AOS: Metaphysics

AOC: Philosophy of Science, Philosophy of Language

Email: dgoswick@unimelb.edu.au
received my doctorate from the University of California at Davis in December 2009.  In my dissertation I defended a response-dependent account of ordinary objects and argued that objects that have non-trivial de re modal properties depend for their existence partly on our having certain sort-responses.  Whilst in graduate school, I was a visiting student at the Australian National University, UNC at Chapel Hill, and the University of Arizona.  Prior to graduate school, I earned a B.A. in Political Studies at Bard College in upstate NY and a CELTA certificate from Cambridge University.   

Since 2010, I've been a lecturer at the University of Melbourne.  My current work concerns modality, ordinary objects,  and Realism.  I argue that the negative modalities (not necessarily not, not possibly not) are weaker than the positive modalities (possibly, necessarily).  This creates room in logical space for entities which have no non-trivial de re modal properties.  I call such objects "n-entities".  I defend the existence of n-entities and argue that ordinary objects are composite objects which contain n-entities and sort properties as parts.  With regard to Realism, I argue that defining Realism in terms of mind-independence is archaic and anthropocentric.  I'm currently trying to come up with a better, 21st century, version of Realism. 

Every eighteen months I organize the Australian Metaphysics Conference (AMC) which is held at the ANU's Kioloa Coastal Campus in NSW.  Each January I compile a list of all the metaphysics articles from the previous year that I ought to have read and post it in the Metaphysics Digest, which can be read here:  https://sites.google.com/site/metaphysicsdigest/.
I, also, run a monthly metaphysics reading group, Melbourne Area Metaphysics (MAM), https://sites.google.com/site/melbourneareametaphysics




SELECTED PUBLICATIONS (click on title for link to article)


The view that ordinary objects are constituted by matter and form ("hylomorphism") can be contrasted with the view that ordinary objects are constituted by matter alone ("matter-only").  I argue that hylomorphic views have an advantage over matter-only views when it comes to grounding an object's modal properties.  I, then, defend a response-dependent hylomorphic account of ordinary objects and argue that it fairs even better than non-response-dependent hylomorphic views with regard to grounding objects' modal properties.

Bridging the Modal Gap (Journal of Philosophy, 2010)                                          
I argue that standard Realists about ordinary objects (e.g. Kripke, Bealer) cannot tell a satisfactory epistemological story with regard to our knowledge of the modal properties of ordinary objects.  I suggest that this gives us reason to endorse some ontology other than standard Realism.

Modality appears to be all around us: water molecules are necessarily H20; it's necessary that if something is a cat, then it's a mammal; it's possible for you to wear brown shoes.  The implausibility of eliminativism about modality combined with the lack of an ontologically conservative, genuinely reductive account of modality lends a prima facie plausibility to modal primitivism.  Despite this prima facie plausibility, I argue that modal primitivism is ultimately untenable.  I first discuss what brute modality is, what the prima facie reasons for endorsing it are, and why philosophers have, in general, been so keen to avoid it.  I, then, argue that there's a plausible form of modal reductionism which has, thus far, been overlooked in the literature.  Namely, a reductive account which proceeds via providing a reductive account of the existence of objects which have modal properties rather than via providing a reductive account of objects' instantiation of modal properties.  Ultimately, I argue that -- in light of the availability of this new way of reducing modality --  modal reductionism is preferable to modal primitivism.  Modal facts are not brute.

The Role of Structure  (Canadian Journal of Philosophy, 2014)

In this critical notice of Ted Sider's Writing the Book of the World, I look at what structure is and at the arguments for structure. 

Change and Identity Over Time  (Blackwell's Companion to Philosophy of Time, 2013)

What is at stake when we're concerned with the change and identity of objects over time?  I examine the three most common accounts of persistence over time: endurantism, perdurantism, and exdurantism.  The main arguments for and objections to each view are considered.  I note that there's no reason to think all objects persist in the same way and briefly examine pluralism about persistence.

Standardly, □ ≡ ~◊~ and ◊ ≡ ~□~.  I, first, examine why in tense logic Arthur Prior thinks that ~◊~ is weaker than □ and ~□~ is weaker than ◊.  I, then, examine whether there are similar motivations in modal logic to take ~◊~ to be weaker than □ and ~□~ to be weaker than ◊.  The upshot is that, just as certain metaphysical views within the philosophy of time (e.g. Presentism) motivate one to deny the standard tense equivalences, certain metaphysical views within the metaphysics of modality (e.g. Contingentism, nonmodalism) motivate one to deny the standard modal equivalences.

An examination of the nature of events.  Section I provides an overview of the metaphysics of events.  Sections II-VI address the views of Roderick Chisholm, W.V.O. Quine, Donald Davidson, Jaegwon Kim, and David Lewis.  Section VII considers the ways in which events are and are not similar to near-by ontological categories, such as states, facts, and objects.  Section VIII provides an overview of the semantics of events.

We argue that the truth-value of mereological essentialism for events is independent of the truth-value of mereological essentialism for objects.  We diagnose why this is the case and examine the upshot of it.  In particular, we argue that the way we evaluate modal claims which concern events differs from the way we evaluate modal claims which concern objects.  A consequence of this is that there is room in logical space, even for those who take there to be only one ontological category (object/event) rather than two ontological categories (objects and events), to separate the question of mereological essentialism for objects from the question of mereological essentialism for events.

Philosophical Methodology in Modal Epistemology (Essays in Philosophy, 2012)         

An adequate modal methodology must capture both the fact that o exists and the fact that o is essentially F. I argue that neither of the two most common modal methodologies -- the thought experiment methodology and the conceptual analysis methodology -- succeed in capturing this. The thought experiment methodology fails to demonstrate that any actual o is essentially F because there are systematic cases of false positives which the method is unable to rule out. Conceptual analysis succeeds in demonstrating that an object o is essentially F only at the cost of undermining the reasons we have for thinking object o exists. We are, hence, left in need of a methodology which can ground our knowing both that o exists and that o is essentially F. I conclude by examining three different ways of supplementing the thought experiment methodology and the conceptual analysis methodology to yield knowledge of the essential properties of actual objects.


Lewisian-Style Counterfactual Analysis of Causation: A New Solution to the Problem of Overdetermination  (Organon F, 2010)                                                                    

Causal overdetermination has long been considered a problem for counterfactual analyses of causation. Intuitively, when x and y overdetermine z, we want to say that both x and y caused z, but standard Lewisian counterfactual analysis yields the result that neither x nor y caused z.  I show that, if we modify Lewis's account of events slightly, we can defend a counterfactual analysis of causation which accords with our intuitions about causal overdetermination.


SOME WORKS IN PROGRESS (abstracts only)

The Anti-Realist Bogeyman (And How to Avoid Him)
I distinguish Local Constructivism (humans play a constitutive role in constructing some of  the objects we have epistemic access to) from Global Constructivism (humans play a constitutive role in constructing all of  the objects we have epistemic access to).  I explicate and clarify Local Constructivism and show how the metaphysical concerns which motivate endorsing Local Constructivism about some objects (e.g. social objects, modal objects) differ from the epistemic and semantic concerns which motive endorsing Global Constructivism.  I, then, examine the criticisms Realists typically present against Constructivism.  I argue that, although these criticisms undermine Global Constructivism, Local Constructivism is immune to them.  If one has anti-Realist inclinations, but wishes to avoid the morass anti-Realism usually falls into (aka: the anti-Realist Bogeyman), one should endorse Local, rather than Global, Constructivism.

Should We Endorse a Law of Excluded Middle for Property Instantiation?
Closely related to the Law of the Excluded Middle (LEM) is the question of whether every object is such that, for every property P, the object either instantiates P or fails to instantiate P.  Call this the "Law of Excluded Middle Instantiation" (LEMI).  I examine the costs and benefits of respecting LEMI.  Ultimately I conclude that we should examine philosophical theories on a case-by-case basis and weigh the pros and cons of the theory, rather than summarily dismissing a view simply because it requires LEMI violations.

Realism in a Post-Cartesian World
Realism is standardly understood as involving an existence clause and an independence clause.  I present several counterexamples to the independence clause and argue that, far from being constitutive of Realism, independence is actually orthogonal to Realism.  I close by briefly examining what should play the role independence has hitherto played in defining Realism. 

A Puzzle for Creationists about Fictional Objects
Creationists about fictional objects are committed to the following two claims: (i) fictional objects exist, and (ii) many of a fictional object's properties are determined by the author of the fiction.  I argue that, despite their protestations to the contrary, these two claims inexorably commit the Creationist to indeterminacy.

Existence and Nature
Currently I sit at my computer drinking coffee.  Claims such as -- (1) this is coffee cup, and (2) this coffee cup cannot survive shattering -- seem both obviously true and deeply ingrained in our way of seeing the world.  Call claims, such as (1), which assert the existence of an ordinary object "Existence Claims".  Call claims, such as (2), which ascribe particular modal natures to ordinary objects "Nature Claims".  Prima facie, there's a tension between Existence Claims and Nature Claims.  Existence Claims are easily empirically verifiable.  A quick glance around the room confirms the existence of my coffee mug, fan, and computer.  Nature claims are not easily empirically discoverable.  In fact, they appear not to be empirically discoverable at all.  But surely -- if in order for entity e to be a coffee cup, it has to be such that it cannot survive shattering and if the fact that it cannot survive shattering is not something which is empirically discoverable -- then that this entity is a coffee cup is something which is not empirically discoverable.  But, ex hypothesi, Existence Claims are easily empirically verifiable.  I discuss the ramifications this has for how we think about the existence and nature of physical objects.

BOOK REVIEWS (click on title for link to review)
Review of Amie Thomasson's Ontology Made Easy  (The Philosophical Review, 2018)

Review of Ted Sider's Writing the Book of the World (Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 2013)   
Review of Crawford Elder's Familiar Objects and Their Shadows (Mind, 2012)