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Indeterminacy and Formal Concepts

English title Indeterminacy and Formal Concepts
Applicant Mulligan Kevin
Number 156554
Funding scheme Project funding (Div. I-III)
Research institution Département de Philosophie Faculté des Lettres Université de Genève
Institution of higher education University of Geneva - GE
Main discipline Philosophy
Start/End 01.11.2014 - 30.09.2017
Approved amount 320'510.00
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Keywords (3)

vagueness; formal concepts; indeterminacy

Lay Summary (German)

Lead
Begriffe wie KONJUNKTION, DISJUNKTION, NEGATION, IDENTITÄT, EXISTENZ, ALLE, FOLGERUNG, NOTWENDIGKEIT, MÖGLICHKEIT, KONTINGENZ, ESSENTIALITÄT, TEIL, ABHÄNGIGKEIT, FUNDIERUNG, TATSACHE, ZAHL und STRUKTUR zählen zu den essenziellen Bestandteilen philosophischer Theorien, Definitionen und Analysen und sind als solche von besonderer Bedeutung für die Philosophie. Im Anschluss an Husserl, lässt sich die Familie, denen die oben genannten Begriffe zugehören, als die der formalen Begriffe bezeichnen. Eine Standardannahme unter Philosophen die in der Tradition der analytischen Philosophie arbeiten, ist, dass formale Begriffe präzise und damit frei von jeglicher Unbestimmtheit sind.
Lay summary
Die Annahme, dass formale Begriffe präzise sind, wird üblicherweise für selbstverständlich gehalten oder schlicht als wahr vorausgesetzt. Es gibt jedoch einige wenige Philosophen, die dafür argumentieren, dass einzelne formale Begriffe unbestimmt sind und aus diesem Grund diese Annahme ablehnen. Darüber hinaus wurde in der neueren Literatur zur metaphysischen Unbestimmtheit dafür argumentiert, dass es Fälle gibt, in denen es unbestimmt ist, ob ein Gegenstand existiert oder ob zwei Gegenstände identisch sind, oder in denen es unbestimmt ist, ob ein Gegenstand ein Teil eines anderen Gegenstandes ist. Die entsprechenden Argumente stellen die Annahme, dass formale Begriffe präzise und frei von Unbestimmtheit sind zusätzlich in Frage.

Das Projekt ist die erste allgemeine systematische Untersuchung der Frage ob formale Begriffe unbestimmt sein können. Diese Frage ist für die analytische Philosophie von grundlegender Bedeutung, da eine positive Antwort ihre methodologischen Grundlagen in Frage stellt. Ziel des Projektes ist es, bestehende Argumente gegen die Annahme, dass formale Begriffe präzise sind auszuwerten und neuartige Argumente für diese Annahme zu entwickeln und kritisch zu prüfen.
Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 03.10.2014

Lay Summary (English)

Lead
Concepts such as CONJUNCTION, DISJUNCTION, NEGATION, IDENTITY, EXISTENCE, ALL, ENTAILMENT, NECESSITY, POSSIBILITY, CONTINGENCY, ESSENTIALITY, PARTHOOD, DEPENDENCE, GROUNDING, FACT, STRUCTURE, NUMBER are of special interest to philosophers, since they are essential components of philosophical theories, definitions and analyses. Following Husserl's terminology, one may call the family of concepts that they belong to formal concepts. Formal concepts are also of methodological importance to other academic discipline which rely on formal methods. A standard assumption among analytic philosophers is that these concepts are precise and free of indeterminacy.
Lay summary
The assumption that formal concepts are precise is often taken to be self-evident or simply presupposed to be true. However, there are a select few dissenters who have directly argued that particular formal concepts are affected by indeterminacy. Claims that there are cases of indeterminate existence, parthood or identity, which have been made in the recent literature on metaphysical indeterminacy, seem to put further pressure on the assumption.

The research project is the first systematic investigation of the question of whether formal concepts can be indeterminate. This is a question of fundamental importance to analytic philosophy, since a positive answer would pose a significant threat to its methodological foundations. The goal of the project is to both evaluate existing challenges to the assumption that formal concepts are precise and to develop and assess arguments in its favour.
Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 03.10.2014

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Employees

Publications

Publication
´Modes of Being` and the Mind
Mulligan Kevin, ´Modes of Being` and the Mind, in Szatkowski Miroslaw (ed.).
De l’infinitif, de l’essence neutre et de leurs rapports
Mulligan Kevin, De l’infinitif, de l’essence neutre et de leurs rapports, in Cesalli Laurent (ed.).
Essence, Modality & Generality – Wittgenstein & Husserl
Mulligan Kevin, Essence, Modality & Generality – Wittgenstein & Husserl, in Plourde Jimmy & Marion Mathieu (ed.).
Is Existence at a Time Basic?
Costa Damiano & Mulligan Kevin, Is Existence at a Time Basic?, in Cumpa Javier (ed.).
Logical Norms, Logical Truths & (Normative) Grounding
Mulligan Kevin, Logical Norms, Logical Truths & (Normative) Grounding, in Schnieder Benjamin & Roski Stefan (ed.).
On how (not) to define modality in terms of essence
Michels Robert, On how (not) to define modality in terms of essence, in Philosophical Studies.
The Limits of Non-Standard Contingency
Michels Robert, The Limits of Non-Standard Contingency, in Philosophical Studies.

Collaboration

Group / person Country
Types of collaboration
MoT – The Makings of Truth: Nature, Extent, and Applications of Truthmaking Spain (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
What is Really Possible Germany (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
Grounding - Metaphysics, Science, and Logic Switzerland (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
The Roots of Deduction Netherlands (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
Life in a Nonclassical World Great Britain and Northern Ireland (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
Essential Knowledge: The Metaphysical Basis of Scientific Realism Finland (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
The Nature of Existence: Neglected Questions at the Foundations of Ontology Switzerland (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
Metametaphysics – On the Sense and Non-sense of Ontological Disputes Germany (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
Guest lecture, Philosophy Department, Saarland University Individual talk Multi-Dimensional Vagueness 08.11.2017 Universität des Saarlandes, Saarbrücken, Germany Michels Robert;
Quo Vadis, Metaphysics? Talk given at a conference Modes ´of ` Being & the Mind 26.09.2017 Warsaw, Poland Mulligan Kevin;
The Future of Swiss Philosophy Talk given at a conference Multi-Dimensional Vagueness and Formal Concepts 10.09.2017 Ligerz, Switzerland Michels Robert;
ECAP 9 Talk given at a conference Conceivability and Essence 21.08.2017 München, Germany Michels Robert;
Issues on the (Im)Possible V Talk given at a conference Cross-World Comparatives for Modal Realists 17.08.2017 Bratislava, Slovakia Michels Robert;
Issues on the (Im)Possible V Talk given at a conference Comment on Mathhew Collier: "The Representational Deficiencies of Hybrid Modal Realism" 17.08.2017 Bratislava, Slovakia Michels Robert;
Making it (too?) Precise Talk given at a conference Introduction: The Formalization of Arguments 07.07.2017 Geneva, Switzerland Michels Robert;
Workshop in Honour of Peter Simons Talk given at a conference Infinitives & Indifferent Essence 18.05.2017 Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland Mulligan Kevin;
Realism about Categories: Fundamentality and Indispensability Talk given at a conference Indifferent Essence, Infinitives & Fundamentality 28.04.2017 Complutense, Madrid, Spain Mulligan Kevin;
Metaphysical Seminar Talk given at a conference Indifferent Essence & Infinitives 23.03.2017 State University, Milan, Italy Mulligan Kevin;
Phileas Individual talk Two-Dimensional Semantics and Zombies 01.12.2016 University of Geneva, Switzerland Michels Robert;
Issues on the (Im)Possible IV Talk given at a conference Is ‘Metaphysical Necessity’ Ambiguous? 30.08.2016 Bratislava, Slovakia Michels Robert;
Issues on the (Im)Possible IV Talk given at a conference Comment on Frances Fairbairn: "The Problem of Advanced Modalizing" 30.08.2016 Bratislava, Slovakia Michels Robert;
Fifth Italian Conference on Analytic Ontology Talk given at a conference Normative Grounding 27.06.2016 Padova, Italy Mulligan Kevin;
Contingentism Workshop. Fifth Italian Conference in Analytic Ontology Talk given at a conference Rosen’s correct-conceivability-based argument for contingentism 27.06.2016 Padova, Italy Michels Robert;
Early Lunch Philosophy Individual talk Notwendigkeit und Unbestimmtheit [Necessity and Indeterminacy] 09.06.2016 Universität Konstanz, Germany Michels Robert;
Bolzano Lecture & Keynote Address, Mind and Metaphysics Individual talk Weil, Weil, Weil 01.12.2015 Salzburg, Austria Mulligan Kevin;
Logical and Metaphysical Perspectives on Grounding Talk given at a conference Comment on Johannes Korbmacher: "Towards Axiomatic Theories of Ground" 18.09.2015 Osnabrück, Germany Michels Robert;
GAP.9 Talk given at a conference One-Dimensional versus Two-Dimensional Zombies 14.09.2015 Osnabrück, Germany Michels Robert;
The Metaphysics of Properties and Relations Talk given at a conference Connectors vs Properties 01.07.2015 Bergamo, Italy Mulligan Kevin;
Toward a Science of Consciousness 2015 Talk given at a conference One-Dimensional versus Two-Dimensional Zombies 08.06.2015 Helsinki, Finland Michels Robert;
Truth and Grounds Talk given at a conference An Argument Against the Claim that Grounding is Minimal 24.05.2015 Ascona, Switzerland Michels Robert;


Self-organised

Title Date Place
Making it (too?) precise 07.07.2017 Genève, Switzerland
Kinds of Indeterminacy 11.11.2016 Genève, Switzerland
Truth and Grounds 24.05.2015 Ascona, Switzerland

Abstract

Concepts such as conjunction, disjunction, negation, identity, existence, all, entailment, necessity, possibility, contingency, essentiality, parthood, dependence, grounding, fact, structure, number are essential components of philosophical theories, definitions and analyses. Following Husserl's terminology, one may call the family of concepts that they belong to formal concepts. A standard assumption among analytic philosophers is that these concepts are precise and free of indeterminacy. It is so well-entrenched that it is often presupposed but not made explicit or outright presented as an obvious truth. Lewis for example considers the question of whether the truth-functional connectives, “the words for identity and difference, and for the partial identity of overlap”, and “the idioms of quantification, so long as they are unrestricted” can be indeterminate to be purely rhetorical. (See Lewis 1986, p. 212.) There are however a select few dissenters who have argued that particular formal concepts are affected by indeterminacy. (See Russell 1923, Field 1994.) Furthermore, the emerging literature on metaphysical indeterminacy prominently features a family of theories which allow for cases of indeterminate existence or identity. (See Barnes 2009, Barnes 2013, Williams 2008, Williams & Barnes 2011.) The proposed research project will be the first systematic investigation of the question of whether formal concepts are susceptible to indeterminacy. This is a question of fundamental importance to analytic philosophy, since a positive answer would pose a significant threat to its methodological foundations. The research project will be subdivided into three parts. The first part systematically clarifies the different kinds of indeterminacy relevant to the project (part A). The second part is dedicated to the investigation of arguments for the claim that formal concepts are precise (part B). In the third part of the project, existing arguments for the indeterminacy of particular formal concepts will be discussed and evaluated (part C). Since formal concepts constitute the structural basis for philosophical theories, the outcomes of the project should be of significant interest to any philosopher interested in foundational and methodological questions about philosophy itself. Since philosophy is not the only discipline which crucially relies on formal concepts, the questions pursued within the project will also be relevant to researchers in other disciplines, such as computer science, mathematics and linguistics, who are interested in fundamental methodological questions. Apart from these contributions to the meta-theory of philosophy and the formal sciences, the project also promises to make substantial contributions to the philosophical discussions about indeterminacy, the philosophy of logic and metaphysics. BibliographyBarnes, Elizabeth (2009). Indeterminacy, identity and counterparts: Evans reconsidered. Synthese 168 (1):81-96.Barnes, Elizabeth (2013). Metaphysically indeterminate existence. Philosophical Studies 166 (3):495-510.Field, Hartry (1994). Are Our Logical and Mathematical Concepts Highly Indeterminate? Midwest Studies in Philosophy 19 (1):391-429.Lewis, David K. (1986). On the Plurality of Worlds. Blackwell Publishers.Russell, Bertrand (1923). Vagueness. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 1 (2):84-92.Williams, Robert (2008). Multiple Actualities and Ontically Vague Identity. Philosophical Quarterly 58 (230):134-154.Williams, J. Robert G. & Barnes, Elizabeth (2011). A Theory of Metaphysical Indeterminacy. In Karen Bennett & Dean W. Zimmerman (eds.), Oxford Studies in Metaphysics volume 6. Oxford University Press.
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