Conventionalism about Persons and the Nonidentity Problem

Australasian Journal of Philosophy: Forthcoming


I motivate “Origin Conventionalism”—the view that which facts about one’s origins are essential to one’s existence in part depend on our person-directed attitudes. One important upshot of the view is that it offers a novel and attractive solution to the Nonidentity Problem. The Nonidentity Problem typically assumes that the sperm-egg pair from which a person originates is essential to that person’s existence; if so, then for many future persons that come into existence under adverse conditions, had those conditions not been realized, the individuals wouldn't have existed. This is problematic since it delivers the counter-intuitive conclusion that it’s not wrong to bring about such adverse conditions since they don’t harm anyone. Origin Conventionalism, in contrast, holds that whether a person’s sperm-egg origin is essential to their existence depends on their person-directed attitudes. I argue that this provides a unique and attractive way of preserving the intuition that the actions in the ‘nonidentity cases’ are morally wrong because of the potential harm done to the individuals in question. 

Community-Made Selves

Australasian Journal of Philosophy: Forthcoming


Conventionalists hold that the sorts of events that one survives—such as teletransportation, or a brain transplant—is at least partly determined by our attitudes. But if Conventionalism is true, whose attitudes directly determine whether one survives? Do the individual's attitudes do all the work as Private Conventionalists hold, or do the community's attitudes also factor in as Public Conventionalists hold? There has recently been a greater push towards Private Conventionalism, while explicit arguments for Public Conventionalism are difficult to come by. In this paper, I attempt to rectify the situation by presenting my case for Public Conventionalism. 

On Becoming a Rooster: Zhuangzian Conventionalism and the Survival of Death

Dao: Forthcoming


The Zhuangzi 莊子 depicts persons as surviving their deaths through the natural transformations of the world into very different forms--such as roosters, cart-wheels, rat livers, etc. It's common to interpret these passages metaphorically. But in this paper, I suggest employing a "Conventionalist" view of persons that says whether a person survives some event is not merely determined by the world, but is partly determined by our own attitudes. On this reading, Zhuangzi's many teachings urging us to embrace transformation are not merely a psychogical aid for dealing with death, but also serve as a tool for literally surviving it.

A Theory of Creation Ex Deo

Sophia: Forthcoming


The idea that God creates out of himself seems quite attractive. Many find great appeal in holding that a temporally finite universe must have a cause (say, God), but I think there’s also great appeal in holding that there’s pre-existent stuff out of which that universe is created—and what could that stuff be but part of God? Though attractive, the idea of creation ex deo hasn’t been taken seriously by theistic philosophers. Perhaps this is because it seems too vague—‘could anything enlightening be said about what those parts are?’—or objectionable—‘wouldn’t creating out of those parts lessen or destroy God?’ Drawing from Stephen Kosslyn and Michael Tye’s work on the ontology of mental images, I respond to the above questions by developing a theory on which God creates the universe out of his mental imagery. 

Dualism about Possible Worlds

Erkenntnis: Forthcoming


Dualism about possible worlds says that merely possible worlds aren’t concrete objects, but the actual world is concrete. This view seems to be the natural one for ersatzers about merely possible worlds to take; yet one is hard-pressed to find any defenders (or even mention) of it in contemporary modal metaphysics. The main reason is that Dualism struggles with the issue of how merely possible worlds could have been actual (or vice versa). I explain that there are two different Dualist strategies that can be taken to address the problem. Furthermore, one or other of these strategies should be plausible to anyone who accepts both Existentialism—which tells us that the existence of singular propositions depends on what they directly refer to—and Serious Actualism—which tells us that things must exist in order to instantiate properties. Though it has long been ignored, Dualism is a live option.

Is Consequentialist Perdurantism in Moral Trouble?

Synthese: 198 (11): 10979-90, 2021


There has been a growing worry that perdurantism—and similarly ontologically abundant views—is morally untenable. For perdurantism posits that, coinciding with persons, are person-like objects, and giving them their moral due seems to require giving up prudentially driven self-sacrifice. One way to avoid this charge is to adopt consequentialism. But Mark Johnston has argued that the marriage of consequentialism and perdurantism is in moral trouble. For, depending on the nature of time, consequentialist perdurantists either are unable to do more than one good act or they are morally obliged to adopt a repugnant form of ageism. I argue both that perdurantist consequentialism doesn't have the latter implication, and that there's at least one plasubible form of consequentialism that perdurantists can adopt to avoid the former implication.

Future Ontology: Indeterminate Existence or Non-Existence?

Philosophia: 48: 1493-1500. 2020


The Growing Block Theory of time says that the metaphysical openness of the future should be understood in terms of there not being any future objects or events. But in a series of works, Ross Cameron, Elizabeth Barnes, and Robbie Williams have developed a competing view that understands metaphysical opennes in terms of it being indeterminate whether there exist future objects or events. I argue that the three reasons they give for preferring their account are not compelling. And since the notion of "indeterminate existence" suffers conceptual problems, the Growing Block is the preferable view.

Perdurantism, Fecklessness and the Veil of Ignorance

Philosophical Studies: 177: 2565-2576. 2020


There has been a growing charge that perdurantism—with its bloated ontology of very person-like objects that coincide persons—implies the repugnant conclusion that we are morally obliged to be feckless. I argue that this charge critically overlooks the epistemic situation—what I call the ‘veil of ignorance’—that perdurantists find themselves in. Though the veil of ignorance still requires an alteration of our commonsense understanding of the demands on action, I argue for two conclusions. The first is that the alteration that is required isn’t a moral one, but rather an alteration of prudential reasoning. Second, and more importantly, this alteration isn’t necessarily a repugnant one. In fact, given that it prudentially pushes one towards greater impartiality, it may be seen as a point in favor of perdurantism.

Existentialism, Aliens and Referentially Unrestricted Worlds

Synthese: 196 (9): 3723-3738. 2019


Existentialism claims that propositions that directly refer to individuals depend on those individuals for their existence. I argue that recent accounts of Existentialism run into difficulties with a particular possibility—they can’t accommodate the possibility of there being a single alien electron. This problem is distinct from one of the more famous alien problems—concerning iterated modal properties of aliens—and requires a separate solution. My suggested solution to the single alien electron problem is that we accept the existence of possible worlds that directly refer to individuals that don’t exist in those worlds. I show how to formulate an Existentialist view that is consistent with this solution.

Imprints in Time: Towards a Moderately Robust Past

Philosophical Studies: 175 (10): 2429-2446. 2018


Presentism says that only present objects exist (timelessly). But the view has trouble grounding past-tensed truths like "dinosaurs existed". Standard Eternalism grounds those truths by positing the (timeless) existence of past objects—like dinosaurs. But Standard Eternalism conflicts with the intuition that there is genuine change—the intuition that there once were dinosaurs and no longer are any. I offer a novel theory of time—'The Imprint'—that does a better job preserving both the grounding and genuine change intuitions. The Imprint says that the past and present exist (in the timeless sense), but where the present exhibits mass-energy, the past only consists of curved empty regions of spacetime. We therefore avoid saying that there are dinosaurs, since there is no mass-energy in the past; but the curvature of the past gives us a way to ground the truth that "dinosuaurs existed".

Non-Concrete Parts of Material Objects

Synthese: 195 (11): 5091-5111. 2018



This article offers a novel solution to the problem of material constitution: by including non-concrete objects among the parts of material objects, we can avoid having a statue and its constituent piece of clay composed of all the same proper parts. Non-concrete objects—objects that aren’t concrete, but possibly are—have been used (by Bernard Linsky, Ed Zalta and Timothy Williamson) in defense of the claim that everything necessarily exists. But the account offered shows that non-concreta are independently useful in other domains as well. The resulting view falls under a ‘non-material partist’ class of views that includes, in particular, Laurie Paul’s and Kathrin Koslicki’s constitution views; ones where material objects have properties or structures as parts respectively. The article gives reasons for preferring the non-concretist solution over these other non-material partist views and defends it against objections.

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