3A43 Paterson Hall
Carleton University
1125 Colonel By Drive
Ottawa, ON, K1S 5B6, Canada

gabriele 'dot' contessa 'at' carleton 'dot' ca


I am currently an Associate Professor in the Philosophy Department at Carleton University

I work primarily in metaphysics (especially modality, laws of nature, properties, dispositions, causation, and fiction and fictionalism) and the general philosophy of science (especially, scientific representation, scientific models, scientific realism, evidence and confirmation, explanation), but I also have a long-standing interest in epistemology and the philosophies of physics, math, mind, and language and a more recent interest in the philosophy of medicine.

I did my graduate studies at the LSE in London (under the supervision of Nancy Cartwright for my PhD and Orly Shenker for my MSc) and did my undergraduate degree  at "La Sapienzain Rome (under the supervision of Mauro Dorato). 

I founded, administer, and contribute to Matters of Substance: A Group Blog Devoted to Metaphysics and It's Only A Theory: A Group Blog Devoted to General Philosophy of Science

I am the PhilPapers area editor for General Philosophy of Science and middle editor for Models and Idealization, Scientific Realism, and Properties.

When not in Ottawa, I am usually in Toronto (yes, that's a 450km commute each way!), where I live with my wife and our two wonderful daughtersI grew up in Rome (but I was born in the beautiful Umbrian town of Spoleto)

At this point I should probably mention some extra-philosophical interest that would make me seem cool, but I don't practice any extreme sports or play any unusual instrument, so the only thing I can mention in a desperate bid to increase my coolness level is that my little brother happens to be indeterminately identical with the Italian indie synth-pop sensation I Cani (take that, Gareth Evans!).


Feb 24, 2014: My note 'The Junk Argument: Safe Disposal Guidelines for Mereological Universalists' is now cited in the newly revised Stanford Encyclopedia entry on mereology.

Nov 25, 2013: I just uploaded a new draft of 'Can There Be Dispositions Without Powers?'. Comments are welcome!

Nov 15, 2013: My paper 'One's a Crowd: Mereological Nihilism without Ordinary-Object Eliminativism' has been accepted for publication in Analytic Philosophy!

Older News Items


My Most Downloaded Works on PhilPapers

  1. Scientific Models and Representation (337 downloads - one of the 500 papers most downloaded from PhilPapers!)
  2. Dispositions and Interferences (218 downloads)
  3. Scientific Models and Fictional Objects (174 downloads) 
  4. Does Your Metaphysics Need Structure? (172 downloads)
  5. Modal Truthmakers and Two Varieties of Actualism (165 downloads)
  6. Representing Reality: The Ontology of Scientific Models and their Representational Function (my awkwardly-titled doctoral thesis) (146 downloads)
  7. Scientific Representation, Interpretation, and Surrogative Reasoning (113 downloads)
  8. Do Extrinsic Dispositions Need Extrinsic Causal Bases? (113 downloads)
  9. Keeping Track of Neurath's Bill: Abstract Concepts, Stock Models and the Unity of Classical Physics (with Sheldon Steed and Nancy Cartwright) (86 downloads)
  10. The Junk Argument: Safe Disposal Guidelines for Mereological Universalists (83 downloads)
My Most Cited Works (According to Google Scholar and, hence, to be taken with a pinch of salt...)
  1. Scientific Representation, Interpretation, and Surrogative Reasoning (50 citations)
  2. Scientific Models and Fictional Objects (23 citations)
  3. Modal Truthmakers and Two Varieties of Actualism (8 citations)
  4. Scientific Models, Partial Structures, and the New Received View of Scientific Theories (6 citations)
  5. Scientific Models and Representation and Constructive Empiricism, Observability, and Three Kinds of Ontological Commitment (5 citations each)
My Works Cited in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  • Dispositions and Interferences (Philosophical Studies)
    • ABSTRACT: The Simple Counterfactual Analysis (SCA) was once considered the most promising analysis of disposition ascriptions. According to SCA, disposition ascriptions are to be analyzed in terms of counterfactual conditionals. In the last few decades, however, SCA has become the target of a battery of counterexamples. In all counterexamples, something seems to be interfering with a certain object’s having or not having a certain disposition thus making the truth-values of the disposition ascription and of its associated counterfactual come apart. Intuitively, however, it would seem that, if all interferences were absent, the disposition ascription and its associated conditional would have the same truth-value. Although this idea may seem obvious, it is far from obvious how to implement it. In fact, it has become widely assumed that the content of qualifying ceteris paribus clauses (such as ‘if all interferences were absent’) cannot be specified in a clear and non-circular manner. In this paper, I will argue that this assumption is wrong. I will develop an analysis of disposition ascriptions, the Interference-Free Counterfactual Analysis, which relies on a clear and non-circular definition of the notion of interference and avoids the standard counterexamples to SCA while vindicating the intuition that disposition ascriptions and counterfactual conditionals are intimately related.
  • One's a Crowd: Mereological Nihilism without Ordinary-Object Eliminativism (Analytic Philosophy)
    • ABSTRACT: Mereological nihilism is the thesis that there are no composite objects—i.e. objects with proper material parts. One of the main advantages of mereological nihilism is that it allows its supporters to avoid a number of notorious philosophical puzzles. However, it seems to offer this advantage only at the expense of certain widespread and deeply entrenched beliefs. In particular, it is usually assumed that mereological nihilism entails eliminativism about ordinary objects—i.e. the counterintuitive thesis that there are no such things as tables, apples, cats, and the like. In this paper, I argue that this assumption is false—mereological nihilists do not need to be eliminativists about tables, apples, or cats. Non-eliminativist nihilists claim that all it takes for there to be a cat is that there are simples arranged cat-wise. More specifically, non-eliminative nihilists argue that expressions such as ‘the cat’ in sentences such as ‘The cat is on the mat’ do not refer to composite objects but only to simples arranged cat-wise and compare this metaphysical discovery to the scientific discovery that ‘water’ refers to dihydrogen oxide. Non-eliminative nihilism, I argue, is not only a coherent position, but it is preferable to its more popular, eliminativist counterpart, as it enjoys the key benefits of nihilism without incurring the prohibitive costs of eliminativism. Moreover, unlike conciliatory strategies adopted by eliminative nihilists, non-eliminative nihilism allow its supporters to account not only for how we can assert something true by saying ‘The cat is on the mat’ but also for how we can believe something true by believing that the cat is on the mat.
  • Do Extrinsic Dispositions Need Extrinsic Causal Bases? (Philosophy and Phenomenological Research)
    • ABSTRACT: In this paper, I distinguish two often-conflated theses—the thesis that all dispositions are intrinsic properties and the thesis that the causal bases of all dispositions are intrinsic properties—and argue that the falsity of the former does not entail the falsity of the latter. In particular, I argue that extrinsic dispositions are a counterexample to first thesis but not necessarily to the second thesis, because an extrinsic disposition does not need to include any extrinsic property in its causal basis. I conclude by drawing some general lessons about the nature of dispositions and their relation to their causal bases.