Roberta Ballarin

Associate Professor

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Keeping metaphysics respectable: a methdological critique (2021)

With no consensus in sight, but an ever-proliferating array of theories, one should fear that contemporary “heavyweight” metaphysics is broken. Some, such as Amie L. Thomasson (2017), have taken this as motivation to abandon the ambitions of so-called “heavyweight” metaphysics and pursue projects of Carnapian inspiration instead. Others, such as myself, take these fears as motivation to troubleshoot and fix heavyweight metaphysics. In this task, I draw upon the critiques of metaphysical methodology from Juha Saatsi (2016; 2017b) and others, which scrutinize the use of Inference to the Best Explanation (IBE) that is so popular among metaphysicians today. Saatsi helpfully identifies two broad strategies for justifying and deploying IBE that correlate with two understandings of how metaphysical theories are confirmed: in parallel with scientific theories, since they address largely orthogonal questions; or in conjunction with scientific theories, since the subject matter of metaphysics is, in one way or another, continuous with science. (The latter strategy involves contemporary incarnations of the indispensability argument that appeal to explanatory indispensability). In the first two chapters I discuss how Saatsi’s critiques apply to specific projects from exemplars of the discipline, Laurie Paul (2012a), Timothy Williamson (2013) and Ted Sider (2011). Throughout I attempt to point out pitfalls and suggest methodological improvements. In the third and final chapter I turn to a dilemma that arises from the choice between our two methodological strategies, a dilemma that concerns the very ambitions of metaphysics. These ambitions allegedly devolve into either a rivalry with science, or a mystical pursuit for answers to “esoteric” and “unanswerable” questions. In answering this dilemma, I hope to show how we might systematize our ambitions and get a better grip on our elusive subject matter.

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