Publications

Book

2017 | Making Things Up | Oxford University Press

Coverage

Forthcoming | Symposium with comments by Paul Audi, Ricki Bliss, Gideon Rosen, Jonathan Schaffer, and Jennifer Wang | Inquiry

2019 | Symposium with comments by Ross Cameron, Shamik Dasgupta, and Jessica Wilson | Philosophy and Phenomenological Research​

2019 | Symposium with comments by Stephan Leuenberger, Erica Shumener, and Naomi Thompson | Analysis Reviews

2018 | Author-meets-critics session with Maureen Donnelly and Jason Turner | Eastern APA

2018 | Reviewed by Thomas Hofweber | The Philosophical Review

2018 | Reviewed by Louis deRosset | Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

2018 | Reviewed by Kris McDaniel | The Journal of Philosophy

2018 | Reviewed by Alastair Wilson | Mind 

Published and forthcoming papers

Forthcoming | Reply to Audi, Bliss, Rosen, Schaffer, and Wang.  | Inquiry

Lots of good stuff in here: indeterministic causation and building, relative fundamentality, conceptual engineering, modal recombination

Forthcoming | Actualism | The Routledge Handbook of Modality, eds. Otavio Bueno and Scott Shalkowski.

This is largely a survey piece, but I do take on Timothy Williamson's claim that the actualism/possibilism debate ought to be scrapped in favor of the necessitism/contingentism debate.

2019 | Precís of Making Things Up. | Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 98: 478-481.

2019 | Replies to Cameron, Dasgupta, and Wilson.| Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 98: 507-521.

Includes an important new go-round about what grounds the grounding facts, material about 'generalist monism', asymmetry of building, and how to think about fundamentality.

2019 | Precís of Making Things Up. | Analysis 79: 287-289.

More about what builds the building facts, the role of necessitation, and relative fundamentality.

2017 | Part and whole, again. | Philosophical Issues 21: 7-25.

A paper exploring what we can learn about part/whole by focusing on the differences in the existence conditions of fusions and ordinary things, rather than the differences in their persistence conditions.

2017 | Conceptual analysis and its limits. | Philosophic Exchange 46: 1-12.

Exactly what the title says. Please note that this paper was written for a general/public audience and must be taken in that spirit.

2017 | Language, ontology, and metaphysics | Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 94: 466-473.

My contribution to a book symposium on Thomas Hofweber's Ontology and the Ambitions of Metaphysics.

2016 | There is no special problem with metaphysics. | Philosophical Studies 173: 21-37.

I argue for the claim in the title. Along the way, I also address an independently interesting question: what is metaphysics, anyway? I think that the typical characterizations of metaphysics are inadequate, that a better one is available, and that the better one helps explain why metaphysics is no more problematic than the rest of philosophy.

2015 | "Perfectly understood, unproblematic, and certain": Lewis on mereology. | Blackwell Companion to David Lewis, edited by Barry Loewer and Jonathan Schaffer.

Mereology is central to Lewis' thought, appearing in his discussions of set theory, modality, vagueness, structural universals, and elsewhere. He held views not only about how composition works and when it occurs, but also about the role of mereology in philosophy. In this essay, I articulate four theses that Lewis holds about composition. Three of them are familiar; Lewis himself explicitly articulates and relies upon them. The fourth remains implicit, but it is nonetheless important. Here they are:

Composition is unique---the same things cannot have two different fusions.
Composition is unrestricted---any two things whatsoever have a fusion.
Composition is ontologically innocent---composed entities do not "count" beyond their parts.
Composition is unmysterious---it is acceptably primitive, and can function in demystifying explanations.  

I devote a section to each thesis: explaining what it says, pointing to the texts that illustrate that Lewis believes it, and explaining why Lewis believes it. These sections are largely expository. But woven in between them are interstitial sections in which I reflect upon further questions that arise, and draw further lessons.

2013 | Having a part twice over. | The Australasian Journal of Philosophy 91: 83-103.

I argue that is intuitive and useful to think about composition in light of the familiar functionalist distinction between role and occupant. This involves factoring the standard notion of parthood into two related notions: being a parthood slot and occupying a parthood slot. One thing is part of another just in case it fills one of that thing's parthood slots. This move opens room to rethink mereology in various ways, and, in particular, to see the mereological structure of a composite as potentially outreaching the individual entities that are its parts. I sketch one formal system that allows things to have individual entities as parts multiple times over. This is particularly useful to David Armstrong, given Lewis' charge that his structural universals must do exactly that. I close by reflecting upon the nature and point of formal mereology.

Note: this is a weird paper.

2011 | By our bootstraps.  | Philosophical Perspectives 25: 27-41.

Here is a puzzle: is grounding itself fundamental? There are seemingly compelling reasons both to think that it must be, and to think that it cannot be. We face a dilemma, and a bad one. I distinguish two different regresses that appear to arise from the claim that grounding is itself grounded, and argue that both are merely apparent.

2011 | Construction area: no hard hat required.  | Philosophical Studies 154: 79-104.

A variety of relations widely invoked by philosophers -- composition, constitution, realization, micro-basing, emergence, and many others -- are species of what I call 'building relations'. I argue that they are conceptually intertwined, articulate what it takes for a relation to count as a building relation, and argue that -- contra appearances -- it is an open possibility that these relations are all determinates of a common determinable, or even that there is really only one building relation.

2011 | Koslicki on formal parts. | Analysis 71: 286-290.

In her book The Structure of Objects, Kathrin Koslicki argues that ordinary material things like tables and toasters have formal proper parts as well as material ones. I criticize her argument.

2011 | Truthmaking and case-making. | Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 83: 187-195.

My contribution to a book symposium on Trenton Merricks' Truth and Ontology.

2009 | What you don't know can hurt you.Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 79: 766-774.

My contribution to a book symposium on Daniel Stoljar's Ignorance and Imagination: The Epistemic Origin of the Problem of Consciousness.

2009 | Composition, colocation, and metaontology | Metametaphysics, Oxford University Press, eds. David Chalmers, David Manley, and Ryan Wasserman

The paper is an extended discussion of what I call the 'dismissive attitude' towards metaphysical questions. It has three parts. In the first part, I distinguish three quite different versions of dismissivism. I also argue that there is little reason to think that any of these positions is correct about the discipline of metaphysics as a whole; it is entirely possible that some metaphysical disputes should be dismissed and others should not be. Doing metametaphysics properly requires doing metaphysics first. I then put two particular disputes on the table to be examined in the rest of the paper: the dispute over whether composite objects exist, and the dispute about whether distinct objects can be colocated. In the second part of the paper, I argue against the claim that these disputes are purely verbal disputes. In the third part of the paper, I present a new version of dismissivism, and argue that it is probably the correct view about the two disputes in question. They are not verbal disputes, and the discussion about them to date has not remotely been a waste of time. At this stage, however, our evidence has run out. I argue that neither side of either dispute is simpler than the other, and that the same objections in fact arise against both sides. (For example, the compositional nihilist does not in fact escape the problem of the many, and the one-thinger does not in fact escape the grounding problem.)

2008 | Exclusion again. | Being Reduced, eds. Jakob Hohwy and Jesper Kallestrup, Oxford University Press.

Philosophers of mind use the exclusion problem in two importantly different ways. Sometimes it is used as an argument for physicalism, and sometimes it is used as an argument for a particular version of physicalism. I argue that although the former is a good argument, the latter is not. All physicalists have a well-motivated solution to the exclusion problem that no dualist has. This solution centrally involves denying what is called the 'exclusion principle'--that all effects that have more than one sufficient cause count as overdetermined. I suggest that there are two apparent ways to motivate denying this claim. One of them--the successful one--turns on endorsing the claim that the mental supervenes with metaphysical necessity upon the physical, and is consequently available to all and only physicalists. The other turns on rejecting a production view of causation in favor of a pure dependence view. But although this move is available to dualists, it provides no reason to deny the exclusion principle. Consequently, dualists really do have to either endorse epiphenomenalism or deny the completeness of physics. All physicalists, in contrast, have a well-motivated alternative available. 

2008 |  Mental Causation | Philosophy Compass 2: 316-337.

This is an overview or "research bulletin" about mental causation, with particular emphasis on highlighting areas that seemed at the time to be ripe for further investigation.

2006 | Two axes of actualism | The Philosophical Review 114:3

Actualists often express their view by means of the slogan 'everything is actual'. But it's far from clear what that is supposed to mean. This paper is a critical examination of the various things it might mean (and has been taken to mean). I argue that the actualist faces two key choices--and explain which choices she should make.

2006 | Proxy 'actualism' | Philosophical Studies 129: 263-294 .

Bernard Linsky and Edward Zalta have recently proposed a new form of actualism. I characterize the general form of their view and the motivations behind it. I argue that it is not exactly new--it bears marked similarities to Alvin Plantinga's view--and that it definitely isn't actualist. 

2005 | Supervenience  | Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (with Brian McLaughlin)

2004 | Spatio-temporal coincidence and the grounding problem  | Philosophical Studies 118: 339-371.

A lot of people believe that distinct objects can occupy precisely the same place for the entire time during which they exist. Such people have to provide an answer to the 'grounding problem'--they have to explain how such things, alike in so many ways, nonetheless manage to fall under different sortals, or have different modal properties. I argue in detail that they cannot say that there is anything in virtue of which spatio-temporally coincident things have those properties. However, I also argue that this may not be as bad as it looks, and that there is a way to make sense of the claim that such properties are primitive.

2004 | Global supervenience and dependence |  Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 68: 501-529.

Two versions of global supervenience have recently been distinguished from each other. I introduce a third version, which is more likely what people had in mind all along. However, I argue that one of the three versions is equivalent to strong supervenience in every sense that matters, and that neither of the other two versions counts as a genuine determination relation. I conclude that global supervenience has little metaphysically distinctive value.

A number of people try to solve the exclusion problem by claiming that an effect can have distinct mental and physical causes without being overdetermined. I argue that those who hold this view bear a significant burden of proof that they have not discharged. I show how they can do so, and develop a strategy for defending this sort of response to the exclusion problem.

Book Reviews

2005 | Review of John Divers' Possible Worlds | Australasian Journal of Philosophy 83: 282-285.

2004 | Review of Katherine Hawley's How Things Persist | Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 69: 230-233

2003 | Review of James B. South, ed., Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Philosophy | Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews