Philosophical Studies

, Volume 175, Issue 2, pp 461–481 | Cite as

Three arguments for humility

  • David YatesEmail author


Ramseyan humility is the thesis that we cannot know which properties realize the roles specified by the laws of completed physics. Lewis seems to offer a sceptical argument for this conclusion. Humean fundamental properties can be permuted as to their causal roles and distribution throughout spacetime, yielding alternative possible worlds with the same fundamental structure as actuality, but at which the totality of available evidence is the same. On the assumption that empirical knowledge requires evidence, we cannot know which of these worlds is actual. However, Lewis also appeals to a range of familiar semantic principles when framing his argument, which leads some authors to suppose that he can also plausibly be interpreted as offering a purely semantic argument for humility in addition. In this paper I grant that these arguments are Lewisian, but argue that Lewis is also committed to a theory of mind that licenses a purely metaphysical argument for humility based on the idea that mental properties supervene on fundamental structure. Given that knowing which x is the F requires knowing that a is the F, the supposition that we could come to know which properties actually occupy the fundamental roles entails differences in mental properties between worlds with the same fundamental structure, violating supervenience. Humility follows right away, without any further epistemic or semantic principles. This argument is immune to almost every way of rebutting the sceptical and semantic arguments; conversely, almost every way of rebutting the metaphysical argument tells equally against the others.


Ramseyan humility Scepticism Propositional grasp Metaphysics of mind Fundamental structure Humean supervenience David Lewis 



Funding was provided by Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (Grant No. IF/01736/2014). Based in part on research carried out while I was a postdoctoral fellow at Oxford, funded by the European Research Council. I am grateful to David Chalmers, David Papineau, Jonathan Schaffer, Célia Teixeira, Jessica Wilson and several anonymous referees for very helpful discussion and criticism.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centro de Filosofia, Faculdade de LetrasUniversidade de LisboaLisbonPortugal

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