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Chemicals, Organisms and Persons: Modal Expressivism and a Descriptive Metaphysics of Kinds

Stovall, Preston (2015) Chemicals, Organisms and Persons: Modal Expressivism and a Descriptive Metaphysics of Kinds. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Sentences like ‘atoms of gold have 79 protons’ and ‘the book is in the library’ appear to represent the world in some way. But what role is played by modal sentences like ‘necessarily, atoms of gold have 79 protons’ and ‘it ought to be that the book is in the library’? Two sorts of answers to this question are common in contemporary philosophy, one that interprets modal sen-tences representationally, and the other interpreting them as expressions of some sort.

Modal expressivism and modal representationalism are often characterized as mutually exclusive, and this can make it seem like modal expressivism undercuts metaphysical inquiry. But in this document I develop a modal expressivism that is compatible with modal representa-tionalism. I do so by showing how to interpret a variety of object-language modal vocabularies, including terms for ontic modalities (‘necessarily’ and ‘possibly’), normative modalities (‘ought’ and ‘may’) and teleological modalities (‘in order to’ and ‘so that’), as devices for giving expres-sion to the metalinguistic rules of inference that govern the representational terms and sentences of that object-language. On this basis I argue for a descriptive metaphysics—understood as a way the world would have to be if the way we reason about it were to be correct—for the very general kinds ‘chemical’, ‘organism’ and ‘person’. I also argue that a variety of grounding ex-planations, marked by two-place modal connectives like ‘because’ and ‘for this reason’, can be understood to play a role in relating different sentences to one another in a structured inferential space involving no representational commitments beyond those that are implicated by ordinary explanations concerning the sentences on which those phrases operate.

The result is a view on which talk of organisms and persons as individuals that are, by their nature, creatures of excellence and defect is talk that commits us to nothing more than cer-tain sorts of complexity in the ordinary causal and social relations that make organic and personal activity possible. And so whereas it might seem that metaphysics and modal expressivism are mutually exclusive projects, the modal expressivism I develop underwrites a novel method of metaphysical inquiry.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Stovall, Prestonpjs44@pitt.eduPJS44
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairBrandom, Robertrbrandom@pitt.eduRBRANDOM
Committee MemberMcDowell, Johnjmcdowel@pitt.eduJMCDOWEL
Committee MemberMachery, Edouardmachery@pitt.eduMACHERY
Committee MemberO'Shea,
Date: 27 September 2015
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 6 May 2015
Approval Date: 27 September 2015
Submission Date: 7 August 2015
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 306
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Philosophy
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Expressivism, Kind Terms, Metaphysics, Modality, Subjunctive Conditionals
Date Deposited: 28 Sep 2015 02:10
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 14:29


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