Project: Indeterminacy and formal concepts

Lay summary:

Concepts such as CONJUNCTION, DISJUNCTION, NEGATION, IDENTITY, EXISTENCE, ALL, ENTAILMENT, NECESSITY, POSSIBILITY, CONTINGENCY, ESSENTIALITY, PARTHOOD, DEPENDENCE, GROUNDING, FACT, STRUCTURE, NUMBER are of special interest to philosophers, since they are essential components of philosophical theories, definitions and analyses. Following Husserl's terminology, one may call the family of concepts that they belong to formal concepts. Formal concepts are also of methodological importance to other academic discipline which rely on formal methods. A standard assumption among analytic philosophers is that these concepts are precise and free of indeterminacy.

The assumption that formal concepts are precise is often taken to be self-evident or simply presupposed to be true. However, there are a select few dissenters who have directly argued that particular formal concepts are affected by indeterminacy. Claims that there are cases of indeterminate existence, parthood or identity, which have been made in the recent literature on metaphysical indeterminacy, seem to put further pressure on the assumption.

The research project is the first systematic investigation of the question of whether formal concepts can be indeterminate. This is a question of fundamental importance to analytic philosophy, since a positive answer would pose a significant threat to its methodological foundations. The goal of the project is to both evaluate existing challenges to the assumption that formal concepts are precise and to develop and assess arguments in its favour.

Funding Institution:

Swiss National Science Foundation.

Project number: 156554

Principal investigator:

Kevin Mulligan