Project 1: Kant's Mereology

My current research project focuses on Kant's contribution to mereology, which is the part of metaphysics that deals with questions about parts and wholes.  Throughout his career, Kant was concerned by a problem about the mereological structure of space and the mereological structure of spatially located objects.  On the one hand, he believed he had found a compelling argument for the claim that there are simple spatially located objects, where a spatially located object is simple if and only if it has no other spatially located object as a part.  On the other hand, he believed he had found a compelling argument for the claim that there are no simple regions of space, where a region of space is simple if and only if it has no other region of space as a part.  Yet he also found compelling the claim that if an object is located at a non-simple region of space, it must be a non-simple object.  The problem is that these three claims are mutually inconsistent.  In his pre-Critical period, especially in his Physical Monadology, Kant proposes a solution to this problem based on a distinction between conceptions of spatial location.  In the Second Antinomy of the Critique of Pure Reason, he proposes an entirely different solution based on transcendental idealism. 

My research project aims to address three questions.  First, why does Kant find the arguments for the first two claims compelling?  Second, how exactly should we understand Kant's pre-Critical solution to the problem, and how exactly should we understand the solution he proposes in the Critique of Pure Reason?  Third, why does Kant abandon the first solution in favour of the second?  The broader aim of my research project is to defend the relevance of Kant's mereological arguments to contemporary metaphysics.

Project 2: Kant's Meta-Metaphysics

My next research project focuses on Kant's contribution to meta-metaphysics.  Whereas metaphysics addresses fundamental questions about the structure of the world, meta-metaphysics addresses fundamental questions about metaphysics itself.  These include the question whether it is possible for us to know the answers to metaphysical questions, the question what is the appropriate method by which to answer metaphysical questions, and the question whether philosophers who give conflicting answers to metaphysical questions are really disagreeing about the structure of the world, or simply talking past one another.  When philosophers working on meta-metaphysics turn to the history of the subject, they tend to focus on the contributions of Carnap and Quine in the mid-20th Century.  Scarcely any mention is made of the most famous work in the history of meta-metaphysics: Kant's Critique of Pure Reason.  One possible explanation for this is that whereas contemporary meta-metaphysics takes as its starting point the semantic concern that philosophers who give conflicting answers to metaphysical questions are not really disagreeing with one another about the structure of the world, Kant's meta-metaphysics takes as its starting-point the epistemological concern that it is impossible for us to know the answers to metaphysical questions.

My research project aims to address two questions.  First, is it possible to construct an epistemological argument against the possibility of metaphysics that remains true to the spirit of Kant's original argument, while also drawing on the lessons of contemporary epistemology?   Second, what lessons can contemporary meta-metaphysicians learn from Kant's attempt to respond to an argument along these lines?