Kimpton-Nye, S. (2018). Hardcore Actualism and Possible Non-Existence. Thought: A Journal of Philosophy.

Abstract: According to hardcore actualism (HA), all modal truths are grounded in the concrete constituents of the actual world. In this paper, I discuss some problems faced by HA when it comes to accounting for certain alleged possibilities of non‐existence. I focus particular attention on Leech (2017)’s dilemma for HA, according to which HA must either sacrifice extensional correctness or admit mere possibilia. I propose a solution to Leech’s dilemma, which relies on a distinction between weak and strong possibility. It remains the case, however, that HA cannot capture certain iterated de re possibilities of non‐existence and that it is committed to a stock of necessary existents. But I still think that the virtues of the view outweigh these costs.

Kimpton-Nye, S. (2017). Humean Laws in an unHumean World. Journal of the American Philosophical Association.

Abstract: I argue that an unHumean ontology of irreducibly dispositional properties might be fruitfully combined with what has typically been thought of as a Humean account of laws, namely, the best-system account, made popular by David Lewis (e.g., 1983, 1986, 1994). In this paper I provide the details of what I argue is the most defensible account of Humean laws in an unHumean world. This package of views has the benefits of upholding scientific realism while doing without any suspect metaphysical entities to account for natural law. I conclude by arguing that the Humean laws-unHumean ontology package is well placed to provide an account of objective, nontrivial chances, a famous stumbling block for the Humean laws-Humean ontology package developed by Lewis.

Work in Progress/Under Review

A paper in which I consider the relationship between a “hardcore actualist” metaphysics of modality and modal logic.

A paper in which I discern a variety of accounts of the relationship between properties and laws of nature that are all roughly in the spirit of dispositional essentialism and in which I argue for what I take to be the best account of laws in terms of low-level physical properties.

Feel free to email me for discussion/drafts (samuel[dot]kimpton-nye[at]kcl[dot]ac[dot]uk).

Thesis Summary

Common Ground for Laws and Modality

My thesis arrives at a striking conclusion about the relationship between science and philosophy: scientific inquiry into the laws of nature can, to a large extent, inform philosophical inquiry. I build up to this conclusion by accounting for the laws of nature and metaphysical modality in terms of low-level physical properties (just properties from now on), such as charge, mass and spin.

First, I argue that properties are necessarily connected with the range of behaviours towards which they dispose their bearers. Furthermore, I describe exactly how these necessary connections comes about – a task that has been largely neglected in the literature. To get a sense of the argument, consider a spherical object – call it ball. Ball is disposed towards various behaviours: rolling, casing an elliptical shadow, fitting through round holes, etc. Why is ball disposed to behave in these ways? Answer: because it is spherical – the very nature of the property sphericity explains these behaviours in a similar way to that in which the squareness of a peg explains its inability to fit in a round hole. Moreover, anything spherical would be similarly disposed to, e.g., roll. I argue that the property sphericity explains rolling in such a way that the property and the behaviour are necessarily connected. Furthermore, I argue that the relationship between all properties, including those such as charge and mass, and the behaviours with which they are associated can be understood in this way. It follows, contrary to what has been claimed by many eminent philosophers (e.g., Armstrong 1999; Lewis 2009), that it is in no sense possible for an individual to instantiate the property positive charge (for example) and not be disposed to accelerate towards instances of negative charge.

Properties, on the conception sketched above, determine how their instances can be arranged throughout space and time. The laws of nature, I argue, are features of a particularly efficient description of how all and only the properties found at our world are possibly arranged. This view of laws has the benefits of being consonant with actual scientific practice of formulating widely applicable generalizations. It also has the potential to provide a unified account of the laws of nature and chance – something that has proved notoriously challenging (see, e.g., Bigelow, Collins, and Pargetter 1993; Lewis 1994).

I argue that metaphysical modality is also a matter of how properties are possibly arranged throughout space and time. The intuitive thought behind this idea is that something is possible, the vase breaking, say, if (and only if) some property instances can be arranged, such that the vase is broken. Property instances, on this view, are a bit like building blocks and possibility is a matter of how those blocks can be arranged. How the “blocks” can be arranged is determined by the natures of the properties themselves, in much the same way in which ball’s tendency to roll is determined by its sphericity.

It follows from the above that facts about laws of nature and facts about metaphysical modality both hold in virtue low-level physical properties. Indeed, both concern possible arrangements of those properties. Since the laws of nature describe this information about possible property arrangements in a way that is efficient and accessible to us, scientific inquiry into the laws of nature should be our primary means of inquiry into what is metaphysically possible. The result is quite striking when we notice the ubiquity of appeals to metaphysical possibilities in all manner of philosophical arguments: scientific inquiry into the laws can yield a diversity of philosophical insights.

In sum, my thesis develops novel and highly attractive accounts of properties, laws and modality from which emerges a fascinating philosophical justification for letting the results of science guide philosophical inquiry.