Metaphysics and Epistemology Group (Tuesday - Week 3, MT22)

epistemology reading group

Intensionalism is the view that necessarily equivalent propositions are identical. A standard argument against Intensionalism is based on Fine’s (1994) counterexamples to modal analyses of essence. But rejecting Intensionalism solely on the basis of such counterexamples might be premature because the intuitions behind the counterexamples are too unconstrained and have not yet been adequately systematized. This methodological objection is especially pressing in view of the recent discovery by Fritz (2021) that, in the case of the cognate notion of grounding, some well-motivated generalizations of the fine-grained intuitions about grounding lead to inconsistency. My aim in this talk is to present a more systematic case against Intensionalism on the basis of considerations about essence. First I will motivate the idea that the notion of essence can distinguish between a wide range of propositions expressed by logically equivalent sentences. I will then show how we can formalize essentialist statements in the framework of higher-order logic and present a semantics which demonstrates the consistency of the distinctions motivated in the first part. The semantics also shows that the theory of essence doesn’t require propositions to be structured in something like the way in which sentences are structured, and that we can model fine-grained essentialist distinctions in a framework that is largely continuous with traditional possible worlds semantics. The talk will be accessible to a general metaphysical audience and Andreas will present everything rather informally.

Note: The talk originally scheduled for week 3 (Teru Thomas on “Chance, self-location and anthropic reasoning”) will now be in week 6.

Metaphysics and Epistemology Group Convenors: Nick Hughes, Nick Jones and Alex Kaiserman