Existence, Essence, and Excellence: Kind Terms, Modal Operators, and the Subjunctive Conditional


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




This dissertation provides a descriptive metaphysics for the kinds "chemical", "organism", and "person" as read off of our practices of reasoning and explanation. It begins by using a metalanguage of material inferential relations in order to interpret a range of object-language (world-representing) subjunctive and modal devices. These resources are then used to illuminate our reasoning about chemicals, organisms, and persons so as to show that 1) each kind is associated with a unique array of inferential patterns (expressed in the object-language with sets of subjunctive conditionals), and 2) the alethic, normative, teleological, and agentive modalities can be understood as object-language operators for marking off structural features among these patterns of inference. In the process this dissertation argues that organic purposiveness commits us to nothing more than a certain subjunctive complexity among ordinary causal relations, and that a person is a creature that makes its will into a law of nature.