Metaphysics

Metaphysics has a long and distinguished history at The University of Manchester.

Past staff include Samuel Alexander and Dorothy Emmet, and our PhD alumni include Peter Simons, Kevin Mulligan and Barry Smith.

Our staff and PhD students work on a wide range of topics in metaphysics, including causation, fictionalism, free will, grounding, metametaphysics, the ontology of fiction, time, and universals. Our approach to metaphysics is not both contemporary and historical; see our History of Analytic Philosophy research area page for some of our work on metaphysics from a more historical point of view. We are home to two journals that regularly publish papers on metaphysical topics: Analysis (edited by David Liggins) and The Monist (edited by Fraser MacBride).

Projects

Our recent project The Age of Metaphysical Revolution: David Lewis and his Place in 20th Century Philosophy aimed to shed light on current metaphysical debates by tracing their recent history. Through the lens of the role played by David Lewis and, further back, the philosophical influences on the development of his views. The project ran from 2016 to 2019 and was funded by the AHRC.

From 2011 to 2014, another AHRC-funded project, The Foundations of Ontology, aimed to defend ontological enquiry - conceived as the study of what exists - against sceptical objections.

For more information

We welcome expressions of interest from prospective Master's and PhD students, and from postdoctoral researchers who would like to come to Manchester to work on metaphysics. Take a look at our page for prospective postgraduate researchers, or find out about our MA in Philosophy programme.

For general queries about Metaphysics at Manchester contact Helen Beebee.

Our people

Our people

Many of our academic staff and PhD students work on metaphysics, and between them, they cover a wide range of topics and issues.

  • Prof. Helen Beebee has published on a variety of topics in metaphysics including causation, laws of nature, free will, natural kinds, and Humeanism. Her publications include The Oxford Handbook of Causation (co-edited with Chris Hitchcock and Peter Menzies, OUP 2009); the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on counterfactual theories of causation (with Peter Menzies, 2019); co-edited collections on truthmakers (with Julian Dodd), natural kinds (with Nigel Sabbarton-Leary) and difference-making (with Chris Hitchcock and Huw Price); and Free Will: An Introduction (Palgrave Macmillan 2013). She was Principal Investigator for the AHRC-funded project on David Lewis, The Age of Metaphysical Revolution.
  • Dr. Emily Caddick Bourne works in aesthetics, mainly from a metaphysical point of view. Her book, Time in Fiction (with Craig Bourne, OUP 2016) takes a Lewisian, possible-world approach to fiction, and considers a range of issues relating the metaphysics of time as they apply to the philosophy of fiction. She has also written on, for example, the nature of fictional characters and time travel.
  • Sarah Christensen is a PhD student working on freedom of the will and moral responsibility in the context of learning autonomous systems.
  • Daniele Conti is a PhD student working on freedom of the will and agent causation.
  • Prof. Chris Daly has published extensively on metaphysics, ontology and the philosophy of mathematics. Recent publications include 'Fictionalism and Reasons' (in Kroon & Armour-Garb (eds), Fictionalism in Philosophy, OUP 2020), 'Why Reduction is Underrated' (Logical Analysis and History of Philosophy 22, 2020); and The Palgrave Handbook of Philosophical Methods (Palgrave 2015). He was co-investigator on the AHRC project, The Foundations of Ontology (2011-14).
  • Dr. Frederique Janssen-Lauret is a lecturer in philosophy and was a postdoctoral researcher for The Age of Metaphysical RevolutionHer publications include 'Susan Stebbing's Metaphysics and the Status of Common Sense Truths' (in Peijnenburg & Verhaegh (eds), Women in the History of Analytic Philosophy, Springer, f/c 2021), 'The Quinean roots of Lewis's Humeanism' (The Monist 2016), 'Committing to an individual: ontological commitment, reference, and epistemology' (Synthese 2016) and 'Metaontology, epistemology, and essence: on the empirical deduction of the categories' (with Fraser MacBride, The Monist 2015).
  • Luiz Leal is a PhD student working on the ontological and aesthetic nature of musical harmony.
  • Dr. David Liggins has published widely on a variety of topics in metaphysics, including the philosophy of mathematics, grounding, truth, and metaontology. Recent publications include 'Against Hermeneutic Fictionalism' (in Kroon & Armour-Garb (eds), Fictionalism in Philosophy, OUP 2020),  'In defence of radical restrictionism' (Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 2019), and 'The Reality of Field’s Epistemological Challenge to Platonism' (Erkenntnis, 2018). He was Principal Investigator on the AHRC project, The Foundations of Ontology (2011-14).
  • Prof. Fraser MacBride is interested in metaontology, truthmaking, essentialism, relations, and universals, as well as neo-Fregeanism, structuralism and fictionalism in the philosophy of mathematics. His book, On the Genealogy of Universals: On the Metaphysical Origins of Analytic Philosophy, was published by OUP in 2018. He is the author of the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on relations, and he is currently working on a book on the topic. Fraser was Co-Investigator for The Age of Metaphysical Revolution.
  • Hane Maung is a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow. His current project, Suicide, Disorder, and Causal Judgements: A Philosophical Investigation combines the metaphysics of causation and the philosophy of psychiatry. He has published on topics including causal explanation in psychiatry, pluralism about scientific explanation, the ontology of mental disorders, and the necessity of origin.  
  • Jonas Raab is a PhD student working on metametaphysics. His publications include 'The Unbearable Circularity of Easy Ontology' (Synthese 2020).
  • Ylwa Sjölin Wirling is a Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Manchester (2020-23), funded by the Swedish Research Council. She works mainly on modality, and has published on grounding, modal empiricism and Platonism.
  • Dr. Jeroen Smid is a Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Manchester (2018-21), funded by the Swedish Research Council. He completed his PhD on the theory of part-whole relations at Lund University in 2017 and works mainly on mereology. He has published in Synthese, Erkenntnis, Philosophical Studies and Philosophy Compass.  
  • Dr. Ann Whittle's interests focus primarily on causation, causal powers, properties and free will. Her publications include 'Nihil Obstat: Lewis's Compatibilist Account of Abilities' (The Monist 2020),  'Responsibility in Context' (Erkenntnis 2018), and  'A defence of substance causation' (Journal of the American Philosophical Association 2016), and 'Ceteris paribus, I could have done otherwise' (Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 2014).

Publications

Recent publications on metaphysics by our staff and students include:

  • Frederique Janssen-Lauret, 'Susan Stebbing's Metaphysics and the Status of Common Sense Truths', in J. Peijnenburg & S. Verhaegh (eds), Women in the History of Analytic Philosophy (Springer Nature), f/c 2021 (preprint)
  • Hane Maung, 'Epistemic Possibility and the Necessity of Origin', Metaphilosophy, 51: 685-701, 2020 (open access)
  • Fraser MacBride, 'Relations', in E.N. Zalta (ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2020 (open access)
  • Helen Beebee & Anthony Fisher (eds.), Philosophical Letters of David K. Lewis: Vol. 1 (Causation, Modality, Ontology). Oxford University Press, 2020
  • Jonas Raab, 'The Unbearable Circularity of Easy Ontology', Synthese, online-first 2020 (open access)
  • Chris Daly, 'Fictionalism and Reasons', in F. Kroon & B. Armour-Garb (eds), Fictionalism in Philosophy, OUP, 2020 (preprint)
  • Hane Maung, 'Psychiatric Euthanasia and the Ontology of Mental Disorder', Journal of Applied Philosophy, 38: 136-54, 2020 (open access)
  • Helen Beebee, Ann Whittle & Maria Svedberg, 'Nihil Obstat: Lewis's Compatibilist Account of Abilities', The Monist, 103: 245-61,  2020 (open access)
  • Helen Beebee & Ann Whittle (eds), Abilities and Powers (The Monist 103 (3)), 2020
  • David Liggins, 'Against Hermeneutic Fictionalism', in F. Kroon & B. Armour-Garb (eds), Fictionalism in Philosophy, OUP, 2020
  • Ylwa Sjölin Wirling, 'Is Backing Grounding?', Ratio, 33: 129-37, 2020 (open access)
  • David Liggins, 'In defence of radical restrictionism', Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 98: 3-25,  2019 (open access)
  • Fraser MacBride, 'Truthmakers', in E.N. Zalta (ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2019 (open access)
  • Frederique Janssen-Lauret, 'Quine, Ontology, and Physicalism', in R. Sinclair (ed.), Science and Sensibilia by W. V. Quine: The 1980 Immanuel Kant Lectures, Palgrave Macmillan, 2019
  • Fraser MacBride, On the Genealogy of Universals: The Metaphysical Origins of Analytic Philosophy (Oxford University Press), 2018
  • Ann Whittle,  'Responsibility in Context', Erkenntnis, 83: 163-83, 2018 (open access)
  • David Liggins, 'The Reality of Field’s Epistemological Challenge to Platonism', Erkenntnis, 83: 1027-31, 2018 (open access)