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Contact me if you’d like drafts of any of the following that aren’t available below; comments are always welcome!

Learning from Interactive Fiction

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Can interactive fictions teach us some know-that knowledge that more traditional, non-interactive fictions cannot? Here, I argue for a positive answer to this question. In particular, I show that traditional fictions face an Experience knowledge gap, in that they are unable to deliver participatory experiences to readers. This is problematic because, given certain assumptions from standpoint epistemology, undergoing such experiences constitute a necessary condition for possessing certain bits of know-that. However, interactive fiction is able to fill this gap, since interactive fictions allow readers to fictionally participate, and hence leverage this fictional experience as a means to gaining the relevant knowledge. To make this point clear, I use as a case study knowing war. The end result is that there is some know-that that interactive fictions can, but traditional fictions, cannot, teach us.

Journal Articles

Modality, Sparsity, and Essence (2013, Philosophical Quarterly, 63: 760–782)

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Rather infamously, Kit Fine provided a series of counter-examples which purport to show that attempts to understand essence in terms of metaphysical necessity are ‘fundamentally misguided’ (1994: 3). Here, my aim is to put forward a new version of modalism that is, I argue, immune to Fine’s counter-examples. The core of this new account is a sparseness restriction, such that an object’s essential properties are those sparse properties it has in every world in which it exists. After first motivating this sparseness restriction, I proceed to show how sparse modalism is in fact immune to Fine’s original counter-examples. After dismissing a potential problem concerning the membership relation, I conclude that, as at least one form is viable, the modalist project is not so fundamentally misguided after all.

Load Bare-ing Particulars (2015, Philosophical Studies, 172/6: 1419-1434)

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Bare particularism is a constituent ontology according to which substances – concrete, particular objects like people, tables, and tomatoes – are complex entities constituted by their properties and their bare particulars. Yet, aside from this description, much about bare particularism is fundamentally unclear. In this paper, I attempt to clarify this muddle by elucidating the key metaphysical commitments underpinning any plausible formulation of the position. So the aim here is primarily catechismal rather than evangelical – I don’t intend to convert anyone to bare particularism, but, by looking at a series of questions, to instead specify what, if one is a bare particularist, one is committed to. Along the way, I address three major objections: a Classic Objection about whether bare particulars have properties, a New Objection raised by Bailey, and an Understanding Objection that questions some of the position’s resources.

Fiction unlimited (with Christian Folde; 2017, Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 75: 73-80)

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Here, we offer an original argument for the existence of universal fictions, within which every possible proposition is fictionally true. Specifically, we detail a trio of such fictions, along with an easy-to-follow recipe for generating more. Then, after exploring some of the consequences that follow from this result and dismissing several objections, we conclude that fiction, unlike reality, is unlimited when it comes to truth.

A note on Morato on modality and explanation (forthcoming, Erkenntnis, online first)

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This brief note critically assesses the central arguments in Morato’s (2014) recent contribution to the growing literature on contingent necessity-makers. In particular, I demonstrate that (i) neither of Morato’s two novel arguments against contingentism succeed, since both turn on false premises; and, (ii) Morato’s case for a radical ‘trans-world’ view about the nature of explanation in modal contexts is inconclusive at best.

Grounding, Mental Causation, and Overdetermination (with Michael Clark; forthcoming, Synthese)

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Recently, Kroedel and Schulz have argued that the exclusion problem – which states that certain forms of non-reductive physicalism about the mental are committed to systematic and objectionable causal overdetermination – can be solved by appealing to grounding. Specifically, they defend a principle that links the causal relations of grounded mental events to those of grounding physical events, arguing that this renders mental-physical causal overdetermination unproblematic. Here, we contest Kroedel and Schulz’s result. We argue that their causal-grounding principle is undermotivated, if not outright false. In particular, we contend that the principle has plausible counterexamples, resulting from the fact that some mental states are not fully grounded by goings on ‘in our heads’ but also require external factors to be included in their full grounds. We draw the sceptical conclusion that it remains unclear whether non-reductive physicalists can plausibly respond to the exclusion argument by appealing to considerations of grounding.

Chapters in Edited Collections

How (not) to be a modalist about essence (2016, in Reality Making, ed. M. Jago)

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Kit Fine has influentially argued that the modalist program of analysing essence in terms of metaphysical necessity is fundamentally misguided. This paper evaluates a trio of modalist responses to this Finean Challenge, from Della Rocca (1996), Zalta (2006), and Gorman (2005). Ultimately, this is a fight amongst friends, as Della Rocca, Zalta, Gorman, and I all want to be modalists, though we disagree on the details. As such, while my primary aim is to show what’s wrong with each of these three reponses, my secondary aim is to demonstrate how what’s right about them in fact pushes one towards my own sparse modalist reply to Fine. So, while the primary conclusion of this paper is negative (these attempts to reply to Fine don’t work), the secondary, positive, conclusion is that modalists shouldn’t give up hope – plausible, natural responses to Fine are still out there.

On shaky ground? (forthcoming, in Reality and its Structure: Essays in Fundamentality, eds. R. Bliss & G. Priest)

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The past decade and a half has seen an absolute explosion of literature discussing the structure of reality. One particular focus here has been on the fundamental. However, while there has been extensive discussion, numerous fundamental questions about fundamentality have not been touched upon. In this chapter, I focus on one such lacuna about the modal strength of fundamentality. More specifically, I am interested in exploring the contingent fundamentality thesis – that is, the idea that the fundamentalia are only contingently fundamental (or, in property-terms, that the property of being fundamental is not a (weakly) necessary property). And while I think this thesis is plausible – indeed, I show here that it lurks in the unexamined shadows/assumptions of some fairly prominent positions – as far as I can tell, nothing has been said either for or against it. Here, I hope to fix this by giving the thesis a proper airing. In this way, this chapter represents a first-pass at exploring not only the modal status of fundamentality, but also offers a starting point for examining broader issues about the relationship between fundamentality and modality.

Interactivity, Fictionality, and Incompleteness (with Richard Woodward; forthcoming, in The Aesthetics of Video Games, eds. Grant Tavinor & Jon Robson)

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Many video games are interactive fictions – that is, fictions which, instead of requiring merely passive engagement, necessarily involve the reader playing an active role in generating the fiction. And their being interactive is a key feature of video games, one which not only helps to set them off as a unique and vibrant new media form, but also allows video games to do things that more traditional forms of fiction cannot. For example, interactivity allows games to provide fictional participatory experiences, which means that games are able to teach some propositional knowledge that traditional fictions are structurally incapable of delivering; similarly, it is via interactivity that video games are able to support ‘emotions of agency’ in ways that non-inactive, traditional fictions are not (Phillips 2014). Given this, though who are interested in better understanding the nature of video games would do well to come to terms with the nature of interactivity. With that in mind, in this paper, we explore the relationship between interactivity and fictional incompleteness. In particular, we argue that it is possible to define interactivity by appeal to a unique form of fictional incompleteness that involves being proscribed to imagine a disjunction, though not being proscribed to imagine any particular disjunct. That is, players of interactive fictions are tasked with selecting from an array of options (if they don’t select one, the fiction stops), though there is no particular option that players are prescribed to select. This choice incompleteness is, we contend, exclusive to interactive fictions.

A Puzzle about Fictional ‘I’s (with Christian Folde; forthcoming, in Fictionality, Factuality, and Reflexivity, eds. E. Fulop & G. Priest)

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This paper introduces and discusses a novel puzzle about occurrences of reflexive indexical pronouns like ‘I’, ‘me’, and ‘my’ within narrative fictions featuring internal narrators. In brief, the puzzle is that, even if we grant that some fictional uses of singular terms denote non-fictional entities, it appears to be impossible for any reflexive indexicals to do so. This highlights an interesting tension between fictional discourse and the standard semantics for certain pronouns, and indicates a potentially fruitful area of future research for both philosophers of language and narratologists.

In Progress

Outer Limits: the bounds of fictional truth (with Christian Folde)

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Coming to terms with the nature of truth in fiction requires addressing a variety of related questions. Two such questions concern the limits of fictional truth. First, does fictionality have an upper bound – is there a limit on the maximum number of propositions that can be true according to a work? And, second, does fictionality have a lower bound – is there a limit on the minimum number of positions that must be fictionally true? Here, we argue that there are no limits. More precisely, we contend that the upper bound is equivalent to the number of possible propositions, and that the lower bound is zero. This is because, as we argue, both universal and empty fictions are possible.

Necessity by accident

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Are contingent necessity-makers possible? General consensus is that they are not, as contingencies are thought to lack the requisite modal strength to do the job. However, the central aim of this paper is to show that received opinion on this matter is incorrect – contingent necessity-makers are in fact possible. More specifically, I show that, for every contingent Q that is a partial ground for some necessary P’s truth, there is a plurality Γ, consisting of Q plus some (possibly empty) Δ, that is a full ground for P’s modal status. This result impacts debates about the foundations of modality, including providing a direct counter-example to the contingency horn of Blackburn’s dilemma.

What’s wrong with weak necessity?

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How can claims like ‘Necessarily, Cicero is human’ be true, given that Cicero is a mere contingent existent? The Kripkean solution to this puzzle is to read the necessity involved weakly – i.e., as claiming that, whenever Cicero exists, he is human. However, Kripke is unhelpfully cryptic about how exactly we are to understand weak necessity, a point that is especially problematic since the most straightforward way of doing so leads to significant problems. As such, here I explicate a proper account of weak necessity, and, in so doing, demonstrate how these problems can be dismissed. The upshot is that, properly understood, weak necessity not only solves the initial puzzle, but, more broadly, helps serve as a foundation for a general Kripkean approach to modal metaphysics.

A note on Lange on contingent necessity-makers

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Recently, Lange (2008) has argued that contingencies lack the modal strength to be necessity-makers. In this paper, I show that Lange’s argument fails, as it turns upon a faulty premise. I also demonstrate that the two most plausible fixes Lange might pursue in the face of my objections also fail, either leading to additional problem cases or rendering Lange’s overall argument invalid. The general upshot is that Lange gives us no reason to think that contingenices cannot necessities make after all.

Taking Leave of our Essences

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It is a truth universally acknowledged that a (non-epistemic) modal claim, in possession of good alethic standing, must be in want of an essentialist foundation. Or so says the reductive essence first (the REF) conception, according to which all (alethic, non-epistemic) modality is to be reductively analysed in terms of essence. Here, I contest this bit of current wisdom. In particular, after laying out the basic idea behind the REF, I offer four puzzles that, together, call into question the possibility of reducing modality to essence. I then conclude by briefly examining what other prospects there are for understanding the relationship between essence and modality.

Elusive Essence

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This paper argues for quasi-essentialism, a ‘calorie-lite’, form of essentialism suitable for those who want to talk with essentailists but don’t want any of the (creepy) metaphysics essentailism seems to require. Two broad accounts of the extension of essential properties seem readily available: ‘substantial essentialism’, which holds that there are qualitative limits on how particular individuals might have been (i.e. that Aristotle couldn’t have been a parsnip), and ‘extreme haecceitism’, which rejects completely any such qualitative restrictions on possibility. Both of these face significant problems. Substantial essentialism brings with it a commitment to some pretty heavy-duty metaphysics, raises major epistemological issues, and is an unnecessary addition to standard quantified modal logic. Extreme haecceitism, meanwhile, forces us to reject many intuitively correct assertions (e.g. that Aristotle couldn’t have been a parsnip). Quasi-essentialism splits the difference, by allowing us to truthfully assert essentialist statements, but re-interpreted as contextually restricted claims; so, instead of understanding ‘Aristotle couldn’t have been a parsnip’ as making a statement that applies to all possible worlds, it is taken to be true of a relevent restricted sphere of worlds which are not ‘too distant’. The upshot is that, with quasi-essentialism, those of us who are squeemish about deep metaphysical commitments can have our essentialist cake without any of the fattening side-effects – a happy result all around.

An absent demonstration of absence causation (with Neil McDonnell)

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Goldschmidt (2015) purports to provide a demonstration of the causal powers of absences. Here, we contend that the case presented is not an instance of absence causation, and that the paper is, sadly, an uninteresting contribution to the literature on absence causation.

Enduring Senses (with Graeme A. Forbes)

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This paper starts with a bit of datum: the meanings of words change over time. Philosophers of language owe us an account of this datum. Drawing on an analogy with concrete objects, we sketch two broad ways to understand meaning shift: the meaning perdurantist says that a particular word w’s meaning changes over time in virtue of w’s expressing meaning M1 at time t1, and a distinct meaning M2 at time t2. Meanwhile, the meaning endurantist says that w always expresses the same meaning M1, but M1 has reference-fixing properties F1…Fn at t1, and a distinct collection of properties G1…Gn at t2. We then go on to develop in further detail a particularly Fregean form of meaning endurantism – the sense endurantist view – which explains change in the meaning of words over time is by the thought that terms express the same Fregean sense which changes its reference-fixing properties over time. And while sense endurantistism requires forgoing certain Fregean commitments, it is, we contend, a consistent and interesting account of meaning change over time.

Going up? Purgatory and the Necessity of Ascension

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A standard assumption concerning Purgatory is that all who enter will eventually ascend into Heaven – in other words, those who make it in to Purgatory are necessarily bound for glory. The primary aim of this paper is to call into question this necessity of ascension assumption. I do so by showing that the two standard models of Purgatory – the so-called satisfaction and the sanctification models – are both compatible with the possibility of individuals that continually lapse, and, by so doing, remain in Purgatory for all eternity. Building on this result, I go on to question the need for postulating Purgatory at all. In particular, given an ‘escapist’ conception of Hell, the above results concerning the non-necessity of ascension indicate that the ‘purgatory role’ can be satisfactorily played by Hell; consequently, there’s little reason to believe in Purgatory (at least as distinct from Hell).

Book Reviews

Potentiality by B. Vetter, in The Philosophical Quarterly [forthcoming in Philosophical Quarterly]
The Limits of Realism by T. Button, for Zeitschrift für philosophische Forschung
Writing the Book of the World by T. Sider, for the European Journal of Philosophy
Familiar Objects and Their Shadows by C.L. Elder, in The Philosophical Quarterly 62 (2012): 195–197