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Profile: Alexander James Bird (Bristol University)
  1. Alexander Bird (2007). Nature's Metaphysics: Laws and Properties. Oxford University Press.
    Professional philosophers and advanced students working in metaphysics and the philosophy of science will find this book both provocative and stimulating.
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  2. Alexander Bird (1998). Dispositions and Antidotes. Philosophical Quarterly 48 (191):227-234.
    In ‘Finkish Dispositions’1 David Lewis proposes an analysis of dispositions which improves on the simple conditional analysis. In this paper I show that Lewis’ analysis still fails. I also argue that repairs are of no avail, and suggest why this is so.
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  3.  35
    Alexander Bird (2016). Overpowering: How the Powers Ontology Has Overreached Itself. Mind 125 (498):341-383.
    Many authors have argued in favour of an ontology of properties as powers, and it has been widely argued that this ontology allows us to address certain philosophical problems in novel and illuminating ways, for example, causation, representation, intentionality, free will and liberty. I argue that the ontology of powers, even if successful as an account of fundamental natural properties, does not provide the insight claimed as regards the aforementioned non-fundamental phenomena. I illustrate this argument by criticizing the powers theory (...)
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  4. Alexander Bird (2007). What is Scientific Progress? Noûs 41 (1):64–89.
    I argue that scientific progress is precisely the accumulation of scientific knowledge.
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  5. Alexander Bird (2005). The Dispositionalist Conception of Laws. Foundations of Science 10 (4):353-70.
    This paper sketches a dispositionalist conception of laws and shows how the dispositionalist should respond to certain objections. The view that properties are essentially dispositional is able to provide an account of laws that avoids the problems that face the two views of laws (the regularity and the contingent nomic necessitation views) that regard properties as categorical and laws as contingent. I discuss and reject the objections that (i) this view makes laws necessary whereas they are contingent; (ii) this view (...)
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  6.  10
    Alexander Bird (2016). Evidence and Inference. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 92 (3).
    I articulate a functional characterisation of the concept of evidence, according to which evidence is that which allows us to make inferences that extend our knowledge. This entails Williamson's equation of knowledge with evidence.
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  7.  51
    Alexander Bird (2007). Justified Judging. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 74 (1):81–110.
    When is a belief or judgment justified? One might be forgiven for thinking the search for single answer to this question to be hopeless. The concept of justification is required to fulfil several tasks: to evaluate beliefs epistemically, to fill in the gap between truth and knowledge, to describe the virtuous organization of one’s beliefs, to describe the relationship between evidence and theory (and thus relate to confirmation and probabilification). While some of these may be held to overlap, the prospects (...)
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  8. Alexander Bird (2000). Thomas Kuhn. Acumen.
    Thomas Kuhn transformed the philosophy of science. His seminal 1962 work "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" introduced the term 'paradigm shift' into the vernacular and remains a fundamental text in the study of the history and philosophy of science. This introduction to Kuhn's ideas covers the breadth of his philosophical work, situating "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" within Kuhn's wider thought and drawing attention to the development of his ideas over time. Kuhn's work is assessed within the context of other (...)
     
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  9. Alexander Bird (2001). Necessarily, Salt Dissolves in Water. Analysis 61 (4):267–274.
    In this paper I aim to show that a certain law of nature, namely that common salt (sodium chloride) dissolves in water, is metaphysically necessary. The importance of this result is that it conflicts with a widely shared intuition that the laws of nature (most if not all) are contingent. There have been debates over whether some laws, such as Newton’s second law, might be definitional of their key terms and hence necessary. But the law that salt dissolves in water (...)
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  10. Alexander Bird (2005). Laws and Essences. Ratio 18 (4):437–461.
    Those who favour an ontology based on dispositions are thereby able to provide a dispositional essentialist account of the laws of nature. In part 1 of this paper I sketch the dispositional essentialist conception of properties and the concomitant account of laws. In part 2, I characterise various claims about the modal character of properties that fall under the heading ‘quidditism’ and which are consequences of the categoricalist view of properties, which is the alternative to the dispositional essentialist view. I (...)
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  11.  67
    Alexander Bird (forthcoming). The Metaphysics of Natural Kinds. Synthese:1-30.
    This paper maps the landscape for a range of views concerning the metaphysics of natural kinds. I consider a range of increasingly ontologically committed views concerning natural kinds and the possible arguments for them. I then ask how these relate to natural kind essentialism, arguing that essentialism requires commitment to kinds as entities. I conclude by examining the homeostatic property cluster view of kinds in the light of the general understanding of kinds developed.
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  12.  80
    Alexander Bird (2007). Justified Judging. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 74 (1):81-110.
    Traditional approaches to epistemology have sought, unsuccessfully, to define knowledge in terms of justification. I follow Timothy Williamson in arguing that this is misconceived and that we should take knowledge as our fundamental epistemological notion. We can then characterise justification as a certain sort of approximation to knowledge. A judgement is justified if and only if the reason (if there is one) for a failure to know is to be found outside the subject's mental states; that is, justified judging is (...)
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  13. Alexander Bird (2005). The Ultimate Argument Against Armstrong's Contingent Necessitation View of Laws. Analysis 65 (286):147-55.
    I show that Armstrong’s view of laws as second-order contingent relations of ‘necessitation’ among categorical properties faces a dilemma. The necessitation relation confers a relation of extensional inclusion (‘constant conjunction’) on its relata. It does so either necessarily or contingently. If necessarily, it is not a categorical relation (in the relevant sense). If contingently, then an explanation is required of how it confers extensional inclusion. That explanation will need to appeal to a third-order relation between necessitation and extensional inclusion. The (...)
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  14.  94
    Katherine Hawley & Alexander Bird (2011). What Are Natural Kinds? Philosophical Perspectives 25 (1):205-221.
    We articulate a view of natural kinds as complex universals. We do not attempt to argue for the existence of universals. Instead, we argue that, given the existence of universals, and of natural kinds, the latter can be understood in terms of the former, and that this provides a rich, flexible framework within which to discuss issues of indeterminacy, essentialism, induction, and reduction. Along the way, we develop a 'problem of the many' for universals.
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  15. Alexander Bird (2004). Strong Necessitarianism: The Nomological Identity of Possible Worlds. Ratio 17 (3):256–276.
    Dispositional essentialism, a plausible view about the natures of (sparse or natural) properties, yields a satisfying explanation of the nature of laws also. The resulting necessitarian conception of laws comes in a weaker version, which allows differences between possible worlds as regards which laws hold in those worlds and a stronger version that does not. The main aim of this paper is to articulate what is involved in accepting the stronger version, most especially the consequence that all possible properties exist (...)
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  16. Alexander Bird (2008). Scientific Progress as Accumulation of Knowledge: A Reply to Rowbottom. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 39 (2):279-281.
    I defend my view that scientific progress is constituted by the accumulation of knowledge against a challenge from Rowbottom in favour of the semantic view that it is only truth that is relevant to progress.
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  17. Alexander Bird (2002). On Whether Some Laws Are Necessary. Analysis 62 (3):257–270.
    In 'Necessarily, salt dissolves in water' (Analysis 61 (2001)), I argued that because the laws required for the existence of salt entail the laws that ensure dissolving in water, there is no possible world in which salt exists but fails to dissolve in water. In this paper I respond to criticisms from Helen Beebee and Stathis Psillos (Analysis 62 (2002)). I also introduce the 'down-and-up' structure, generalising the case. Whether or not this structure is instantiated is a matter for a (...)
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  18. Alexander Bird (2009). Structural Properties Revisited. In Toby Handfield (ed.), Dispositions and Causes. Clarendon Press 215--41.
    Those who hold that all fundamental sparse properties have dispositional essences face a problem with structural (e.g. geometrical) properties. In this paper I consider a further route for the dispositional monist that is enabled by the requirement that physical theories should be background-free. If this requirement is respected then we can see how spatial displacement can be a causally active relation and hence may be understood dispositionally.
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  19. Alexander Bird (2010). Eliminative Abduction: Examples From Medicine. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 41 (4):345-352.
    Peter Lipton argues that inference to the best explanation involves the selection of a hypothesis on the basis of its loveliness. I argue that in optimal cases, a form of eliminative induction takes place, which I call ‘Holmesian inference’. I illustrate Holmesian inference by reference to examples from the history of medicine.
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  20.  44
    Alexander Bird (2010). Social Knowing: The Social Sense of 'Scientific Knowledge'. Philosophical Perspectives 24 (1):23-56.
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  21. Alexander Bird, Thomas Kuhn. Philosophical Quarterly.
    The Structure of Scientific Revolutions is one of the most cited academic books of all time. His contribution to the philosophy science marked not only a break with several key positivist doctrines but also inaugurated a new style of philosophy of science that brought it much closer to the history of science. His account of the development of science held that science enjoys periods of stable growth punctuated by revisionary revolutions, to which he added the controversial ‘incommensurability thesis’, that theories (...)
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  22. Alexander Bird (2007). The Regress of Pure Powers? Philosophical Quarterly 57 (229):513–534.
    Dispositional monism is the view that natural properties and relations are ‘pure powers’. It is objected that dispositional monism involves some kind of vicious or otherwise unpalatable regress or circularity. I examine ways of making this objection precise. The most pressing interpretation is that is fails to make the identities of powers determinate. I demonstrate that this objection is in error. It does however puts certain constraints on what the structure of fundamental properties is like. I show what a satisfactory (...)
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  23. Alexander Bird (2004). Antidotes All the Way Down? Theoria 19 (3):259–69.
    Dispositions are related to conditionals. Typically a fragile glass will break if struck with force. But possession of the disposition does not entail the corresponding simple (subjunctive or counterfactual) conditional. The phenomena of finks and antidotes show that an object may possess the disposition without the conditional being true. Finks and antidotes may be thought of as exceptions to the straightforward relation between disposition and conditional. The existence of these phenomena are easy to demonstrate at the macro-level. But do they (...)
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  24.  97
    Alexander Bird (2004). Is Evidence Non-Inferential? Philosophical Quarterly 54 (215):252–265.
    Evidence is often taken to be foundational, in that while other propositions may be inferred from our evidence, evidence propositions are themselves not inferred from anything. I argue that this conception is false, since the non-inferential propositions on which beliefs are ultimately founded may be forgotten or undermined in the course of enquiry.
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  25. Alexander Bird (2004). Antidotes All the Way Down? Theoria 19 (3):259-269.
    This paper concerns the relationship between dispositions and ceteris paribus laws. Dispositions are related to conditionals. Typically a fragile glass will break if struck with force. But possession of the disposition does not entail the corresponding simple (subjunctive or counterfactual) conditional. The phenomena of finks and antidotes show that an object may possess the disposition without the conditional being true. Finks and antidotes may be thought of as exceptions to the straightforward relation between disposition and conditional. The existence of these (...)
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  26. Alexander Bird (2009). Essences and Natural Kinds. In Robin Le Poidevin (ed.), The Routledge Companion to Metaphysics. Routledge 497--506.
    Essentialism as applied to individuals is the claim that for at least some individuals there are properties that those individuals possess essentially. What it is to possess a property essentially is a matter of debate. To possess a property essentially is often taken to be akin to possessing a property necessarily, but stronger, although this is not a feature of Aristotle’s essentialism, according to which essential properties are those thing could not lose without ceasing to exist. Kit Fine (1994) takes (...)
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  27. Alexander Bird (2010). The Epistemology of Science—a Bird's-Eye View. Synthese 175 (1):5 - 16.
    In this paper I outline my conception of the epistemology of science, by reference to my published papers, showing how the ideas presented there fit together. In particular I discuss the aim of science, scientific progress, the nature of scientific evidence, the failings of empiricism, inference to the best (or only) explanation, and Kuhnian psychology of discovery. Throughout, I emphasize the significance of the concept of scientific knowledge.
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  28. Alexander Bird (2003). Kuhn, Nominalism, and Empiricism. Philosophy of Science 70 (4):690-719.
    In this paper I draw a connection between Kuhn and the empiricist legacy, specifically between his thesis of incommensurability, in particular in its later taxonomic form, and van Fraassen's constructive empiricism. I show that if it is the case the empirically equivalent but genuinely distinct theories do exist, then we can expect such theories to be taxonomically incommensurable. I link this to Hacking's claim that Kuhn was a nominalist. I also argue that Kuhn and van Fraassen do not differ as (...)
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  29. Alexander Bird (2005). Abductive Knowledge and Holmesian Inference. In Tamar Szabo Gendler John Hawthorne (ed.), Oxford Studies in Epistemology. Oxford University Press 1--31.
    The usual, comparative, conception of Inference to the Best Explanation takes it to be ampliative. In this paper I propose a conception of IBE that takes it to be a species of eliminative induction and hence not ampliative. This avoids several problems for comparative IBE. My account of Holmesian inference raises the suspicion that it could never be applied, on the grounds that scientific hypotheses are inevitably underdetermined by the evidence. I argue that this concern may be resisted by acknowledging, (...)
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  30. Alexander Bird (2012). What Can Cognitive Science Tell Us About Scientific Revolutions? Theoria: Revista de Teoría, Historia y Fundamentos de la Ciencia 27 (3):293-321.
    Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions is notable for the readiness with which it drew on the results of cognitive psychology. These naturalistic elements were not well received and Kuhn did not subsequently develop them in his published work. Nonetheless, in a philosophical climate more receptive to naturalism, we are able to give a more positive evaluation of Kuhn’s proposals. Recently, philosophers such as Nersessian, Nickles, Andersen, Barker, and Chen have used the results of work on case-based reasoning, analogical thinking, dynamic (...)
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  31. Alexander Bird (2014). Laws and Lawmakers: Science, Metaphysics, and the Laws of Nature. Philosophical Review 123 (1):116-118.
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  32.  51
    Alexander Bird (2007). Inference to the Only Explanation. [REVIEW] Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 74 (2):424–432.
    Philosophy and Phenomenological Research (forthcoming).
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  33. Alexander Bird, Kuhn and Philosophy of Science in the Twentieth Century.
    Thomas Kuhn was undoubtedly the strongest influence on the philosophy of science in the last third of the twentieth century. Yet today, at the beginning of the twenty-first century it is unclear what his legacy really is. In the philosophy of science there is no characteristically Kuhnian school. This could be because we are all Kuhnians now. But it might also be because Kuhn’s thought, although revolutionary in its time, has since been superseded. In a sense both may be true. (...)
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  34.  82
    Alexander Bird (2002). Kuhn's Wrong Turning. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 33 (3):443-463.
    Why, despite his enormous influence in the latter part of the twentieth century, has Kuhn left no distinctively Kuhnian legacy? I argue that this is because the development of Kuhn’s own thought was in a direction opposite to that of the mainstream of the philosophy of science. In the 1970s and 1980s the philosophy of science took on board the lessons of externalism as regards reference and knowledge, and became more sympathetic to a naturalistic approach to philosophical problems. Kuhn, on (...)
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  35. Alexander Bird (2003). Resemblance Nominalism and Counterparts. Analysis 63 (3):221–228.
    In his (2002) Gonzalo Rodriguez-Pereyra provides a powerful articulation of the claim that Resemblance Nominalism provides the best answer to the so-called Problem of Universals. Resemblance Nominalism has not been popular for some time, and one influential reason for this is the widespread belief that Resemblance Nominalism cannot dispense with all universals. The realist critics appeal to what is known as Russell’s Regress (cf. Russell 1997). If properties are to be explained in terms of one object’s resembling another, then this (...)
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  36. Alexander Bird (1999). Explanation and Laws. Synthese 120 (1):1--18.
    In this paper I examine two aspects of Hempel’s covering-law models of explanation. These are (i) nomic subsumption and (ii) explication by models. Nomic subsumption is the idea that to explain a fact is to show how it falls under some appropriate law. This conception of explanation Hempel explicates using a pair of models, where, in this context, a model is a template or pattern such that if something fits it, then that thing is an explanation. A range of well-known (...)
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  37. Alexander Bird (2002). Illocutionary Silencing. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 83 (1):1–15.
    Rae Langton and Jennifer Hornsby have argued that pornography might create a climate whereby a woman’s ability to refuse sex is literally silenced or removed. Their central argument is that a failure of ‘uptake’ of the woman’s intention means that the illocutionary speech act of refusal has not taken place. In this paper, I challenge the claims from the Austinian philosophy of language which feature in this argument. I argue that uptake is not in general required for illocution, nor is (...)
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  38. Alexander Bird (2005). Unexpected a Posteriori Necessary Laws of Nature. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 83 (4):533 – 548.
    In this paper I argue that it is not a priori that all the laws of nature are contingent. I assume that the fundamental laws are contingent and show that some non-trivial, a posteriori, non-basic laws may nonetheless be necessary in the sense of having no counterinstances in any possible world. I consider a law LS (such as 'salt dissolves in water') that concerns a substance S. Kripke's arguments concerning constitution show that the existence of S requires that a certain (...)
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  39.  3
    Alexander Bird (2016). Evidence and Inference. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 93 (1).
    I articulate a functional characterisation of the concept of evidence, according to which evidence is that which allows us to make inferences that extend our knowledge. This entails Williamson's equation of knowledge with evidence.
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  40.  3
    Alexander Bird (2016). Evidence and Inference. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 92 (3).
    I articulate a functional characterisation of the concept of evidence, according to which evidence is that which allows us to make inferences that extend our knowledge. This entails Williamson's equation of knowledge with evidence.
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  41. Alexander Bird (2001). Scepticism and Contrast Classes. Analysis 61 (2):97–107.
    1. Contextualism seeks to acknowledge the power of sceptical arguments while permitting to be true at least some of the assertions of knowledge and justification we commonly make. It seems to me now just as if I am in an office in Edinburgh. According to the sceptic the claim that I am in fact in an office in Edinburgh is unjustified, since there is no reason I can give for this belief that is not also consistent with (or undermined by) (...)
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  42.  47
    Alexander Bird (2007). Inference to the Only Explanation. [REVIEW] Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 74 (2):424--32.
    I propose that in some cases we may infer the truth of an hypothesis, since it is the only hypothesis left unrefuted by the evidence (a la Sherlock Holmes). Peter Lipton's description of the Semmelweis case seems to provide an example of this. But he takes it to be a case of interence to the best (loveliest) explanation. I locate this source of difference of opinion in Lipton's equation of evidence with (non-factive) observation. This equation gives us too little evidence; (...)
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  43. Toby Handfield & Alexander Bird (2008). Dispositions, Rules, and Finks. Philosophical Studies 140 (2):285 - 298.
    This paper discusses the prospects of a dispositional solution to the Kripke–Wittgenstein rule-following puzzle. Recent attempts to employ dispositional approaches to this puzzle have appealed to the ideas of finks and antidotes—interfering dispositions and conditions—to explain why the rule-following disposition is not always manifested. We argue that this approach fails: agents cannot be supposed to have straightforward dispositions to follow a rule which are in some fashion masked by other, contrary dispositions of the agent, because in all cases, at least (...)
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  44. Alexander Bird (2011). Lange and Laws, Kinds, and Counterfactuals. In Joseph Keim Campbell, Michael O'Rourke & Matthew H. Slater (eds.), Carving Nature at its Joints. MIT Press
    In this paper I examine and question Marc Lange’s account of laws, and his claim that the law delineating the range of natural kinds of fundamental particle has a lesser grade of necessity that the laws connecting the fundamental properties of those kinds with their derived properties.
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  45.  37
    Alexander Bird (2012). Referring to Natural Kind Thingamajigs, and What They Are: A Reply to Needham. International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 26 (1):103 - 109.
    Natural kind terms appear to behave like singular terms. If they were genuine singular terms, appearing in true sentences, that would be some reason to believe that there are entities to which the terms refer, the natural kinds. Paul Needham has attacked my arguments that natural kind terms are singular, referring expressions. While conceding the correctness of some of his criticisms, I defend and expand on the underlying view in this paper. I also briefly sketch an account of what natural (...)
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  46. Alexander Bird (2002). Laws and Criteria. Canadian Journal of Philosophy 32 (4):511-42.
    Debates concerning the analysis of the concept of law of nature must address the following problem. On the one hand, our grasp of laws of nature is via our knowledge of their instances. And this seems not only an epistemological truth but also a semantic one. The concept of a law of nature must be explicated in terms of the things that instantiate the law. It is not simply that a piece of metal that conducts electricity is evidence for a (...)
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  47. Alexander Bird (2007). Underdetermination and Evidence. In Bradley John Monton (ed.), Images of Empiricism: Essays on Science and Stances, with a Reply From Bas C. Van Fraassen. Oxford University Press
    I present an argument that encapsulates the view that theory is underdetermined by evidence. I show that if we accept Williamson's equation of evidence and knowledge, then this argument is question-begging. I examine ways of defenders of underdetermination may avoid this criticism. I also relate this argument and my critique to van Fraassen's constructive empiricism.
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  48.  53
    Alexander Bird (2004). Kuhn on Reference and Essence. Philosophia Scientiae 8 (1):39-71.
    Kuhn's incommensurability thesis seems to challenge scientific realism. One response to that challenge is to focus on the continuity of reference. The casual theory of reference in particular seems to offer the possibility of continuity of reference that woud provide a basis for the sort of comparability between theories that the realist requires. In "Dubbing and Redubbing: the vulnerability of rigid designation" Kuhn attacks the causal theory and the essentialism to which is is related. Kuhn's view is defended by Rupert (...)
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  49. Alexander Bird (2008). Lowe on a Posteriori Essentialism. Analysis 68 (4):336 - 344.
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  50. Alexander Bird (2007). A Posteriori Knowledge of Natural Kind Essences. Philosophical Topics 35 (1-2):293-312.
    I defend this claim that some natural essences can be known (only) a pos- teriori against two philosophers who accept essentialism but who hold that essences are known a priori: Joseph LaPorte, who argues from the use of kind terms in science, and E. J. Lowe, who argues from general metaphysical and epistemological principles.
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