Professor Robert Williams

Professor Robert Williams

Professor of Theoretical Philosophy

0113 343 3282

Summary: Logic, Philosophy of Mind and Language; Metaphysics; Formal epistemology.

Location: Botany House


Research Interests

  • Logic
  • Philosophy of mind and language
  • Metaphysics
  • Formal Epistemology

Supervision projects.

Things that I'm thinking about right now, and that I'd be delighted to help construct a PhD (or postdoc) application around.

  • Personal identity. Radical interpretation grounds the content of psychological states in terms of an agent's history of experience and action, and so partly in facts about the agent's persistence through time. But psychological theories of personal identity ground facts about persistence through time in facts about the content of psychological states of an agent's temporal stages. Is it tenable to maintain both together? I'm also interested in indeterminacy and personal identity, and the role of personal identity in normative theory.
  • Group representation. We attribute to groups and institutions beliefs and desires---in team planning, in political commentary, and our theories. But are there objective facts about what beliefs and desires groups have, or are is this an anthropomorphic projection? If there are objective facts (or even projected facts) by virtue of what do they obtain? List and Pettit have suggested that we can apply radical interpretation to group agents to answer this question. There's a lot of interesting issues about how exactly to work out that idea, and my work on radical interpretation in the individual case gives me an interest in, and a platform for, working on the metaphysics of group attitudes.
  • Vagueness and Indeterminacy: my recent focus has been on moral indeterminacy (cf. my 2017 Ethics paper), which builds on work on rational decision making under indeterminacy. As well as normative projects, there are also technical ones here, for example, to generalize and prove representation theorems for the nonclassical decision theories I describe in my 2016 paper. 
  • Quantification: I'm interested in how we manage to quantify over absolutely everything, given that all our generalizations can be truly interpreted in a restricted domain (cf. Skolem's paradox). I'm interested in the way that generalizations relate to normative reasons (cf. Kantian universalizability constraints). And I'm interested in the logic of unrestricted quantification (e.g. Dummett's claim that its logic should be intuitionistic, a view that has become prominent again thanks to recent work by Feferman and Rathjen).
  • Metaethics and metasemantics: I'm increasingly interested in normative discourse as a test case for general foundational theories of content (cf moral twin earth and causal/interpretationist theories of content). I'm also thinking about the issues raised and positive theory proposed in Gibbard's 2012 book on the normativity in meaning.

Beyond this I'm willing to supervise in any of my areas of research interest. Please do drop me a line if you want to discuss potential PhD projects, for example in:

  • Conditionals: the logic, semantics and pragmatics of indicative and counterfactual conditionals.
  • Indeterminacy and vagueness.
  • Philosophy of mathematics
  • Probability: subjective and objective.
  • Personal identity
  • Logic: classical and non-classical; metaphysics, epistemology and normativity.
  • Ontological commitment: the relation between metaphysics and language.
  • Metasemantics: the foundations of reference and representation.

Selected Publications 

  • 'Indeterminate Oughts', Ethics (2017).
  • 'Representational Scepticism: the bubble puzzle', Philosophical Perspectives (2017).
  • 'Non-classical minds and indeterminate survival', Philosophical Review (2014)
  • 'Decision making under indeterminacy', Philosopher's Imprint (2014)
  • 'A theory of metaphysical indeterminacy' (with EJ Barnes). Oxford Studies in Metaphysics, (2011).
  • 'Fundamental and derivative truths', Mind (2010).
  • 'Eligibility and Inscrutability', Philosophical Review (2007).

For more, see Robbie's personal webpage

I am Principal Investigator for:

Recent externally funded research projects include:

  • Metaphysical Indeterminacy (2009-13, AHRC major research grant). 
  • The cognitive role of Indeterminacy (2009-11, British Academy Research Development Award).

Postdoctoral researchers

  • Thomas Brouwer (2016-)
  • Simon Hewitt (2016-)
  • Gail Leckie. (2015-)
  • Daniel Elstein. (2015-)
  • Rachel Goodman (2013-15), currently tenure-track at University of Nebraska, Lincoln.
  • Jennifer Carr (2013-15), currently tenure-track at the University of San Diego.

 In addition, I am scientist-in-charge for the following projects held by colleagues:

  • Paolo Santorio:  The Probabilistic Construal of Modality. Marie Curie Career Reintegration Grant
  • Darren Bradley:  Carnap and the Limits of Metaphysics. Marie Curie Individual Fellowship.
  • Ed Elliott: The nature of belief. Marie Curie Individual Fellowship.

PhD supervision:

  • Sam Careelmont 2015-- PhD on counterfactual conditionals. 
  • *Gary Mullen 2014-- PhD on options within decision theory. (WROCAH AHRC funding).
  • Fabio Ceravolo 2014-- PhD on mereology in science.
  • Josh Matthews 2014-- PhD on vagueness and experimental philosophy. (WROCAH AHRC funding).
  • *Nick Tasker. 2013-- PhD on the metaphysics of words. (Jacobsen fellow 2016-7).
  • *Will Gamester 2013-- PhD on truth pluralism. (Jacobsen fellow 2016-7).
  • *Laura Crosilla. 2012-- PhD on the philosophy of constructive mathematics.
  • *Thomas Brouwer. PhD 2013. "The metaphysical commitments of logic" (Jacobsen fellow 2012-13. Then postdoc at the Northern Institute of Philosophy.)
  • *Mirja Holst. PhD 2012. "Ordering semantics for incomplete descriptions". (2012: DAAD award at the University of Hamburg, then research associate at the University of Hamburg.)
  • *Alex Oldemeier. PhD 2012. "The epistemology of abstraction" (AHRC award 2009-11. Jacobsen fellow 2011-12).
  • Stephan Kraemer. PhD awarded 2011. "Second-Order Quantification and Ontological Commitment".  (Then post-doctoral research associate, University of Hamburg. This thesis won the Wolfgang-Stegmüller-Preis)

Lead supervision marked by *.