Using defaults to understand token causation
Friends of the counterfactual theory of causation have recently employed the notion of a default to respond to standard problem cases for counterfactual theories. I argue that while the notion of a default is in- deed useful for understanding token causation, it is a tool that belongs in the toolbox of the process theorist, not in that of counterfactual accounts of causation. I show that an event is a default event relative to a particular process. In light of this, the way to employ default events to improve our understanding of token causation is by taking token causation to be the intersection of two processes where the token effect is a default event relative to one process, but a deviant event relative to another. Doing so reveals causal processes to be more fundamental than token causation, since the latter is understood in terms of the former, which suggests that the use of defaults to understand token causation is especially suitable for process views of causation. Moreover, employing the notion of defaults affords the process theorist a way of handling cases of causation by omission.
Journal of Philosophy, 113:1 5-26, 2016 (pdf)
Naturalistic Quietism or Scientific Realism?
Realists about science tend to hold that our scientific theories aim for the truth, that our successful theories are at least partly true, and that the entities referred to by the theoretical terms of these theories exist. Antirealists about science deny one or more of these claims. A sizable minority of philosophers of science prefers not to take sides: they believe the realism debate to be fundamentally mistaken and seek to abstain from it altogether. In analogy with other realism debates I will call these philosophers quietists. In the philosophy of science quietism often takes a somewhat peculiar form, which I will call naturalistic quietism. In this paper I characterize Maddy’s Second Philosophy as a form of naturalist quietism, and show what the costs for making it feasible are.
Synthese, First online: 03 September 2015. (pdf)
Spin as a Determinable
In this paper I aim to answer two questions: 1) Can spin be treated as a determinable? 2) Can a treatment of spin as a determinable be used to understand quantum indeterminacy? In response to the first question I show that the relations among spin number, spin components and spin values cannot be captured by a single determination relation; instead we need to look at spin number and spin value separately. In response to the second question I discuss three ways in which the determinables model might be modified to account for indeterminacy, and argue that none of them is fully successful in helping us to understand quantum indeterminacy.
TOPOI, 34:2 379-386, 2015 (pdf)
Observability, visualizability and the question of metaphysical neutrality
Theories in fundamental physics are unlikely to be ontologically neu- tral, yet they may nonetheless fail to offer decisive empirical support for or against particular metaphysical positions. I illustrate this point by close examination of a particular objection raised by Wolfgang Pauli against Hermann Weyl. The exchange reveals that both parties to the dispute ap- peal to broader epistemological principles to defend their preferred meta- physical starting points. I suggest that this should make us hesitant to assume that in deriving metaphysical conclusions from physical theories we place our metaphysical theories on a purely empirical foundation. The metaphysics within a particular physical theory may well be the result of a priori assumptions in the background, not particular empirical findings.
Foundations of Physics, 45:9 1046-1062, 2015 (pdf)
Heisenberg’s Observability Principle
Werner Heisenberg’s 1925 paper “Quantum-theoretical re-interpretation of kinematic and mechanical relations” marks the beginning of quantum mechanics. Heisenberg famously claims that the paper is based on the idea that the new quantum mechanics should be “founded exclusively upon relationships between quantities which in principle are observable”. My paper is an attempt to understand this observability principle, and to see whether its employment is philosophically defensible. Against interpretations of ‘observability’ along empiricist or positivist lines I argue that such readings are philosophically unsatisfying. Moreover, a careful comparison of Heisenberg’s reinterpretation of classical kinematics with Einstein’s argument against absolute simultaneity reveals that the positivist reading does not fit with Heisenberg’s strategy in the paper. Instead the complain that electron orbits are unobservable should be understood as a criticism of the causal inefficacy of orbital electron motion in Bohr’s atomic model. I conclude that the tacit philosophical principle behind Heisenberg’s argument is not a positivistic connection between observability and meaning, but the idea that a theory should not contain causally idle wheels.
Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics, 2014 (pdf)
Are conservation laws metaphysically necessary?
Are laws of nature necessary, and if so, are all laws of nature necessary in the same way? This question has played an important role in recent discussion of laws of nature. I argue that not all laws of nature are necessary in the same way: conservation laws are perhaps to be regarded as metaphysically necessary. This sheds light both on the modal character of conservation laws, and on the relationship between different varieties of necessity.
Philosophy of Science 80 (5), 2013 (pdf)
Do objects depend on structures?
Ontic Structural Realists hold that structure is all there is, or at least all there is fundamentally. This thesis has proved to be puzzling: what exactly does it say about the relationship between objects and structures? In this paper I look at different ways of articulating ontic structural realism in terms of the relation between structures and objects. I show that objects cannot be reduced to structures, and argue that ontological dependence cannot be used to establish strong forms of structural realism. At the end I show how a weaker, but controversial, form of structural realism can be articulated on the basis of ontological dependence.
British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 2012 63(3); Penultimate Draft (pdf)