Lawrence Krauss and Roy Sorensen

Lawrence Krauss (left) and Roy Sorensen (right) on origins and nothingness.

How did our universe get to be the way it is? Has our universe always existed, or did it arise from nothing? Is it even possible for something to come from nothing? Lawrence Krauss has argued that physicists have discovered some of the answers to these ancient philosophical questions; Krauss’s ideas are controversial among certain philosophers. In this conversation, Roy Sorensen and Krauss consider the connections between Darwinian evolution and Krauss’s views (13:50), discuss whether the scientific worldview is particularly depressing (22:41), examine the meaning of questions about “something rather than nothing” (35:25), and explore the nature of nothingness (47:18).

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Paul Humphreys and John Symons

Paul Humphreys (left) and John Symons (right) on emergence.

A property is said to be emergent if it arises from but is not reducible to some fundamental property (or set of properties). There is a wide range of properties that might conceivably be emergent; consciousness is the textbook example, which might explain why philosophers of mind are responsible for some of the most fully developed treatments of emergence. In this episode, after discussing some history of the concept of emergence, Humphreys and Symons wrangle over whether emergence is definable (10:01), discuss ways in which debates over emergence have spread beyond the philosophy of mind (15:12), and speculate about where those debates might lead in the future (41:01).

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Tuomas Tahko and Thomas Hofweber

Tuomas Tahko (left) and Thomas Hofweber (right) on the foundations of metaphysics.

If metaphysics is a form of genuine inquiry, then presumably metaphysicians investigate questions of fact. But it seems that for any given type of fact, there is already a discipline that investigates facts of that type. For instance, physicists investigate physical facts; mathematicians investigate mathematical facts—and so on. Perhaps there is a special realm of facts investigated only by metaphysicians, but it is unclear what such facts would be like. Alternatively, perhaps metaphysics plays the role of verifying results obtained in other disciplines, but it is unclear that metaphysicians are qualified to check the work of physicists and mathematicians. So what exactly is it that metaphysicians do? In this episode, Tahko and Hofweber grapple with this question.

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Owen Flanagan and Alex Rosenberg

Owen Flanagan (left) and Alex Rosenberg (right) on the significance of naturalism.

Naturalists believe that the world is scientifically intelligible (at least in principle). Thus, naturalists doubt the reality of anything that cannot fit into a scientific worldview. How discomforting are naturalists’ doubts? Can naturalists coherently regard life as meaningful? Rosenberg is happily pessimistic about the answers to such questions. In this conversation, Rosenberg defends his pessimism, and Flanagan resists it. They discuss whether Darwin banished purpose (17:27), why naturalists get up in the morning (34:30), and morality and politics from a naturalist perspective (49:45), among other topics.

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Randolph Clarke and Stephen Kearns

Randolph Clarke (left) and Stephen Kearns (right) on the problem of free will.

It’s not easy to find room in the world for free will. In the first part of this exchange, Clarke and Kearns discuss whether free will can have a place in a deterministic universe. Then (starting at 23:22) they discuss problems for free will that are posed by indeterminism. In the course of their conversation, they consider related issues concerning the conditions for moral responsibility and the nature of intention.

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Barry Loewer and Tim O’Connor

Barry Loewer (left) and Tim O’Connor (right) on emergence, quantum mechanics, and consciousness.

O’Connor defends, and Loewer opposes, strong emergentism: the view that there are properties and laws beyond those which can be captured by any fundamental physical theory. After clarifying their positions, they discuss (starting at 30:01) whether quantum mechanics supports or undermines O’Connor’s view. Then (starting at 43:27) they turn to phenomena of consciousness, and consider whether the immediacy and simplicity of conscious experience provide evidence of strong emergence.

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Ned Hall and L. A. Paul

Ned Hall (left) and L. A. Paul (right) on causation.

Suzy throws a rock which causes a window to break. That is token causation: a particular event c causes another particular event e. According to a simple counterfactual account of token causation, c is a cause of e exactly if e wouldn’t have occurred if c hadn’t occurred. In this episode, Hall and Paul discuss why the pursuit of a counterfactual account is attractive, and consider problems for such an account raised by preemptive causes, preventive causes, the transitivity of causation, and overdetermination.

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Craig Callender and Jonathan Schaffer

Craig Callender (left) and Jonathan Schaffer (right) on meta-metaphysics.

Do mereological sums constitute objects? Questions like this are hotly debated in contemporary metaphysics — yet such questions seem utterly disconnected from science. Has metaphysics gone in the wrong direction? Callender and Schaffer explore the issue.

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