Metaphysics We Can Believe In

SNSF Starting Grant 

University of Geneva, 2024 - 2029

Much contemporary metaphysics aspires to provide us with an ‘absolute’ conception of reality – the kind of conception that, much like a god’s eye perspective, does not reflect any particular standpoint or location within the reality it describes. But is this a conception that any of us can rationally believe in? The main hypothesis guiding this project is that it is not, and that – for this reason – metaphysicians should replace the absolute conception with a very different, ‘perspectival’, image of reality.

In the first part of the project (Work Package 1: Incredible Metaphysics), we will look at the ways in which philosophers have tried to square the absolute conception with the phenomenon of agential and psychological perspectivality – roughly, the phenomenon whereby our everyday beliefs, emotions, and actions are often directed at, or motivated by, contents whose correctness depends, or appear to depend, on who we are and where, in space and time, we happen to be located. Three main absolutist approaches will be examined: introducing ‘indexical’ ways of thinking about absolute matters (Indexicalism), positing ‘perspectival propositions’ that are not made true or false simpliciter by any facts (Relativism), or – the most radical one – enriching reality with a plethora of mutually incompatible ‘perspectival facts’ (Pluralism). For each approach, we will seek to show that, if a rational agent with reasonably good self-knowledge and reasonably good intellectual capacities were to embrace the approach in question and try to integrate its consequences into his or her belief network, he or she would eventually arrive at a rationally untenable combination of commitments – as could be expressed by claims like ‘There are no facts of such-and-such kind, but I am committed to believing that there are’, or ‘There is no reason to act thus-and-so, but I should act thus-and-so’.

In the second part of this project (Work Package 2: Credible Metaphysics), we will aim to construct a credible metaphysical alternative to the absolute conception. Two ideas will inform this construction. First, that a credible metaphysics – a metaphysics we can rationally believe in – should admit at least certain varieties of perspectival facts (namely, ‘tensed’ and ‘subjective’ ones), and do so – not in the ecumenical fashion that characterizes the Pluralist Approach – but in a way that privileges exclusively one’s own identity and temporal standpoint. Second, that – by exploiting a certain non-standard notion of metaphysical reality – a perspectival metaphysics can go a long way towards vindicating the most important intuitions supporting the absolute conception.

The third and last part of the project (Work Package 3: Credibility in Metaphysics) will be devoted to clarifying the role of rational credibility as a criterion for theory choice in metaphysics. We will show that the fact that a rational agent sharing our everyday beliefs, emotions, and patterns of action could not coherently endorse a certain metaphysical view should, with some qualifications, count as a decisive reason against that view. This will rule out various metametaphysical positions according to which considerations of rational credibility should not guide metaphysical inquiry, or should at most be treated as one factor among others in a cost/benefit analysis of a theory’s virtues and vices.

Call for applications: