Research

I mainly work in metaphysics and the philosophy of science with a focus on two main areas. First, I study the metaphysical underpinnings of scientific explanations, in particular how explanatory notions, such as causation, laws of nature, and counterfactual dependence, fit into the world as described by our best physics.

Second, I use scientifically-informed notions of these phenomena to examine how they bear on issues of genuine human concern, such as free will, personal identity, and rational decision-making. Recently, I have also worked on the metaphysics of causation more generally, as well as on questions about (im)mortality.

Publications

“Causation, Physics, and Fit” (2017) Synthese 194 (6): 1945–1965.

“Boltzmannian Immortality” (2017) Erkenntnis 82 (4): 761–776.

“The Asymmetry of Counterfactual Dependence” (2017) Philosophy of Science 84 (3): 436–455.

“Die Richtung der Zeit” (2017) Handbuch der Metaphysik, Stuttgart: Metzler, 256–261.

“Causes as Difference-Makers for Processes” (2017) Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, DOI: 10.1111/phpr.12424.

“Fundamentality and Time’s Arrow” (2018) Philosophy of Science 85: 483–500.

“Making Best Systems Best for us” (2018) Synthese, DOI: 10.1007/s11229-018-1829-1 (with S. Jaag).

“Freier Wille und Naturgesetze: Überlegungen zum Konsequenzargument” (2019) in: Stosch et al.(eds.), Streit um die Freiheit. Paderborn: Schöningh (with A. Hüttemann).

“What Humeans Should Say about Tied Best Systems” (forthcoming) Analysis (with S. Jaag).

“Humean Laws and (nested) Counterfactuals” (forthcoming) Philosophical Quarterly (with S. Jaag).

Dissertation | “Causation and other Asymmetries in Time”

A central problem in the metaphysics of causation is how to reconcile the evident time-asymmetry of causation with our best physics. We think that causation is temporally directed from past to future, yet fundamental physics describes our world in terms of dynamical laws that are (small exceptions aside) time-symmetric. In my dissertation, I argue that the right response to this mismatch is to accept that causation operates in both temporal directions.

Causation is too central to our everyday and scientific reasoning to be eliminated from our metaphysics. At the same time, there is no suitable physical time-asymmetry to underwrite its temporal direction. Instead, I argue that fundamental physics shows that the familiar causal relations in the forward direction are only a subset of a more pervasive physical phenomenon that also has instances in the backward direction. Such a view of causation can still do all the work we want causation to do, in particular in furnishing a theory of explanation and agency. In fact, it not only provides a more scientifically informed understanding of the causal structure of our world, but it also sheds new light on why we cannot control the past and why earlier events explain later events but not vice versa.