Papers: Published and Forthcoming

Placement Permissivism and Logics of Location (doc / PDF) (Audio: Berkeley, 2015)

(Journal of Philosophy, Forthcoming) All of the current leading theories of location are parsimonious: they have at most one locative primitive, and the definitions of all of the other locative relations appeal to nothing beyond that primitive, mereological properties and relations, and basic logic. I argue that if we believe there can be extended, mereologically simple regions, we can construct cases that are incompatible with every possible parsimonious theory of location. In these cases, an object is contained within a simple region that is larger than the object; that is, there is some region, r, and some object, x, such that every subregion of r fails to be completely free of x, yet x fails to fill r. I argue that we ought to respond to this incompatibility by rejecting the analytic possibility of extended, simple regions.

Simple Trinitarianism and Feature-Placing Sentences (doc / PDF) (Audio: Oxford, 2016)

(Faith and Philosophy, Forthcoming) Some trinitarians, such as Thomas Aquinas, wish to claim that God is mereologically simple; that is, God has no parts distinct from Himself. In this paper, I present Simple Trinitarianism, a view that takes God to be simple but, unlike Aquinas, does not identify the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit with anything in our ontology. Instead, the view incorporates resources used in metaphysical debates about Ontology to produce the right results for claims about the Persons of the Trinity. I will focus on just one possible semantics a Simple Trinitarian may give: taking Trinitarian claims to be translatable into feature-placing sentences, which are taken to posit property instantiation without requiring commitment to any objects that instantiate those properties.

Extensionality of Proper Part Containment - (doc / PDF)

(Philosophical Quarterly, Forthcoming) Achille Varzi has shown us that it is harder to deny Extensionality than we may have thought:  he has argued that if we define proper parthood as parthood with distinctness, cases that we take to violate Extensionality do not really involve sharing of all proper parts.  Aaron Cotnoir has responded by showing that, if we instead define proper parthood as asymmetric parthood, we can take Extensionality to be violated in these cases.  I will offer a new response to this argument:  there are versions of Extensionality very similar to the one Varzi and Cotnoir discuss, which are violated in cases traditionally taken to be anti-Extensional, even when the traditional definition of proper parthood is endorsed.  These slightly modified versions of Extensionality allow theorists to capture senses in which Extensionality is violated in these cases, without this merely amounting to a violation of Uniqueness of Composition.

Atheistic Prayer - (doc / PDF)

It is widely assumed that atheists cannot pray to God. Theists argue that "foxhole conversions", when atheists begin to pray when put in dire circumstances, show that atheists are prone to convert to theism (or were theists all along). Atheists argue that theists who ask for prayers from them are making inappropriate requests, for supplying those prayers is incompatible with atheism. In this paper, I argue against the assumption that atheistic prayer to God is impossible. I show that, just as one can direct communication toward someone even when they disbelieve that the person exists, one may direct prayers toward God while disbelieving that God exists. On my model of prayer, not only can atheists pray, but that atheistic prayer is on a par with theistic prayer in many more ways than one might expect.

Refining Four-Dimensionalism - (doc / PDF) (Audio: Central APA, 2015)

(Synthese, Forthcoming) The current formulations of Four-Dimensionalism have this flaw: they either require needless commitments about the structure of time, or they require needless commitments about how liberally entities decompose into parts. Though we could respond to these issues by settling for a family of four-dimensionalist views each catered to the other views we endorse, this is unsatisfying: there seems to be something in virtue of which they all count as four-dimensionalist. That is, there seems to be some persistence-related natural feature (or group of features) that they all share, in virtue of which we put them in the same group. In this paper, I will demonstrate the problems with the current formulations of Four-Dimensionalism, and with their natural follow-ups. Then, I will present an alternative formulation that avoids these problems. My aim is to capture the central mereological component of Four-Dimensionalism, while simultaneously showing that it is possible to give a formulation of Four-Dimensionalism that is sufficiently neutral with respect to related claims.

At It Again: Time-Travel and Motion (doc / PDF)

(Erkenntnis, Forthcoming) The At-At Account of motion is the extremely popular view that, necessarily, something moves if and only if it’s at one place at one time, and at a distinct place at a distinct time. This, many believe, is all that motion consists in. However, I will present a case in which, intuitively, motion does not occur, though the At-At Account of motion entails that it does. I will then turn to the only tenable response that avoids revising the At-At Account: denying the possibility of my case. I will argue that the response is both contentious and fails to defend the spirit of the At-At Account qua reduction of motion (rather than mere listing of necessary and sufficient conditions for motion’s occurring).

Fundamentality and Time-Travel (doc / PDF)

(Thought, 2015) The relation of being more fundamental than, as well as the Finean notion of partially grounds, are widely taken to be irreflexive, transitive, and asymmetric.  However, certain time-travel cases that have been used to raise worries about the irreflexivity, transitivity, and asymmetry of proper part of can also be used to argue that more fundamental than and partially grounds do not have these formal properties.  I present this worry and discuss several responses to it, arguing that this problem is harder to address than the problem applied to proper parthood.

Shaping Up Location: Against the Humean Argument for Extrinsicality of Shape (doc / PDF) (Audio: Pacific APA, 2015)

(Philosophical Studies, 2015) Recently, we have been presented with an argument against the intrinsicality of shape that appeals to a plausible Humean principle. According to the argument, if shape is intrinsic and the location relation is fundamental, then we cannot explain the necessary correlation between an object’s shape and the shape of its location. And, it is claimed, the Humean principle tells us that an unexplained necessary correlation like this one is unacceptable. In this paper I respond to this argument by rejecting the favored interpretation of the Humean principle. Sometimes there are truths about what it means to stand in a given relation, even when that relation has no analysis. And these truths entail that certain features are had by the relata of the relation. Lacking an explanation for these sorts of truths is not problematic. I argue that it is plausible to take is located at to be such a relation.

Multilocation and Mereology (doc / PDF) (Audio: USC, 2010)

(Philosophical Perspectives, 2011) Multilocation and Minimal Mereology do not mix well. It has been pointed out that Three-Dimensionalism, which can be construed as multilocation-friendly, runs into trouble with Weak Supplementation. But in fact, regardless of one’s theory of persistence, if someone posits the possibility of any one of several kinds of multilocation, he or she will not be able to maintain the necessity of any of the three axioms of Minimal Mereology: the Transitivity of Proper Parthood, the Asymmetry of Proper Parthood, and Weak Supplementation. In fact, positing even the mere conceivability of cases involving multilocation will require the denial of the analyticity of Minimal Mereology. In response to this, some have claimed that we ought to relativise parthood, either to one region or to two. Unfortunately, if we replace the axioms of Minimal Mereology with region-relativised counterparts, we will not be able to capture the intuitions that supported the original axioms. The only adequate solution, I maintain, is to restrict multilocation to a domain outside the scope of the rules we intuitively take to govern the parthood relation. For those who take Minimal Mereology to be necessary and universal, that will mean relinquishing the possibility of multilocation.

Reasoning Without the Principle of Sufficient Reason (doc / PDF)

(The Puzzle of Existence: Why is There Something Rather Than Nothing? 2013) According to Principles of Sufficient Reason, every truth (in some relevant group) has an explanation.  One of the most popular defenses of Principles of Sufficient Reason has been the presupposition of reason defense, which takes endorsement of the defended PSR to play a crucial role in our theory selection.  According to recent presentations of this defense, our method of theory selection often depends on the assumption that, if a given proposition is true, then it has an explanation, and this will only be justified if we think this holds for all propositions in the relevant group.  I argue that this argument fails even when restricted to contingent propositions, and even if we grant that there is no non-arbitrary way to divide true propositions that have explanations from those that lack them.  Further, we can give an alternate explanation of what justifies our selecting theories on the basis of explanatory features:  the crucial role is not played by an endorsement of a PSR, but rather by our belief that, prima facie, we should prefer theories that exemplify explanatory power to greater degrees than their rivals.  This guides our theory selection in a manner similar to ontological parsimony and theoretical simplicity.  Unlike a PSR, our belief about explanatory power gives us a prima facie guiding principle, which provides justification in the cases where we think we have it, and not in the cases where we think we don't.

Repeatable Artwork Sentences and Generics - co-authored with Jake Ross (doc / PDF)

(Art and Abstract Objects, 2012) We seem to talk about repeatable artworks, like symphonies, films, and novels, all the time. We say things like, "The Moonlight Sonata has three movements" and "Duck Soup makes me laugh". How are these sentences to be understood? We argue against the simple subject/predicate view, on which the subjects of the sentences refer to individuals and the sentences are true iff the referents of the subjects have the properties picked out by the predicates. We then consider two alternative responses that involve reading these sentences as generics, similar to "The polar bear has four paws". The first response takes these sentences to be about kinds, and the second takes the relevant noun-phrases to act as predicates. We reject these accounts, but offer a third alternative which is informed by both, and which enables us to deny the existence of repeatable artworks while endorsing the truth of sentences seemingly about them.

Many-One Identity and the Trinity (doc / PDF) (Audio: Austin, 2010)

(Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion, 2012) Trinitarians claim there are three Divine persons each of which is God, and yet there is only one God. It seems they want three to equal one. It just so happens, some metaphysicians claim exactly that. They accept Composition as Identity: each fusion is identical to the plurality of its parts. I evaluate Composition as Identity's application to the doctrine of the Trinity, and argue that it fails to give the Trinitairan any options he or she didn't already have. Further, while Composition as Identity does give us a new way to assert polytheism, its help requires us to endorse a claim that undercuts any Trinitarian motivation for the view.

Some Things About Stuff (doc / PDF)

(Philosophical Studies, 2007) I examine the implications of positing stuff (which occupies an ontological category distinct from things) as a way to avoid colocation in the case of the statue and the bronze that constitutes it. When characterising stuff, it’s intuitive to say we often individuate stuff kinds by appealing to things and their relations (e.g., water is water rather than gold because it is entirely divisible into subportions which constitute or partially constitute H2O molecules). I argue that if this intuition is correct, there are important restrictions on how we can characterise stuff in order to avoid colocated portions of stuff.



Fusion First - last updated 06-2016 (doc / PDF)

Logics of part/whole relations frequently take parthood or proper parthood as primitive, defining the remaining mereological properties and relations in terms of them. I argue from considerations involving Weak Supplementation for the conclusion that we should take fusion as our mereological primitive. I point out that the intuitions supporting Weak Supplementation also support a stronger principle, Weak Supplementation of Pluralities, and that the principle can only do the work demanded by our intuitions when formulated in terms of a notion of fusion that cannot be defined merely in terms of mereological properties and relations, logic, and a membership relation. So, insofar as we think any definition of fusion must be so restricted, we have motivation to take fusion as primitive; further, we have greater insight into the motivation for our supplementation principle and which version of that principle we ought to endorse.

Simple Trinitarianism and Empty Names - last updated 05-2016

According to Simple Trinitarianism, God is mereologically simple (He has no parts distinct from Himself), and the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not identified with any entities in our ontology. In this way, the Simple Trinitarian is able to avoid conflating Persons or multiplying Gods, and does not have to identify the Persons with minor entities or entities partly disjoint from God, such as modes, events, or properties. However, in order to maintain that Trinitarian sentences are nonetheless true, our Simple Trinitarian will need a non-standard semantics. I explore just one option for this, which involves taking "the Father", "the Son", and "the Holy Spirit" to be empty names. By adopting a positive, Free Logic, we can take these names to make semantic contributions and play roles in true sentences, while blocking problematic inferences such as the one "The Father is God and the Son is God, and the Father is distinct from the Son" to "There are at least two Gods".

Problems for Petitionary Prayer - last updated 12-2016 (doc / PDF)

Sometimes we petition God for things through prayer. This is puzzling, because if God always does what is best, it is not clear how our prayers can make a difference to what God does. Difference-Making accounts of petitionary prayer attempt to explain how our prayers can nonetheless influence what God does. I argue that, insofar as one is motivated to endorse such an account due to wanting to respect widespread intuitions about this feature of petitionary prayer, they should also be motivated to endorse an account of prayer that respects widespread intuitions about other central features of petitionary prayer. I describe three problematic cases and the intuitions we have about them, and show how these intuitions restrict any Difference-Making account of petitionary prayer.

Weak Supplementation and Presentism - coauthored with Alberto Tassoni - last updated 06-2016

We argue that Weak Supplementation is incompatible with the combination of Presentism (the view that everything that exists is temporally present) and Existential Four-Dimensionalism (the view that at least some material object persists four-dimensionally). This is a problem for Presentists who wish to endorse a common and intuitive division (argued for by Peter Simons and Kit Fine) between continuants, which are ordinary objects like people and atoms that may be said to exist in time, and occurrants, such as events, which may be said to extend through time. Though the most natural response for a Presentist is to endorse a tensed version of Weak Supplementation, we argue that every way of attempting to do so is inadequate. We conclude that, in order to endorse Weak Supplementation (or a principle that does the same work), we must reject either Presentism or Existential Four-Dimensionalism.

Conditional Desires - last updated 06-2007 (doc / PDF)

There’s an intuitive distinction between two types of desires: conditional (desires for things such that we want to get them only as long as we’ll still want them when we get them) and unconditional (desires for things that we want to get regardless of how we’ll feel about them later). Derek Parfit has suggested that we interpret conditional desires as desires involving certain conditionals – that is, that we interpret them as being implicitly conditional upon their own persistence. While this account seems intuitive, I argue that it is incorrect. I examine several ways of cashing out conditional desires in terms of conditionals, and show problems with each. I then present a trilemma against this way of interpreting conditional desires, based on problems independent of those already mentioned. Finally, I conclude by noting that the problems I raise apply to a wide variety of accounts, not just those involving conditionals, which leaves us with an interesting puzzle: we have an intuitive, easily graspable distinction, and difficulty in accounting for it.


Current Book Project:

Parts Across Space and Time

I am currently in the process of drafting a book-length manuscript that brings together many of the central themes in my papers, and that allows me to present and argue for my positive views and draw out the implications of my arguments. My central aim in the book is to argue for the thesis that objects persist across time and space in virtue of having smaller parts at each of the occupied smaller regions they fill. But I cover much more along the way. The structure of the book is as follows:

I begin with stage-setting, with a focus on what our aims should be in presenting theories of parthood and location. In particular, I address the largely neglected topic of what explanatory role these theories should be playing. I note that philosophers often ignore cases that strike them as impossible, when in fact they should look to their theories to explain why these things can’t obtain. I use this methodology to argue for an amendment to the canonical theory of parthood.

Once I have set out my methodology and a background of theories of parthood and location, I begin arguing for my moderate metaphysical views. I argue using strange cases I’ve built up from possibilities many philosophers accept. I present worries using cases involving multilocation, cases using extended simple objects, cases involving colocation, and cases involving infinitely divisible objects. I explore how we might revise our theories of parthood and location in light of these cases, but claim that it is less costly to keep our theories unaltered and reject the possibility of these strange cases. Following my own earlier advice, I note that it is not enough to claim the cases are impossible; we must also explain why they are impossible. I sketch some alternatives for explanation.

Once we reject the possibilities that led to these cases, we are left with the theory of persistence through time and space that I prefer. I conclude my manuscript by examining two implications of this view: first, I argue that it is incompatible with Three-Dimensionalism. This involves a foray into examining alternate formulations of the central competing views of persistence through time.

Next, I look at the implications for the topic of how to understand debates about parthood, location, and persistence. Some philosophers think that these metaphysical debates are illusory; when people debate about persistence, for instance, and think they’re disagreeing about something substantive, they’re really just describing the same thing in two different ways. On one version of this view, there’s just matter spread across spacetime, and we’re differing in how we use language to divide it up. But: the assumption about how matter relates to spacetime that these metaphysical deflationists are making is itself a significant metaphysical claim! And that claim must be argued for. My work can be seen as friendly to these metaphysical deflationists, then, because I begin by assuming their opponent’s position (in taking these debates seriously), and end up arguing for a conclusion that is required for this version of the view that the disagreements are not substantive. (Though I do not endorse metaphysical deflationism myself.)

Thus, though the cases I consider are strange, I argue for conclusions that are modest and intuitive. And though my work consists of unapologetically and wholeheartedly doing central Metaphysics, my hope is that it is informative for even the most Metaphysics-averse.


Edited Volume:

Mereology and Location - published by Oxford University Press, January 2014

Table of Contents:

Shieva Kleinschmidt: INTRODUCTION
Mereology and Location
6: Daniel Nolan: BALLS AND ALL
Interaction with Other Topics

This is a compilation of new work by leading philosophers on the topics of Mereology and Location. They discuss how we ought to axiomatise our mereology, whether we can reduce mereological relations to identity or to locative relations, whether Mereological Essentialism is true, different ways in which entities persist through space, time, spacetime, and even hypertime, conflicting intuitions we have about space, and what mereology and propositions can tell us about one another. The breadth and accessibility of the papers make this volume an excellent introduction for those not yet working on these topics. Further, the papers contain important contributions to these central areas of metaphysics, and so are essential reading for anyone working in the field.


If you have comments or suggestions about any of this, please feel free to contact me!