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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!

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 (2017, Erkenntnis, 82/5: 967-74)
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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; 2018, Synthese 195/8: 3723-3733)
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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.

  • Against the Reduction of Modality to Essence (forthcoming, Synthese)
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    It is a truth universally acknowledged that a claim of metaphysical modality, in possession of good alethic standing, must be in want of an essentialist foundation. Or at least so say the advocates of the reductive-essence-first view (the REF, for short), according to which all (metaphysical) modality is to be reductively defined in terms of essence. Here, I contest this bit of current wisdom. In particular, I offer two puzzles – one concerning the essences of non-compossible, complementary entities, and a second involving entities whose essences are modally ‘loaded’ – that together strongly call into question the possibility of reducing modality to essence.

  • Are empty fictions possible? (forthcoming, Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism)
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    An empty fiction is a fiction content – that is, a fiction in which no propositions are (fictionally) true. The central question of this paper is, are such possible? Here, I argue that they are. More specifically, after first examining and rejecting five potential arguments for the possibility of empty fictions, I go on to develop a more successful argument. Along the way, I introduce a new method for producing fictions, via complementation functions.

  • No trouble with poetic license (with Christian Folde; forthcoming, British Journal of Aesthetics)
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    Recently, Xhignesse (2016) has argued that the principle of poetic license (PPL), which roughly states that any class of propositions is true in some possible fiction, ought to be rejected. Here, we defend PPL from Xhignesse’s objection by demonstrating that, properly understood, his purported counter-example case is either irrelevant or unproblematic. The upshot is that Xhignesse has given us no reason to reject PPL.

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? (2018, 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; 2018, in The Aesthetics of Video Games, eds. G. Tavinor & J. Robson)
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    “It is standard to think that (most) videogames are interactive fictions. Consequently, one of the central challenges for the aesthetics of videogames is that of explicating the relevant notion of interactivity in such a way that it coheres with our best understanding of the concept of fictionality. Here, we approach this issue by exploring the relationship between interactivity and fictional incompleteness. More specifically, we introduce and elucidate a particular form of fictional incompleteness – forced choice incompleteness – and argue that a sufficient condition for a work’s qualifying as as interactive fiction is that it generates cases of forced choice incompleteness. Further, we show that this account of interactivity naturally reconciles an apparent tension between the idea that, because they are fictions, interactive fictions leave certain questions about the fictional goings-on open, whilst at the same time allowing that, because they are interactive, the fictional goings-on are settled by the choices made by the appreciator.

  • 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

  • Powerful Qualities and Anti-Zombies (with Umut Baysan)
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    Recently, there has been much debate about whether a powerful qualities account of properties impacts central debates in the philosophy of mind. Here, we explore one such area. Specifically, we argue that powerful qualities, together with a variant of the anti-zombie argument, entails that philosophical zombies are impossible. Along the way, we critique an argument from Heil (2003) and Carruth (2016) which attempts to achieve the same result.

  • Learning by fictionally doing
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    Can interactive fictions teach us some propositional knowledge that more traditional, non-interactive fictions cannot? Here, I argue that they can. In particular, using insights from standpoint epistemology, I argue that there is some propositional knowledge the possession of which requires undergoing certain agential experiences. This leads to a kind of experience knowledge gap for traditional fictions: because they are non-interactive, such fictions are structurally unable to deliver these experiences and, by extension, this knowledge. However, interactive fictions allow players to undergo fictional analogues of the relevant experiences, which can be leveraged as a means of gaining the relevant knowledge. Consequently, there are some things interactive fictions can teach us that traditional fictions cannot.

  • Necessity by accident
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    General consensus has it that contingencies lack the requisite modal umph to serve as explanations for the modal status of necessities. The central aim of this paper is to show that this received opinion is incorrect: contingent necessity-makers are in fact possible. To do so, I identify certain conditions the satisfaction of which entail the possibility of contingent necessity-makers. I then argue that necessary contingent possibilities (i.e., necessities of the form ‘□à(P)’, where the embedded fact is itself not necessary) satisfy these conditions. Consequently, these necessities in fact have contingent necessity-makers.

  • 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 against 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.

  • 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.

  • Enduring Senses (with Graeme A. Forbes)
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    Words change meaning over time. This change can take several forms. In particular, it can involve meaning replacement, where an old meaning is simply phased out in favour of a new one, or, more rarely, persistence, where, despite the fact that what the word applies to varies, there is no change in topic. Philosophers of language owe us an account of these phenomena. Here, drawing on an analogy with concrete objects, we sketch three such accounts: meaning exdurantism, meaning perdurantism, and meaning endurantism. We also go on to develop the sense endurantist view – a particularly Fregean form of endurantism that is, we contend, a novel and natural account of the metaphysics of meaning change over time.

  • Virtual Reality: Digital or Fictional? (with Neil McDonnell)
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    Virtual realists say that virtual objects (e.g. my virtual longbow) really exist, and virtual events (e.g. my shooting a grey cartoon raider with an arrow) really take place. Meanwhile, virtual irrealists hold that virtual objects do not really exist, and that virtual events do not really occur – these are mere fictions. Recently, Chalmers (V&R) has developed a particular version of realism, virtual digitalism. Here, we aim to do two things. First, we will critique Chalmers’ virtual digitalism – and, as our objections readily generalize to cover alternative versions, realism in general. Second, building off our critique, we go on to develop a broadly Waltonian version of virtual irrealism, virtual walt-fictionalism. This, we suggest, is a natural account of virtual objects. More concretely, we begin (§1) by clarifying two forms of virtual digitalism – a strong version that identifies virtual and digital objects and a weaker version that rejects identification, though still plumps for a kind of dependence relation. We go on (§§2-3) to challenge these, before briefly dismissing (§4) a potential wrinkle. We then sketch (§5) an irrealist alternative, finally concluding (§5) by briefly considering future avenues for developing this alternative picture.

  • Distinctness, contingentism, and the first-order being constraint
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    In this note, I demonstrate that some basic principles concerning the metaphysics of distinctness force contingentists about first-order entities into denying the first-order being constraint.

  • Dollars for Data? Critically Examining the Market Model of Data Exchange (with H. Brouwer, A. Cawston, A. Archer, and S. Bradley)
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    How might we create a large, representative database of medical information in an ethically acceptable and practicable way? Here, we critically examine one potential answer to this question: namely, the market model for data exchange, according to which data donors receive some sort of incentive to motivate donation. Specifically, we contend that it is impossible to maintain and regulate a morally acceptable market in medical data in such a way that it produces a scientifically valuable medical database. The upshot is that the market model of data exchange is not in fact a viable method for ethically producing representative sets of medical data.

  • Conceivability arguments and the dual conception of phenomenal consciousness (with Umut Baysan)
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    Here, we offer a novel critique of two conceivability arguments: the zombie argument and the anti-zombie argument. Specifically, we note the epistemic possibility of a dual conception of phenomenal consciousness, whereby phenomenal consciousness can be a physical or a non-physical property. The epistemic possibility of this dual conception generates a number of problem cases for key conditional premises in both the zombie and anti-zombie arguments. Moreover, the resources of this hypothesis can further motivate a new physicalist strategy, which we call Bizarro physicalism.


Book Reviews