Bradford Skow

Curriculum Vitae


MIT Dept. of Linguistics and Philosophy
email: bskow [at]
office: 32-D930
phone: (617) 253-4147


Teaching, Fall 2015:


Objective Becoming.
Oxford University Press, 2015.

notes on the cover


Reasons Why.
Oxford University Press, 2016.



Recent Work

The Metaphysics of Quantities and Their Dimensions. Draft. Quantities have dimensions; the dimension of speed is (length)/(time). This paper argues that the dimension of a quantity does not just tell us something about how the numbers assigned to that quantity change when we change our scale of measurement, but also tells us something about its metaphysical nature.

Scientific Explanation. To appear in The Oxford Handbook of the Philosophy of Science. Survey article. Contains a new argument against unificationist theories of explanation.

Are There Genuine Physical Explanations of Mathematical Phenomena? To appear in British Journal for the Philosophy of Science. Defends the yes answer, through detailed examination of a particular example.


Philosophy of Science / Physics

Are There Non-Causal Explanations (of Particular Events)? British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 2014. Surveys a collection of alleged non-causal explanations, including Nerlich's examples of geometrical explanation, and the Railton/Lewis stellar collapse example, and argues that they fail.

The Role of Chance in Explanation. Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 2014. Argues that certain explanations that work by showing that the event being explained had a very high chance of occurring are causal explanations.

Does Temperature have a Metric Structure? Philosophy of Science, 2011. Argues that it does, but that we did not have sufficient reason to accept this until the development of statistical mechanics.

On a Symmetry Argument for the Guidance Equation in Bohmian Mechanics. International Studies in the Philosophy of Science, 2010. Drawing morals from a symmetry argument for Newton's first law, argues that the symmetry argument for the guidance equation cannot justify accepting that equation over alternatives.

Local and Global Relativity Principles. The Philosophers Imprint, 2008. Argues that a global version of the principle of relativity entails a local version, and explains away an apparent counterexample to the entailment.

Sklar's Maneuver. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 2007. Argues that Lawrence Sklar's attempt to save relationalism about space and time by saying that absolute accelerations are intrinsic properties fails.

Earman and Roberts on Empiricism about Laws. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 2007. Defends the standard definition of empiricism about laws as the thesis that the laws supervene on the non-nomic facts, against an argument by Earman and Roberts.



"One Second Per Second." Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 2012. Some argue that time cannot pass at one second per second, because one second per second is one second divided by one second, which is one, which is not a rate. But one second per second is not one second divided by one second; "one second per second," like "one meter per second," names a value of a quantity, not a number; the "per" indicates something about the dimension function for this quantity.

Why Does Time Pass? Nous, 2012. Presents a new version of the moving spotlight theory of time. In the theory it is not just a brute fact that time passes; instead the passage of time is explained by the need for the universe to change.

Notes on the Grandfather Paradox. Unpublished. Argues that a distinction between narrow and wide abilities defuses the grandfather paradox. (After writing this I discovered that Kadri Vihvelin had already made this argument.) Also argues that David Lewis's contextualist solution to the grandfather paradox fails.

Experience and the Passage of Time. Philosophical Perspectives, 2011. Rebuts three "arguments from experience" for the reality of the passage of time.

On the Meaning of the Question "How Fast Does Time Pass?" Philosophical Studies, 2011. Argues that the moving spotlight theory can give a coherent answer to the question of how fast time passes.

More on Haecceitism and Possible Worlds. Analytic Philosophy, 2011. Reply to a response to "Haecceitism, Anti-Haecceitism, and Possible Worlds."

Extrinsic Temporal Metrics. Oxford Studies in Metaphysics, 2011. An extrinsic temporal metric is one according to which the temporal distance between two times depends on something external, for example the number of times the earth rotates between them. The paper argues that the thesis that the metric is extrinsic does not entail conventionalism. Along the way it isolates an interesting and non-trivial sense of "conventionalism," on which conventionalism does not follow from the fact that the meaning of every word is a matter of convention.

Deep Metaphysical Indeterminacy. The Philosophical Quarterly, 2010. The Barnes and Williams model of metaphysical indeterminacy says that there is metaphysical indeterminacy whenever there are multiple complete precisifications of reality. But consideration of quantum mechanics shows that we should make room for a deeper kind of metaphysical indeterminacy. When that kind exists, reality cannot be completely precisified.

The Dynamics of Non-Being. The Philosophers Imprint, 2010. Canvasses several interpretations of Robert Nozick's suggestion that there is something rather than nothing because the nothingness force acted on itself, producing something. The interpretations take the form of mathematical equations governing both material reality's degree of existence and the strength of the nothingness force. The equations show that we can make sense of Nozick's suggestion without reifying the nothingness force.

Relativity and the Moving Spotlight. The Journal of Philosophy, 2009. Suggests that the moving spotlight theory of time can be made consistent with special relativity by assuming that the present is infinitessimal, rather than infinite, in spatial extent.

Haecceitism, Anti-Haecceitism, and Possible Worlds. The Philosophical Quarterly, 2008. Argues that stating haecceitism using possible-worlds talk has confused the debate. Presents a statement of haecceitism that eschews possible-worlds talk. Argues that David Lewis was an haecceitist, even though he labeled himself an anti-haecceitist.

What Makes Time Different From Space? Nous, 2007. Argues that what makes time different is the role it plays in the laws of nature.

Are Shapes Intrinsic? Philosophical Studies, 2007. Argues that the most plausible theories of shape properties make them extrinsic.


Value Theory

Desert. With Fred Feldman. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2015.

How to Adjust Utility for Desert. Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 2012. Suppose it is good when people live lives high in welfare, and also good when people get what they deserve. Is there a best way to assign numbers measuring the intrinsic values of situations, given the numbers that measure welfare levels and desert levels? This paper uses dimensional analysis to argue that there is.

A Solution to the Problem of Indeterminate Desert. Mind, 2012. If one ought to give people what they deserve, and what one deserve depends on whether one does what one ought, then paradox and indeterminacy threaten. Shelley Kagan concludes that what one deserves does not depend on whether one does what one ought, but I show how that a moral theory incorporating this principle can be consistent and determinate.

Preferentism and the Paradox of Desire. Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy, 2009. The theory that someone's life goes well to the extent that she gets what she wants looks inconsistent, since someone could want their live not to go well. I show that this theory can be made consistent by saying that the satisfaction of a desire can come in degrees.



Once Upon a Spacetime.


Book Reviews

Review of The Geometry of Desert by Shelly Kagan. Ethics, 2014.

Review of Physical Relativity by Harvey Brown. Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, 2006.

Be True to Your School

You know about Oberlin College's importance to the history of jazz, its leadership in environmental studies, its influence on football, and of course its role in opening higher education to women and African-Americans and in starting the civil war. But did you know that it has also produced a lot of philosophers?

[*] Versions of my papers posted here may not match the published versions word for word.