Higher-order metaphysics

‘Higher-Order Metaphysics’ is a Leadership Fellowship awarded to Dr Nicholas Jones, by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

It will last for two years, during which it is going to examine the metaphysics of higher-order quantification, and applications of higher-order resources to the foundational problems of mainstream analytic metaphysics, about the nature of properties, possible worlds, propositions, facts, and truth.

Contemporary metaphysics has been deeply shaped by two doctrines inherited from W. V. O. Quine, a key figure in the late Twentieth Century’s resurgence of metaphysics.

The first Quinean doctrine is about existence. It says that questions about what exists should be formulated using quantifiers, i.e. words like ‘something’ and ‘there is’. The second Quinean doctrine concerns the acceptable forms of quantification. Ordinary English quantifiers are what logicians call first-order quantifiers. If you're told that Tibbles purrs, first-order quantifiers allow you to infer that something purrs. They don't allow you to infer that Tibbles somethings – that is just not meaningful English.

Yet logical systems have been developed that permit inferences like that. The quantifiers in these systems are called higher-order quantifiers. The second Quinean doctrine says that these higher-order quantifiers are meaningless. These two doctrines together constitute a background framework in which much contemporary metaphysics is conducted. The framework transforms metaphysical questions about what exists into questions formulated with first-order quantifiers.

An emerging consensus in philosophy of language and logic rejects the second Quinean doctrine. However, the motivations behind this consequences are highly technical and abstract field, and so have yet to be fully appreciated within mainstream metaphysics. The goal of the Fellowship is to correct that.


The Fellowship will host a series of workshops and conferences in Birmingham on topics at the intersection of metaphysics with higher-order logic, as well as an Early Career Conference in Theoretical Philosophy. The first workshop took place in Birmingham on 13-14 December 2017, and featured presentations from leading academics from the universities of Sheffield, York and Birmingham on the topic of ‘Properties and Predication’. The second workshop, on “Relations, Unity, and Regress”, took place on 26-27 March 2018. The third workshop, on identity and quantification, will take place on 17-18 December 2018.


If you have any questions about Higher-order metaphysics or would like to contribute, please contact: 

Dr Nicholas K Jones
Department of Philosophy 
ERI Building
256 Pritchatts Road
B15 2TT