As some readers are no doubt already aware, the Academy of Finland has selected me as an Academy Research Fellow, starting this September in Helsinki. This is a lucrative five year, senior research position — something of a Holy Grail in Finland’s highly competitive academic research circles. I’m obviously rather pleased about this, especially since it was the first time I applied for the position. You can expect to see a series of posts related to this in the near future, as I set out my plans for the next five years. This includes several conferences, international visitors in Helsinki, two longer visits abroad by myself (first of these most likely to Reading, UK), an online presence for the project, recruiting grad students and post-docs (I will post a call for expressions of interest in due course) etc.
The list of new Academy Research Fellows is available here (pdf). There were 20 awards this year, and only two in philosophy. The applications are assessed by an international panel of experts, and I have to say that I was impressed by its standard (the panel included multiple ‘household names’ from Anglo American analytic philosophy) — even if I am a little biased given the results!
My current Post-Doctoral Fellowship is also funded by the Academy of Finland, but it would have ended at the end of 2013, so I’ve been on the market this year. I haven’t had much luck with permanent positions, but earlier I managed to secure a so called EURIAS Fellowship at the Central European University Institute for Advanced Study, in Budapest. I was looking forward to going to Budapest, but unfortunately there isn’t much flexibility with these types of Fellowships (the EURIAS one or the Academy one), so I had no choice but to turn down the EURIAS Fellowship. My EURIAS profile is still up, but I imagine that they’ll take it down at some point. The project, entitled ‘Truth-grounding and Fundamentality’, was pitched for an interdisciplinary audience, but I do have ‘serious’ research interests in this area (and a couple of papers in the works).
The Academy Research Fellow project, however, is on a different topic, more directly related to my on-going research on the foundations of metaphysics. The title is ‘Essential Knowledge: The Metaphysical Basis of Scientific Realism’. This is a very broad project, involving research on metaontological themes, modal epistemology, epistemology of essence, apriority, formal ontology (logic of essence, grounding, fundamentality), natural kinds, philosophy of science (chemistry, biology), Aristotle, ‘Neo-Aristotelianism’, realism, and so on. Of course, these are all themes that I’ve worked on before, at least to a certain extent, but this project ties a lot of threads together. The goals are quite ambitious, but I do have five years at my disposal, with minimal teaching commitments.
The actual research proposal for the project is too long to post here (12 pages), but let me post an outline of the project’s primary Research Focuses as well as the abstract, which will give you an idea about the primary themes and extent of the project, even if not the technical aspects:
Natural science studies the natural world, but what makes the world natural? According to scientific realism, nature comes with a designated structure, and it is this structure that natural science investigates. Biological species, chemical substances, and subatomic particles are all part of this structure. The assumption underlying scientific inquiry is that we have some means to identify where one kind of structure ends and another kind begins: the notion of natural kind captures this assumption. But what fixes the identity of a natural kind? What guarantees that a given organism belongs to one biological species rather than another? Why should we consider two isotopes of a chemical element to constitute distinct chemical substances? Moreover, what reasons do we have to think that natural kinds are mind-independent rather than merely conventional, a product of our psychological makeup?
This project aims to determine the metaphysical foundations for any attempt to answer these questions. The hypothesis is that there are indeed genuine natural kind essences. The notion of essence has a long philosophical history — it has made its way back into analytic metaphysics via the ‘neo-Aristotelian’ movement — but it is often misunderstood in contemporary contexts. The consensus among those working in the neo-Aristotelian tradition is that the notion of essence has been misrepresented in much of contemporary work. This is largely due to a misconception of what essences are, or rather, the misconception is that essences are ‘things’ in the first place. Essence, I suggest, is shorthand for whatever it is that makes a given natural kind the very natural kind that it
is. Since the majority of philosophers and scientists subscribe to some form of scientific realism, the theme of this project is of enormous importance.
The notion of essence has been a central theme in my work for nearly a decade – and it is one of three topics pursued in my previous, Academy of Finland funded project. What are essences, how do we come to know them, and why do they matter? These are some of the questions explored in this project, giving raise to the following core objectives:
- To establish a rigorous definition of the notion of ‘essence’.
- To examine and revise the ontological status and logic of the established notion.
- To develop an epistemology of essence.
- To develop applications of the established notion, specifically with regard to philosophy of science and neo-Aristotelianism.
If you’re intrigued by any of this and want to know more, do drop me a message! Make sure to stay tuned for announcements from Dynamis: The Finnish Network for Metaphysics as well, as we’ve got a couple of things planned…