Andrew Brenner

I do philosophy, mostly metaphysics. I'm an Assistant Professor in the Department of Religion and Philosophy at Hong Kong Baptist University. Before that I was a post-doc in the School of Philosophy at Wuhan University, and before that I was a post-doc with the Metaphysical Explanation project at the University of Gothenburg.

Current Courses

Mind in Chinese Buddhism (Fall 2020)

Syllabus (forthcoming)

Website (forthcoming)


Forthcoming - Explaining Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing

Erkenntnis. Forthcoming

Abstract: It is sometimes supposed that, in principle, we cannot offer an explanation for why there is something rather than nothing. I argue that this supposition is a mistake, and stems from a needlessly myopic conception of the form explanations can legitimately take. After making this more general point, I proceed to offer a speculative suggestion regarding one sort of explanation which can in principle serve as an answer to the question “why is there something rather than nothing?” The suggestion is that there may be something rather than nothing in virtue of the truth of certain sorts of subjunctive conditionals.


Forthcoming - Mereology and Ideology

Synthese. Forthcoming

Abstract: Mereological nihilism is the thesis that composition never occurs. Sider has defended nihilism on the basis of its relative ideological simplicity. In this paper I develop the argument from ideological simplicity, and defend it from some recent objections. Along the way I discuss the best way to formulate nihilism, what it means for a theory to exhibit lesser or greater degrees of ideological simplicity, the relationship between the parthood relation and the identity relation, and the notion that we should judge the ideological simplicity of competing theories on the basis of the kinds of ideological commitments required by those theories.


Forthcoming - How Does God Know That 2+2=4?

Religious Studies. Forthcoming

Abstract: Sometimes theists wonder how God's beliefs track particular portions of reality, e.g. contingent states of affairs, or facts regarding future free actions. In this article I sketch a general model for how God's beliefs track reality. God's beliefs track reality in much the same way that propositions track reality, namely via grounding. Just as the truth values of true propositions are generally or always grounded in their truthmakers, so too God's true beliefs are grounded in the subject matters of those beliefs (i.e. God believes that p in virtue of the fact that p). This is not idle speculation, since my proposal allows the theist to account for God's true beliefs regarding causally inert portions of reality.


2020 - Ontological Pluralism, Abhidharma Metaphysics, and the Two Truths: A Response to Kris McDaniel

Philosophy East and West. Vol. 70, Issue 2 (April 2020), pp.543-557

Abstract: Kris McDaniel has recently proposed an interpretation of the distinction between conventional truth and ultimate truth, as that distinction is made within Abhidharma metaphysics. McDaniel thinks that the conventional/ultimate truth distinction is closely related to a similar distinction between conventional existence and ultimate existence. What’s more, he thinks that we should interpret the latter distinction along ontological pluralist lines, according to which the difference between things which ultimately exist and things which merely conventionally exist amounts to a difference in the modes of being enjoyed by the things in question. In this paper I present some concerns I have regarding McDaniel’s proposal.


2020 - Rejoinder to Kris McDaniel

Philosophy East and West. Vol. 70, Issue 2 (April 2020), pp.565-569

Abstract: McDaniel responded to my response. Here is my response to his response.


2018 - Easy Ontology, Application Conditions and Infinite Regress

Analysis. Vol. 78, Issue 4 (October 2018), pp.605-614

Abstract: In a number of recent publications Thomasson has defended a deflationary approach to ontological disputes, according to which ontological disputes are relatively easy to settle, by either conceptual analysis, or conceptual analysis in conjunction with empirical investigation. Thomasson's "easy" approach to ontology is intended to derail many prominent ontological disputes. In this paper I present an objection to Thomasson's approach to ontology. Thomasson's approach to existence assertions means that she is committed to the view that application conditions (i.e., conditions which need to be met in order for some existence assertion to be true) associated with any term "K" with non-trivial application conditions must refer to the existence of things other than Ks. Given other components of her meta-ontological scheme, this leads to either an infinite regress or circularity of application conditions, both of which seem objectionable. Accordingly, some part of Thomasson's meta-ontological scheme should be modified or abandoned.


2018 - Theism and Explanationist Defenses of Moral Realism

Faith and Philosophy. Vol. 35, Issue 4 (October 2018), pp.447-463

Abstract: Some moral realists have defended moral realism on the basis of the purported fact that moral facts figure as components in some good explanations of non-moral phenomena. In this paper I explore the relationship between theism and this sort of explanationist defense of moral realism. Theistic explanations often make reference to moral facts, and do so in a manner which is ineliminable in an important respect -- remove the moral facts from those explanations, and they suffer as a result. In this respect theistic moral explanations seem to differ from the sorts of moral explanations typically offered by moral explanationists.


2018 - Science and the Special Composition Question

Synthese. Vol. 195, Issue 2 (February 2018), pp.657-678

Abstract: Mereological nihilism is the thesis that composition never occurs. Some philosophers have thought that science gives us compelling evidence against nihilism. In this article I respond to this concern. An initial challenge for nihilism stems from the fact that composition is such a ubiquitous feature of scientific theories. In response I motivate a restricted form of scientific anti-realism with respect to those components of scientific theories which make reference to composition. A second scientifically based worry for nihilism is that certain specific scientific phenomena (quantum entanglement, natural selection) might require ineliminable quantification over composite objects. I address these concerns, and argue that there seem to be nihilist-friendly construals of the scientific phenomena in question.


2017 - Simplicity as a Criterion of Theory Choice in Metaphysics

Philosophical Studies. Vol. 174, Issue 11 (November 2017), pp.2687-2707

Abstract: Metaphysicians frequently appeal to the idea that theoretical simplicity is truth conducive in metaphysics, in the sense that, all other things being equal, simpler metaphysical theories are more likely to be true. In this paper I defend the notion that theoretical simplicity is truth conducive in metaphysics, against several recent objections. I do not give any direct arguments for the thesis that simplicity is truth conducive in metaphysics, since I am aware of no such arguments. I do argue, however, that there is no special problem with the notion that simplicity is truth conducive in metaphysics. More specifically, I argue that if you accept the idea that simplicity is truth conducive in science, then it would be objectionably arbitrary to reject the idea that simplicity is truth conducive in metaphysics.


2017 - Mereological Nihilism and Personal Ontology

The Philosophical Quarterly. Vol. 67, Issue 268 (July 2017), pp.464-485

Abstract: Mereological nihilists hold that composition never occurs, so that nothing is ever a proper part of anything else. Substance dualists generally hold that we are each identical with an immaterial soul. In this paper I argue that every popular objection to substance dualism has a parallel objection to composition. This thesis has some interesting implications. First, many of those who reject composition, but accept substance dualism, or who reject substance dualism and accept composition, have some explaining to do. Second, one popular objection to mereological nihilism, one which contends that mereological nihilism is objectionable insofar as it is incompatible with the existence of people, is untenable.


2016 - What Do We Mean When We Ask "Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing?"

Erkenntnis. Vol. 81, Issue 6 (December 2016), pp.1305-1322

Abstract: Let’s call the sentence “why is there something rather than nothing?” the Question. There’s no consensus, of course, regarding which proposed answer to the Question, if any, is correct, but occasionally there’s also controversy regarding the meaning of the Question itself. In this paper I argue that such controversy persists because there just isnt one unique interpretation of the Question. Rather, the puzzlement expressed by the sentence “why is there something rather than nothing?” varies depending on the ontology implicitly or explicitly endorsed by the speaker. In this paper I do three things. First, I argue that other proposals according to which the Question has one uniquely adequate interpretation are false. Second, I give several examples of the way in which the meaning of the Question can vary depending on the ontology to which it is coupled. Third, I explore the implications of my thesis for the manner in which we should approach future attempts to answer the Question.


2015 - Mereological Nihilism and Theoretical Unification

Analytic Philosophy. Vol. 56, Issue 4 (December 2015), pp.318-337

Abstract: Mereological nihilism (henceforth just "nihilism") is the thesis that composition never occurs. Nihilism has often been defended on the basis of its theoretical simplicity, including its ontological simplicity and its ideological simplicity (roughly, nihilism's ability to do without primitive mereological predicates). In this paper I defend nihilism on the basis of the theoretical unification conferred by nihilism, which is, roughly, nihilism's capacity to allow us to take fewer phenomena as brute and inexplicable. This represents a respect in which nihilism enjoys greater theoretical simplicity than its rivals which has not yet been explored, and which is immune to many of the objections which have been leveled against previous arguments for nihilism from nihilism's theoretical simplicity. Composition as identity might be thought to confer a similar degree of theoretical uni.cation as nihilism. I end the paper by arguing that this is not the case.


2015 - Mereological Nihilism and the Special Arrangement Question

Synthese. Vol. 192, Issue 5 (May 2015), pp.1295-1314

Abstract: Mereological nihilism is the thesis that composite objects—objects with proper parts—do not exist. Nihilists generally paraphrase talk of composite objects F into talk of there being “xs arranged F-wise” (for example, while nihilists deny that there are tables, they concede that there are “xs arranged table-wise”). Recently several philosophers have argued that nihilism is defective insofar as nihilists are either unable to say what they mean by such phrases as “there are xs arranged F-wise,” or that nihilists are unable to employ such phrases without incurring significant costs, perhaps even undermining one of the chief motivations for nihilism. In this paper I defend nihilism against these objections. A key theme of the paper is this: if nihilists need to employ such phrases as “there are xs arranged F-wise,” non-nihilists will need to do so as well. Accordingly, any costs incurred by the nihilist when she employs such phrases will be shared by everyone else. What’s more, such phrases are intelligible when employed by the nihilist, as well as when they are employed by the non-nihilist, insofar as analyses of such phrases will not essentially involve mereological concepts incompatible with nihilism.


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