Thu Sep 12, 2019
Howison Philosophy Library, 4–6 PM
|George Myro Memorial Lecture
Ned Hall (Harvard)
When philosophers set about to give accounts of central metaphysical concepts – “necessity”, “law”, “essence”, “ground”, to name a few – a pair of crucial yet easily overlooked questions lurks in the background: Do we need the given concept, and the language that goes along with it, in order to facilitate thought and communication about some distinctive, explanatorily important metaphysical structure? Or does its value for us consist in the way it plays some crucial epistemic role, a role that can itself be characterized without reference to any such metaphysical structure? I am going to try to illustrate this distinction by means of an illuminating case study: recent “Humean” treatments of laws of nature. I’ll argue that the best way of understanding Humean accounts of law should be along “respectful deflationist” lines. On these accounts, the concept of “law of nature” earns its keep because of the way it helps to organize inquiry, not because of the way it limns some kind of objective metaphysical structure. I’ll close by sketching how a similar respectful deflationism about “ground” and “essence” might look.