Centre for Advanced Study

at the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters

Disclosing the Fabric of Reality-The Possibility of Metaphysics in the Age of Science


What are we to make of what is (so far) unobservable yet material, like parallel universes? Are natural numbers and set-theoretical objects invented, and therefore cultural artifacts, or are they discovered, and therefore already there, with all their properties, prior to human conceptions? Are there such things as “memes” that spread through some kind of “self-replication” within human cultures? Are there internal “instructions” and “programs” that direct organisms through their life cycles? To what extent is the world socially constructed rather than mind-independent? Can humans choose freely and act autonomously? Is there an inner structure of reality that the human intellect is able to grasp? In our project we will argue that this kind of questions are metaphysical and yet answerable if one develops the appropriate philosophical methods.  

End Report

Throughout the year, the participants worked both on their own papers and book manuscripts, related to metaphysics and epistemology, as well as on the two volumes that are to bring together contributions from the CAS members and others that were invited to contribute. Topics that were addressed by some of the participants in their individual work were infinity, including a discussion of various conceptions of infinity from the history of philosophy and mathematics, the status and criteria of objecthood and objectivity, both in perception and within the sciences, the relationship between logic and mathematics, the status of essences in scientific classifications and of causality in scientific explanations.

The interaction between the group members led to many new discoveries and insights when it comes to specific metaphysical issues, like those mentioned above. Interpretations of Kant, Frege and Husserl, as well as interpretation of some other philosophers, like Aristotle, Spinoza and Leibniz, were also brought together in a fruitful way, through daily discussions, workshops and conferences, in order to address metaphysical issues and the fundamental question concerning where there can be a common framework for doing metaphysics.

A general result in the group was that metaphysics can indeed be developed in a robust way as long as it is constrained in the right manner, just as the sciences are constrained through their methodology. There is an implicit metaphysical framework within the sciences themselves, which is a condition of their possibility. There is also continuity between science and metaphysics, and metaphysical work has to be carried out in close contact with developments within the sciences. The group also found that it is wrong to play down the metaphysical aspects of the philosophies of Kant, Frege and Husserl. It is precisely the metaphysical content of their philosophical theories, including their meta-metaphysical attempts to draw a line between meaningful and meaningless metaphysics, which provides us with resources for handling specific metaphysical issues pertaining to contemporary science, even if the sciences themselves have moved on since their time.

One surprising result of the research was that the questions, aims, and methods turned out to have a potential for contributing to a new area within contemporary philosophy, so-called conceptual engineering. Another surprise was that Kant’s critique of traditional metaphysics was found to have quite a different textual foundation than previous scholars have assumed. This finding will have large implications for a proper reconstruction both of Kant’s critique of metaphysics and for his own positive alternative. Moreover, it turned out that the new way of understanding Kant’s critique of metaphysics could be used to solve some perennial problems in other parts of his theory.

The year at CAS made it possible to bring together different philosophical traditions between which there is not usually so much interaction. CAS had an excellent interdisciplinary working environment. This enabled instances of co-authorship, which is not yet so common in philosophy, and the possibility of bringing together contributions to the overall project in the form of two volumes from the CAS group. Through the CAS work, an international network was built between philosophers addressing the same or related issues, working within the same or different traditions. There will be future meetings within this network, to continue the collaboration on philosophical issues related to the CAS project.

Additionally, Linnebo and Serck-Hanssen will continue their work together in a five year project “Conceptual Engineering” funded by the Norwegian Research Council (2016-2020). They are also in the final heat for establishing a Centre of Excellence; if this is granted Houston Smit will also take part, and most likely Frode Kjosavik as well.


  • Beyer, Christian
    Professor Universty of Göttingen 2015/2016
  • Friedman, Michael Lee
    Professor Stanford University 2015/2016
  • Føllesdal, Dagfinn
    Professor Em. University of Oslo (UiO) 1995/1996, 2003/2004, 2015/2016
  • Haaparanta, Leila Tuulikki
    Professor University of Tampere 2015/2016
  • Hartimo, Mirja
    Postdoctoral Fellow Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU) 2015/2016
  • Kannisto, Toni Tapio
    Postdoctoral Fellow University of Oslo (UiO) 2015/2016
  • Koistinen, Olli
    Professor University of Turku 2015/2016
  • Linnebo, Øystein
    Professor University of Oslo (UiO) 2015/2016
  • Parsons, Charles
    Edgar Pierce Professor Em. Harvard University 2015/2016
  • Smit, Houston
    Professor University of Arizona 2015/2016

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