Research

How can the merely possible explain the actual? To be merely possible is to be something that could exist, but that actually does not. However, different theories and techniques in different sciences seem to do precisely that: use the merely possible to explain the actual. Many such theories have been studied in recent philosophical literature, but predominantly with a focus on whether mathematics has an explanatory, not merely representational, role in empirical science.


Consider dynamical systems theory, where concepts such as chaos are used to explain actual natural phenomena, from physics to neuroscience. Let a dynamical structure be a plurality of related properties as their instantiated values change in time. For a dynamical structure to be chaotic is for it to be compatible with — or, as some might prefer to say, to generate — a plurality of possible histories related in a certain way: their distance in phase space is given by a positive Lyapunov exponent. Consider also optimisation techniques, present from physics to microeconomics. They are used to explain the occurrence of phenomena as being the optimum: the best possible entity (state, path, geometry, choice, etc.) under the given constraints, where `best possible' is given by an order on the possibilities. Dynamical systems theory and optimisation are only two examples of how scientific theories and models use the merely possible to explain the actual. There are more: the explanans may be the topology of the possibility space, or the statistical properties of many possible outcomes. But how could that be? How could what is not real explain what is?


To take us out of this perplexity, a little bit of metaphysics helps. In particular, a metaphysics of possibility and necessity. This metaphysics is what I call constraint realism, and is the view that I have been developing and will be applying in my future work. 

(Continue reading my research project.)

Papers

  • (Under review) Paper on modality and chaotic dynamics

  • (Under review) Paper on the relational accounts of modality

  • (Under review) Paper on the grounding-theoretic accounts of modality

  • (Under review) Paper on an argument for the necessity of essence

  • (In progress) Paper on generalised-identity accounts of modality

  • (In progress) Paper objecting to dispositionalism as an interpretation of quantum mechanics, proposing constraint realism instead

  • (In progress) Paper explaining a puzzle about dynamical systems theory and proposing constraint realism as the solution

  • (In progress) Paper explaining the different uses of possibility spaces in the sciences and arguing for constraint realism as their ontological underpinning

  • 2021. "The Metaphysical Foundations of Physics" (foreword to special issue) Crítica.

  • 2020. "The Ship of Theseus Puzzle" [co-authored]. Oxford Studies in Experimental Philosophy.

  • 2020. "¿Cómo puede contribuir la filosofía de la ciencia en la crisis del COVID-19?". Scientia In Verba.

  • 2019. "Modality is Not Explainable by Essence". Philosophical Quarterly.

  • 2019. "Nothing at Stake in Knowledge" [co-authored]. Noûs.

  • 2019. "A Cross-Cultural Investigation of the Alleged Intersubjective Validity of Aesthetic Judgment" [co-authored]. Mind and Language.

  • 2019. "For Whom Does Determinism Undermine Moral Responsibility?" [co-authored]. Frontiers in Psychology.

  • 2017. "Behavioral Circumscription and the Folk Psychology of Belief" [co-authored]. Thought.

  • 2017. "The Gettier Intuition from South America to Asia" [co-authored]. Journal of Indian Council of Philosophical Research.

Edited issue, Book, Dissertation