Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Fine on essence

I've put online a draft of a paper I'm writing for Phil Compass on the grounds of necessity. Comments on anything in it are welcome, but I'm going to post here some of the stuff I say about Kit Fine's reduction of modality to essence, since I'd especially welcome thoughts on that. So here's Fine:

"Necessity has its source in those objects which are the subject of the
underlying essentialist claim. . . We should view metaphysical necessity
as a special case of essence. . . . The metaphysically necessary truths
[are] . . .the propositions which are true in virtue of the nature of all
objects whatever."

Here are three thoughts (none intended as anything like insurmountable objections, just things to think about):

1) Prima facie, the view seems to require us to accept the existence of things like properties and relations, and thus appears to be incompatible with nominalism. For what entity can we plausibly say has a nature such as to guarantee the
truth of ‘If there are some things, there is a set of those things’ if not the
relation being a member of? No collection of actual individuals guarantees the
truth of that, because the claim says something about what happens no matter
what individuals are around.

2) If it’s necessary that there couldn’t be certain (kinds of) individuals
(universals, say, or God) then we must admit that some of the things that exist
have natures that exclude the existence of other things. You might find this
harder to accept than the claim that some things have natures that guarantee
the existence of other things. (Cf. the familiar objection to admitting
truthmakers for negative existentials: intuitively, they are true because some
things don’t exist, not because some thing does. Similarly, impossible
existents are impossible, intuitively, because there’s something about them
that’s impossible, not because, e.g., there’s something else whose essence is
such as to make them impossible.)

3) It’s easy to see how the essence of an entity e can account for the necessity of
a conditional the antecedent of which says that e exists. So my essence
grounds the truth of, hence accounts for the necessity of, ‘If Ross exists, he is
a human’. From this, it’s easy to see how unconditional necessities can be
grounded if the thing whose essence accounts for its truth has existence as part
of its essence. So were I an essential existent, my essence would account for
the necessity of the antecedent of the above conditional as well, and hence
account for the necessity of the consequent. But we might want to allow for
cases where an unconditional necessity is ‘multiply realized’ in the following
way. Suppose 2+2=4 is actually true in virtue of the essence of the numbers 2
and 4. So we account for the necessity of ‘If the numbers exist, 2+2=4’. But
it’s not just conditionally necessary that 2+2=4, ‘2+2=4’ is itself necessary.
But on this view, that’s not because the numbers exist necessarily: on this
view, while our actual world is Platonist, and mathematical truths are true
because of the numbers, structuralism is possibly true and ‘2+2=4’ is true in
virtue of the essence of certain structures, and maybe in some worlds there are
brute mathematical laws, and ‘2+2=4’ is true in virtue of these laws. So there
are multiple possible grounds for the arithmetical truth, and the truth is
necessary because it’s necessary that there is some ground or other. But what
actual things have essences such as to ground this last necessary truth? The
worry is that Fine can only account for conditional necessities or
unconditional necessities which are unconditionally necessary because there is
some essential existent that accounts for their truth in any possible circumstance.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Jobs at Leeds

Leeds will be hiring two new positions in the upcoming hiring round, at either lecturer or senior lecturer level (for US readers: roughly equivalent to a tenured assistant prof and an associate prof, respectively). Details below.

University of Leeds
Faculty of Arts
Department of Philosophy

2 Lectureships/Senior Lectureships in Philosophy
(Available from 1 September 2010)

The Department of Philosophy is one of the largest Philosophy departments in the UK, with over 30 academic staff, a large intake of undergraduate and postgraduate students and a vigorous research culture. It received a maximum 24 in the last Teaching Quality evaluation and in the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise 65% of our research was rated "world class" or "internationally excellent" (matching the percentage of leading UK philosophy departments such as Oxford and Cambridge). The Department has distinctive strengths in aesthetics, history and philosophy of science, metaphysics, and moral philosophy.

The ‘Area of Specialisation’ for this position is open, within Philosophy. Potential candidates are strongly advised to consult the department’s website for details of its research and teaching programmes.

The position will incorporate undergraduate and postgraduate teaching, some thesis supervision, and usual non-teaching duties. With a strong record of research publication, the successful candidate should be qualified to masters level or equivalent. A PhD prior to application and teaching experience are strongly preferred for a Lectureship and are essential for a position at Senior Lecturer level.

For general information see

Lecturer - University Grade 7 (£32.458 – 35,469 p.a.) or University 8 (£36,532 – 43,622 p.a.) Senior Lecturer - University Grade 9 (£44,930 – 52,086 p.a.)

Informal enquiries to or tel: +44 (0)113 343 3260

To download an application form and job details please visit and click on ‘jobs’. Alternatively these may be obtained by email from or tel: +44 (0)113 343 5771.

Job ref 318050 Closing date Wednesday 11th November 2009

Presentations and Interviews will take place on Monday and Tuesday 18th and 19th January 2010

Applicants should submit the completed application form, full CV, and a writing sample (of no longer than 25 pages) by the closing date of 11th November.