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Carnap and the Limits of Metaphysics

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - Carnap and the Limits of Metaphysics (Carnap and the Limits of Metaphysics)

Reporting period: 2015-08-31 to 2017-08-30

The project was located at the intersection of metaphysics and epistemology. Metaphysics is about what there is, and the nature of what there is. Famously, the logical positivists of the Vienna circle argued that there are no good answers to metaphysical questions, and that philosophy should be in the business of eliminating metaphysics. The history of philosophy has gone in the other direction, with metaphysics becoming increasingly important in recent years. But the challenges raised by the logical positivists have never been satisfactorily answered. The project aimed to address the challenge head on. This required identifying and formulating the central challenge to metaphysics – that philosophical hypotheses agree about the evidence, and so there is no rational way to decide between them. The project developed a view of a priori justification according to which belief in some hypotheses could be justified without any evidence. These a priori beliefs provide the foundation on which empirical beliefs can be built as evidence is acquired. Thus the project was focussed on establishing firm foundations for inquiry in both philosophy and in the sciences. In this way the project revived a tradition of formal articulation of the scope and limits of inquiry initiated in Europe in the early twentieth century.
The researcher had spent the last 13 years studying and working in the US, Australia and Canada. While this had allowed him to establish a large network of contacts, he had relatively few in Europe. The project helped him reintegrate into the European philosophical community and connect his European and international networks.
The project also progressed the researcher’s career by making metaphysics a core strength and by connecting his existing expertise in epistemology with issues central to metaphysics. By bringing together and exploring the interactions between two of the most progressive areas of philosophy of the past decade, it positioned the researcher at the cutting edge of the contemporary discussion.
The researcher participated actively in seminars and conferences hosted organized the School of Philosophy, Religion and the History of Science and by the Centre for Metaphysics and Mind. He also actively participated in seminars sponsored by Robbie Williams’ Nature of Representation Project. In the other direction, his presence and engagement in these collaborative activities gave him an opportunity to have a constant impact on the philosophical life of the School.
He presented twice at the Centre for Metaphysics and Mind and once at the senior seminar of the School of Philosophy, Religion and the History of Science.

Second, the researcher used the funding to organize four workshops and a conference on the topics of this project. This allowed the researcher to learn from scholars from Leeds and other institutions who gave presentations specifically on the topic of the proposed project at the events. Visitors included Professor David Chalmers (NYU), Professor Jonathan Schaffer (Rutgers), and Professor Amie Thomasson (Miami/Dartmouth). Furthermore, the researcher made numerous new contacts in Europe – with Dr. Tim Button, Professor Matti Eklund and Dr. Alastair Wilson being among the Europe-based researchers who gave presentations at Leeds during the project.

Third, the researcher gained knowledge on the topic of the project via informal interaction with these, and other, colleagues at Leeds who were already working on related topics, including Professor John Divers, Dr. Juha Saatsi and Professor Robin Le Poidevin as well as graduate students such as Jade Fletcher and Fabio Ceravolo. Additionally, Dr. Juha Saatsi and Professor Robin Le Poidevin both gave formal presentations at events the researcher organized at Leeds.

Fourth, there were a number of research projects which are relevant to the proposed project, most directly Robert Williams’ ‘The Nature of Representation’ and Stephen French’s Leverhulme Trust project ‘Physical Structuralism: Historical Origins and Future Destiny’. The researcher learnt from discussions with participants in these projects, which included the principle investigators, other Leeds faculty such as Jack Woods and Ed Elliott, and visitors such as Richard Heck and Tyler Burge.

Fifth, the researcher received continuous on the job training in project management by supporting the PI in implementing the work programme, financial management and reporting to the Research Executive Agency on project progress. One example involved management of an assistant for the conference, Kristi Boone. Another is the careful budgeting of conferences to ensure the project objectives were met.

The project has resulted in three papers in leading peer-reviewed journals, two manuscripts which have received a ‘revise and resubmit’ verdict from leading peer-reviewed journals, two manuscripts which are under review at leading peer-reviewed journals and a manuscript in progress.
The project has achieved the goal of broadening the researcher’s areas of expertise into metaphysics. As well as those mentioned above, the researcher has a further 2 papers and two research proposals in progress, all focussed on metaphysics. This project promises to provide a foundation for the work of the researcher for many years.

The project has been a catalyst unlocking the researcher’s next project, which develops this connection between natural properties and a priori beliefs, opening up a new approach to a priori justification and responses to scepticism. One of the fruits of this work is a new research proposal for a 5 year project which has already had some success regarding future funding.

The work has been presented at the Universities of Birmingham, Sydney, Melbourne, the Munich Centre for Mathematical Philosophy, the Australian National University and on 6 occasions at the University of Leeds.

The researcher will be teaching an MA course on the Philosophy of Science in the 2017/2018 year and will incorporate the improved understanding of the work of the logical positivists into the course. The views of the logical positivists on epistemology will also be incorporated into an undergraduate level course on formal epistemology in the 2017/2018 year.

The project enabled re-integration of the researcher’s established research expertise in the European context. The sustained programme of research the project allowed provided the basis for establishing a new research network across Europe, complementing and integrating with his established research network based in North America.