the reasons below, I don’t think his case against NRP succeeds, and his version of EP faces a serious difficulty. Even so, this is an admirably clear, subtle, and well-informed brief, and philosophers interested in the structure of natural reality have much to gain from Morris’s insightful discussion and argumentation.
Karen Bennett’s Making Things Up argues that talk of generation and construction, giving rise to, and getting one thing out of another are to be understood in terms of building. Building-talk is commonplace if not ubiquitous in philosophy, and so building is one of the most important philosophical notions. Making Things Up offers a refreshing perspective on the debate about structure and fundamentality. Whilst Bennett of course engages with the recent literature, she sets things up in her own terms, and (...) with the big picture in mind. The result is a thorough and compelling account of how reality is constructed. (shrink)
We sketch the mechanistic approach to levels, contrast it with other senses of “level,” and explore some of its metaphysical implications. This perspective allows us to articulate what it means for things to be at different levels, to distinguish mechanistic levels from realization relations, and to describe the structure of multilevel explanations, the evidence by which they are evaluated, and the scientific unity that results from them. This approach is not intended to solve all metaphysical problems surrounding physicalism. Yet it (...) provides a framework for thinking about how the macroscopic phenomena of our world are or might be related to its most fundamental entities and activities. (shrink)
It has recently been suggested that a distinctive metaphysical relation— ‘Grounding’—is ultimately at issue in contexts in which some goings-on are said to hold ‘in virtue of’’, be ‘metaphysically dependent on’, or be ‘nothing over and above’ some others. Grounding is supposed to do good work in illuminating metaphysical dependence. I argue that Grounding is also unsuited to do this work. To start, Grounding alone cannot do this work, for bare claims of Grounding leave open such basic questions as whether (...) Grounded goings-on exist, whether they are reducible to or rather distinct from Grounding goings-on, whether they are efficacious, and so on; but in the absence of answers to such basic questions, we are not in position to assess the associated claim or theses concerning metaphysical dependence. There is no avoiding appeal to the specific metaphysical relations typically at issue in investigations into dependence—for example, type or token identity, functional realization, classical mereological parthood, the set membership relation, the proper subset relation, the determinable/determinate relation, and so on—which are capable of answering these questions. But, I argue, once the specific relations are on the scene, there is no need for Grounding. (shrink)
The thesis is defended that the theories of causation, time and space, and levels of reality are mutually interrelated in such a way that the difficulties internal to theories of causation and to theories of space and time can be understood better, and perhaps dealt with, in the categorial context furnished by the theory of the levels of reality. The structural condition for this development to be possible is that the first two theories be opportunely generalized.
The paper first argues that if one takes current fundamental physics seriously, one gets to a metaphysics of events and relations in contrast to substances and intrinsic properties. Against that background, the paper discusses Heil’s theory of properties being both categorical and dispositional and his rejection of levels of being. I contrast these views with a Humean metaphysics. My concluding claim is that Heil’s account of properties opens up the perspective of a conservative reductionism, which avoids the common reservations against (...) reductionism. (shrink)
There are many ways of construing the claim that some categories are more “natural" than others. One can ask whether a system of categories is innate or acquired by learning, whether it pertains to a natural phenomenon or to a social institution, whether it is lexicalized in natural language or requires a compound linguistic expression. This renders suspect any univocal answer to this question in any particular case. Yet another question one can ask, which some authors take to have a (...) bearing on the issue of the naturalness of categories, is whether a system of categories constitutes a unique way of organizing a particular set of entities or phenomena, or whether there are other legitimate classification schemes that can coexist with it. Another way of putting this is by asking whether systems of categories can cut across one another, and if so, under what circumstances. Some philosophers have claimed that crosscutting systems of categories cannot exist as genuine natural kinds. This paper examines that claim and puts forward some counterexamples, concluding that this notion of natural kind is not in tune with scientific classification and ought to be rejected in favor of an alternative. (shrink)