May 3: Ori Simchen

April 05, 2018

Ori Simchen is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver

Thursday, May 3

3:15 - 5:00

Humanities 1, 202

“Realism and Instrumentalism in Metaphysical Explanation”


There is a salient contrast in how theoretical representations are regarded. Some are regarded as revealing the nature of what they represent, as in familiar cases of theoretical identification in physical chemistry where water is represented as hydrogen hydroxide and gold is represented as the element with atomic number 79. Other theoretical representations are regarded as serving particular explanatory aims without being taken to reveal the nature of what they represent, as in the representation of gold as the skin of Ra in Egyptology or the representation of the meaning of an English sentence as a function from possible worlds to truth values in truth-conditional semantics. Call the first attitude towards a theoretical representation "realist" and the second attitude "instrumentalist". Metaphysical explanation purports to reveal the nature of whatever falls within its purview, so it would appear that a realist attitude towards its representations is a natural default. I offer reasons for skepticism about such default realism that emerge from attending to several case studies of metaphysical explanation – numbers, de re modality, cognitive attitudes – and identifying a common etiological thread that runs through them.


Professor Simchen works mostly in the philosophy of language and metaphysics. Most recently he's been working on metasemantics, or foundational semantics, and its relation to formal semantics. He is particularly interested in how to think about intentionality (or aboutness) in light of the pronouncements of contemporary semantic theory.


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