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Workshop on Hyperintensional Metaphysics

June 17

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The University of St Andrews Arché Philosophical Research Centre for Logic, Language, Metaphysics and Epistemology will be hosting a Workshop on Hyperintensional Metaphysics, which will take place on the 17th of June 2021.

The aim of this Workshop is to bring together and promote research in the area of Hyperintensional Metaphysics, and to draw connections with ongoing work in Metaphysics, including (but not limited to): causation, essence, grounding, explanation, the individuation of propositions and properties, intrinsic and extrinsic properties, conditionality, impossible worlds, and truthmaking. Further, other areas up for discussion also include: questions regarding the metaphysical status of hyperintensional phenomena, objections against hyperintensional analyses, or kinds of analyses, as well as assessments of the relative merits of the different accounts of hyperintensional metaphysics on offer today.

Conference Venue: Online on Zoom (N.B. There is a 100 participant capacity, but recorded talks will be uploaded to the Arché website.)

Programme (All times are British Summer Time)

12:30-12:55 Registration and Coffee

12:55-13:00 Introduction

13:00-14:00 Timothy Williamson (University of Oxford)

14:00-14:15 Break

14:15-15:15 Maya Eddon (University of Massachusetts, Amherst)

15:15-15:30 Break

15:30-16:30 Sara Bernstein (University of Notre Dame)

16:30-16:45 Break

16:45-17:45 Daniel Nolan (University of Notre Dame)

17:45-18:00 Break

18:00-19:00 Kit Fine (New York University)


Timothy Williamson (University of Oxford)

Title: Is Hyperintensionalism Good Science?

Abstract: Theories in metaphysics can be compared abductively, in a way similar to the abductive comparison of theories in natural science. By that standard, how do hyperintensionalist theories when compared to their natural rivals, intensionalist theories? (Here intensionalism about states of affairs, properties, relations, etc. holds that they are identical if necessarily equivalent, while hyperintensionalism is the denial of intensionalism.)

Simplicity is one salient abductive virtue. In most cases, hyperintensionalist theories are manifestly more complicated than their intensionalist rivals, so the issue is whether the former can compensate on other dimensions for this initial disadvantage. Hyperintensionalism is sometimes held to have an advantage over intensionalism in being a less constraining framework than intensionalism, but from an abductive perspective that is a mistake: extra degrees of freedom weaken a theory (i.e. make it less informative) and so in themselves are an abductive vice. Furthermore, the intensionalist approach has been far more systematically and fully developed than hyperintensionalist accounts, has proved its worth in applications outside philosophy (e.g. in computer science, theoretical economics, and linguistics), and is closely related to frameworks in very general use in science (e.g. probability spaces). Another disadvantage of hyperintensionalism is that its unrestricted versions are inconsistent (Russell-Myhill paradoxes), while its restricted versions involve further losses of simplicity and elegance; there is no analogous threat to intensionalism.

If hyperintensionalist theories are to survive abductive comparison with their intensionalist rivals, they will have to do so by fitting the data better (for which the extra complications and loss of informativeness would be the price to be paid). However, the data to which they appeal are shaky. The relevant judgments seem to project features of discourse onto the extra-linguistic world, e.g. relevance, aboutness, contextual shifts, perspicuousness of explanations, and can be explained away by intensionalists without ad hoc auxiliary assumptions. By abductive standards, intensionalism is way ahead of hyperintensionalism.


Maya Eddon (University of Massachusetts, Amherst)

Title: On Not Having Mass

Abstract: What does it mean for an object to lack some quantitative feature, like mass?  Does such an object instantiate the property having no mass, or does it instantiate the property having 0 units mass, or is there even any distinction between the two?  I will show that no matter what we say we must deal with some counterintuitive results.  I lay out several views and their consequences, and argue in favor of one of these views.


Sara Bernstein (University of Notre Dame)

Title: Countersocial Counterfactuals

Abstract: We often reason about what our lives would have been like if we had belonged to different social groups, as in “If I had been born into a Victorian English family, I wouldn’t have gotten married,” or “If I hadn’t been a woman, I would have had an easier time in that meeting.” This talk aims to make sense of such countersocial counterfactuals, conditionals whose antecedents run contrary to social facts. I distinguish between several sorts of countersocials, and suggest that some countersocials are non-vacuous counterpossibles. After arguing for the explanatory power of such countersocials, I suggest that countersocial counterfactuals play an important role in social explanations. I discuss the benefits of adopting a hyperintensional framework (i.e., a framework for distinguishing between necessarily equivalent claims) for the evaluation of countersocials. I conclude by suggesting that a plausible similarity metric for countersocial counterfactuals must take into account the nature of unitary and intersectional social groups.


Daniel Nolan (University of Notre Dame)

Title: The Hyperintensional Mind

Abstract: The case for hyperintensionally individuated mental contents is now hard to resist. That is, it is clear that agents do not automatically believe all the necessary equivalents of the things they believe; and they do not always desire necessary equivalents to the same degree. Debate continues about the ontology of the contents of belief and desire. Issues include whether to characterise contents as propositions or properties; whether to think of the propositions or properties as structured or unstructured; and if contents are not individuated by necessary equivalence, how fine-grained should we take them to be.

We would like an account of what it is about an agent that determines she has one set of mental contents rather than another. One influential picture of how content is determined, associated with the kinds of functionalism defended by David Lewis, Frank Jackson, Robert Stalnaker and others, outlines an account of the contents of an agent’s attitudes in terms of how the agent, others like her, and her internal states are disposed to behave across a range of possible circumstances. This kind of story can be developed to handle a rich range of impossible contents as well, provided we equip ourselves with hyperintensional metaphysical resources. In particular, if we endorse non-trivial counterpossible conditionals and non-trivial dispositions to respond in impossible circumstances, we can characterise the “modal” profiles of agents, states, and populations in the way needed to deliver a foundational story about agents with fine grained attitudes. The resulting understanding of mental content is a useful guide to the metaphysics of those contents themselves. It suggests a picture of contents as sets of worlds rather than as structured contents, and offers some guidance on the question of the fine-grainedness of belief and desire.


Kit Fine (New York University)

Title: Why go Hyperintensional?

Abstract: I will give some purely logical reasons why it might be helpful to adopt a hyperintensional approach to logics – such as those for the counterfactual and deontic operators – that are commonly taken to be intensionial.



Jace Snodgrass

Matteo Nizzardo


June 17


Jace Snodgrass


A virtual workshop by Zoom
The University
St Andrews, KY16 9L United Kingdom
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