Jennifer Wang

In Progress

Fundamental Essences

Abstract: There is a puzzle concerning the essences of fundamental entities that arises from considerations about essence, on one hand, and fundamentality, on the other. The Essence-Dependence Link (EDL) says that if x figures in the essence of y, then y is dependent upon x. EDL is prima facie plausible in many cases, especially those involving derivative entities. But consider the property negative charge. A negatively charged object exhibits certain behaviors that a positively charged object does not: it moves away from other negatively charged objects, towards positively charged objects, etc. It is commonly thought that negative charge disposes its bearer to move away from other negatively charged objects, towards positively charged objects, etc. But if negative charge is fundamental, then no other entities—including the property positive charge—can figure in its essence. We thus have a prima facie puzzle: How can we say anything interesting about the essences of fundamental entities without running afoul of EDL? In this paper, I present and discuss the consequences of EDL for the debate between causal essentialists and quidditists about properties, and propose solutions to the puzzle.

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Fundamentality and Modal Freedom

Abstract: A fundamental entity is an entity that is ‘ontologically independent’; it does not depend on anything else for its existence or essence. It seems to follow that a fundamental entity is ‘modally free’ in some sense. This assumption, that fundamentality entails modal freedom (or ‘FEMF’ as I shall label the thesis), is used in the service of other arguments in metaphysics. But as I will argue, the road from fundamentality to modal freedom is not so straightforward. The defender of FEMF should provide positive reasons for believing it, especially in light of recent views that are incompatible with it. I examine both direct and indirect routes to FEMF.

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The Nature of Properties: Causal Essentialism and Quidditism

(Philosophy Compass 2016)

Abstract: Properties seem to play an important role in causal relations. But philosophers disagree over whether properties or not play their causal or nomic roles essentially. Causal essentialists say that they do, while quidditists deny it. This article surveys these two views, as well as views that try to find a middle ground.

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Actualist Counterpart Theory

(Journal of Philosophy 2015)

Abstract: Actualist Counterpart Theory (ACT) trades Lewisian worlds and individuals for ersatz worlds and individuals, but retains counterpart theory about de re possibility. While intuitively attractive, ACT has been rejected for two main reasons: the problem of indiscernibles and the Humphrey objection. I argue that in insisting that ersatz individuals play the same role as Lewisian individuals, actualists commit the ‘particularist fallacy’. The actualist should not (as commonly believed) require stand-ins for every Lewisian individual, for the simple reason that she does not believe that there are any particular non-actual individuals. Ersatz individuals should instead be construed as representations of actually existing qualitative ways for individuals to be, or qualitative properties individuals can instantiate. Non-instrumental uses of Kripke semantics and standard counterpart semantics require stand-ins for particular non-actual individuals. I argue that the actualist should instead adopt a non-standard counterpart semantics that more clearly illuminates the role that actual properties and relations play in explaining de re possibilities. The result is an intuitive and forceful reply to both the problem of indiscernibles and the Humphrey objection.

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The Modal Limits of Dispositionalism

(Nous 2015)

Abstract: Dispositionality is a modal notion of a certain sort. When an object is said to have a disposition, we typically understand this to mean that under certain circumstances, the object would behave in a certain way. For instance, a fragile object is disposed to break when dropped onto a concrete surface. It need not actually break - its being fragile has implications that, so to speak, point beyond the actual world. According to dispositionalism, all modal features of the world may be accounted for in terms of its dispositional features. My aim in this paper is to assess the prospects for dispositionalism by examining the most promising theories. Sections 1 and 2 clarify the assumptions and desiderata of a successful dispositionalist theory of modality. Section 3 introduces the principles governing the dispositionalist theories that apparently meet the desiderata. Sections 4 through 6 show that dispositionalism nonetheless faces three problems: while dispositions help account for modal features of the world that are local, diachronic, or gradable, they cannot account for certain modal features of the world that are global, synchronic, or absolute. I end by discussing the costs of preserving dispositionalism.

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Review of Ulrich Meyer's The Nature of Time

(Notre Dame Philosophical Review 2014)

From Combinatorialism to Primitivism

(Australasian Journal of Philosophy 2013)

Abstract: Many are reluctant to accept primitive modality into their fundamental picture of the world. The worry often traces to this thought: we shouldn't adopt any more primitive - that is, unexplained - notions than we need in order to explain all the features of the world, and primitive modal notions are not needed. I examine one prominent rival to modal primitivism, combinatorialism, and show that in order to account for all the modal features of the world the combinatorialist must adopt two additional primitive notions. My own modal primitivist view takes as primitive the notion of incompatibility between properties or relations. I show how the non-modal notions that the combinatorialist must adopt as primitive may be analyzed using my notion. The upshot is that with respect to the number of primitive notions, my modal primitivist theory comes out ahead.

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Description of Research Program

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