Peter Tan F'18

Peter  Tan
Visiting Assistant Professor
Philosophy
Middlebury College

Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships 2018
Doctoral Candidate
Philosophy
University of Virginia
Counternomics

This project examines philosophical issues raised by a certain kind of counterfactual claim prevalent in science: counternomics. These counterfactuals describe what would have happened if certain laws of nature had been different. For example, if there were no hydrogen bonding, water would be gaseous at room temperature. If Gauss's equation for magnetism had not been a law, Ampere's circuital law still would have been a law. The project shows that careful attention to counternomics in science raises special problems for existing philosophical theories of modality. Among other things, the project concludes that meaningful counterfactuals cannot be accounted for entirely in terms of which things are possible or necessary. The second part of the project examines philosophical aspects of some ways that counternomics appear within science, specifically, how experimentation can provide evidence for counternomic hypotheses, how counternomics (and counterfactuals generally) can contribute to scientific explanation, and the nature of scientific modal epistemology.