Photos from the conference in my gallery (note that these were taken with my compact, so the quality may not be ideal).
The Duomo in Milan
I needed a few days to recover from the long and intense Seventh European Congress of Analytic Philosophy in Milan. A huge conference: something like 350 talks in eight parallel sessions over six days. I lost count as to how many talks I saw, even though I had to skip a good few just to keep myself moderately sane. With hindsight I even have some regrets for going for the whole conference, as many people seemed to just arrive for a few days (to give their own talk…). Then again, I do feel that if one expects an audience for one’s own talk, then it’s only polite to try to attend as many talks as possible, at least if they are of some interest. I did see some good, interesting talks. Many of them by people I knew from previous conferences — and it was great to see so many familiar faces — but some new faces too. I attended the previous ECAP conference in Krakow three years ago as well. Krakow was somehow a nicer place for it, because the smaller city was absolutely full of philosophers — in Milan we got too scattered.
Coffee break at the University of Milan
The conference was rather expensive, so you’d expect everything to run smoothly. Well, the basic organization did, except that 20+10min is too short for a talk and there were no breaks between talks, which made it difficult to move between parallel sessions. I found that we hardly got value for money: the conference was divided into two main venues, San Raffaele University and the University of Milan, the first of which is anything but convenient to reach, as it’s quite far from the centre. At San Raffaele there are hardly any services, it felt almost like having a conference at an airport hotel or something. At least they had organized us access to some computers, but we didn’t get wi-fi. In this day and age people will have to check their e-mails during a week-long conference! The conference dinner doesn’t even deserve a comment. I knew it would not be worth 60 euros, but the quality of the food wouldn’t even justify a six euro bill. Besides, even though I had designated myself as vegan, they actually tried to serve me ham. All this was emphasized by the fact that the previous night I had an excellent dinner at one of the few vegan restaurants in Milan for quarter of the price of the conference dinner. Oh well, it was a social event…
Anyway, on to some philosophical content. Of the invited speakers, I was most interested in Kevin Mulligan’s and Tim Crane’s talks. Mulligan talked about the different varieties of ‘because’, and the talk was interesting, but it did seem more like a survey. I think this is because he didn’t have so much time to explain his own suggestion. Some great examples though, and he gave a good explanation of the *essential because* and the *because of essence*, the two varieties that are of most interest to me. In this connection it’s worth mentioning that there is a CUP volume edited by Fabrice Correia and Benjamin Schnieder on non-causal explanation which is forthcoming (maybe late next year?).
Tim Crane talked about (what he called) psychologism. Not about logic, but (as I understood) about intentionality. The talk was very well presented and I recall being convinced about the thesis, but unfortunately it was the last talk on a very long day and I have to admit that I was nearly asleep. Not because of the presentation, mind you, in fact it was one of the most fluent talks at the conference. Well, it was good to see Tim&Kati in any case!
I’m just going to pick a few of the submitted talks that I saw and enjoyed the most. As it happens, they’re all young metaphysicians (who you should keep your eye on). Call it my unofficial top 4 (in the order of presentation):
- Robert Michels: Wordly Indeterminacy and Modality
I met Robert, who is currently with the eidos group in Geneva (which I’ve visited previously), at the Scott Soames workshop in Cologne last year, where we both gave a talk. At ECAP 7 he developed an interesting account of how to handle worldly indeterminacy (i.e. vagueness) so that it doesn’t cause problems for alethic modality. The talk was a bit technical and I don’t think I got everything out of it in the short time that was available, but you will hear about Robert Michels I think! He’s got a paper on Soames’ critique of the 2D framework forthcoming in Phil Studies.
- Matteo Morganti: On Science and Metaphysics
Matteo is currently based in Rome, I’ve met him in previous conferences as well. He has published a number of interesting papers, and I quite enjoyed his talk at ECAP, in which he pointed out some caveats in the recent deflationary attacks towards metaphysics, especially those due to van Fraassen and Ladyman & Ross. I was sympathetic to many of the points he made, and in fact they are very close to the ones I make in my chapter of the forthcoming Contemporary Aristotelian Metaphysics volume.
- Pablo Rychter: Truthmaker Theory Without Truthmakers
Pablo, another old conference aquitance of mine, is now in Valencia. He has done some work on metametaphysics, which has always been a topic close to my heart. At ECAP he talked about truthmaking though, and I’m not quite sure that I agree with him. The talk sketched what Pablo calls a ‘figuralist’ approach to truthmaking, which, it seemed to me, is a bit of a watered-down version of truthmaker theory. The appeal is supposedly that both friends and foes of truthmaker theory could get something out of it, but I’m not convinced that the core idea of truthmaking is preserved in a truthmaker theory without truthmakers (although truthmaking without truthmakers certainly has its defenders). Well, having said that, I do think that a stripped down version of truthmaker theory might be the way to go, it’s just not clear to me that we should do it this way. Interesting talk anyway!
- Giuliano Torrengo: Points of View and Explanation
Yes, I know Giuliano too (you can’t blame me for going to the talks that I know are going to be interesting, eh?). He is with the LOGOS group in Barcelona, working on all sorts of interesting things, such as time. This talk was really on metametaphysics: Giuliano examined how we can determine the ‘representational correctness’ of a metaphysical explanation, starting with the intuition that a sentence is representationally correct if reality is composed by the facts that the sentence ascribes to reality. The view was then developed with some reference to Kit Fine’s work. I didn’t get enough material to adequately assess Giuliano’s suggestion, but there was certainly something interesting underlying there, and I think I was sympathetic to the main idea.
Well, there were a number of other interesting and well presented talks, but I think I enjoyed these the most. As to my own talk, ‘Grounding Modality’, it went ok, but I made the mistake of trying to include way too much material. I had also just recovered from a flu, so my voice wasn’t at its clearest. I got very lucky with the timing though: I was in the very first slot after Mulligan’s keynote. Accordingly I got a very good audience, I think the room was nearly full. Not very much time for discussion, but a few people did come to me afterwards, so I guess the talk made at least some kind of an impression. One of the reasons for this may have been that it was very controversial; I sketched an account of the relationship between essence and modality which is based on Kit Fine’s idea that essence precedes modality ontologically, but I want to make their relationship very strict. Specifically, I wish to abandon what I call ‘pseudo-possibilities’ — things that are metaphysically impossible yet conceptually or logically possible. Now, I’ve got a way to do this, but it requires something very controversial indeed, namely abandoning the duality of possibility and necessity. I’m not sure whether this is worth the price, but I plan to toy around with this idea a little bit more…
So much for the actual conference. Because it was so intense, I didn’t get to do many touristy things in Milan, but I’ve been to the Duomo before, so no matter. I did plan to go to Bergamo, but in the end I didn’t have time for it, and the weather was a bit unpredictable too. However, I did manage to get in a rather long run: 58.5km, or 36miles. I looked for a nice running route on the first day, and was lucky enough to find a canal that went on for 38km. I explored it a bit and it looked good: flat asphalt with nice views right next to the canal. I learned about the town of Cassano d’Adda along the route, and set it as my arbitrary goal. I thought it would be a little bit closer though, and in fact I ran past it to the next tiny village at first. Still, the goal was to run over the marathon distance if I was feeling good, and maybe try to catch a train back if not. Needless to say, I was feeling pretty good! The whole trip with breaks took just over 6h, but the actual running was done at a fairly steady 5:20min/km pace. More details on my Garmin Connect page, since this post isn’t about running!