I hold a Lecturer position (Akademischer Rat) at the University of Duisburg-Essen where I direct the research group “A Study in Explanatory Power” (generously funded by the Volkswagen Foundation; 2012-2021). In the past years, I  taught in Berlin, Basel, Marburg, Wuhan and Bochum. I spent time in Barcelona and Tilburg as a research fellow.

I have published two books (one co-authored with Gottfried Vosgerau), edited several volumes, and authored papers and contributions on a variety of topics, including philosophy of religion and history of philosophy, in journals such as Bioethics, Dialectica, The British Journal for Philosophy of Science, The Journal of Philosophy, Philosophy of Science, The Southern Journal of Philosophy, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Studia Leibnitiana and Synthese. I mainly work on topics related to the philosophy of explanation and understanding. More information on the project “A Study in Explanatory Power” can be found here: philosophyofexplanation.wordpress.com. I was also coordinator of the network “Social Functions” (2015-2020), funded by the German Research Foundation (https://socialfunctions.org) . I also recently took up responsibility as category editor for entries related to “Theory Reduction” at philpapers.org.


Dr. Raphael van Riel

Dilthey Fellow, Principal Investigator

“A Study in Explanatory Power”

Universität Duisburg-Essen

Universitätsstraße 12

45141 Essen


Books/Special Issues:

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  • R. van Riel, G. Vosgerau: Aussagen- und Prädikatenlogik. Eine Einführung, Metzler: forthcoming.
  • R. van Riel: The Concept of Reduction, Philosophical Studies Series, Springer 2014.


Special Issues/Edited Volumes

  • R. Hufendiek, D. James, R. van Riel (eds.) 2020: Social Functions in Philosophy: Metaphysical, Normative, and Methodological Perspectives, Routledge.
  • A.-M. Eder, I. Lawler, R. van Riel (eds.) 2020: Philosophical Methods. Special Issue: Synthese.
  • M. Eronen, R. van Riel: Understanding Through Modeling. Special Issue: Synthese 2015.
  • R. van Riel, E. Di Nucci, J. Schildmann (eds.): Enhancement der Moral, Mentis 2015.
  • R. van Riel, A. Newen: Reductionism in the Philosophy of Mind Special Issue: Philosophia Naturalis, 2010/2011.
  • A. Newen, R. van Riel, Identity, Language and Mind. Introduction to the Philosophy of John Perry CSLI Publishing/Mentis 2012.

Papers and Contributions by Topics (selection)

(Alphabetical order; here is a complete list)

Determinism, Explanatory Dependence and Free Will

‘Free Will and Two Types of Determinism’, The Review of Metaphysics: A Philosophical Quarterly (accepted)
The goal of this paper is to examine some differences between two types of incompatibilism, concerning, on the one hand, incompatibilism about free will and past causes, and, on the other, incompatibilism concerning free will and past divine beliefs or past truths about future actions. On standard conceptions, determinism comes relatively cheap. On van Inwagen’s explication, all that is required is that truths about our actions are implied by appropriate descriptions of the past and the laws. Here, I will propose a more robust notion of determinism and explore some of its consequences for the free will debate.

‘Free Will, Foreknowledge, and Future-Dependent Beliefs’, The Southern Journal of Philosophy 55, 2017, 500-520.
It has been suggested that if past divine beliefs and past truths depend on what they are about, problems of logical fatalism and divine omniscience and human free will vanish. In this paper, I discuss an incompatibilist argument based on this assumption.

‘Leibniz on Freedom, Foreknowledge, and Necessitation Without Dependence’, in: Studia Leibnitiana 48, 2016, 178-200.
In this paper, I discuss Leibniz’ solution to the so-called “problem of foreknowledge”. It turns out that Leibniz defends a form of compatibilism which builds on a distinction between two forms of determinism – robust (and asymmetric) determinism and a weaker form of determinism, that could be labeled ‘modal’ determinism. Only the former, argues Leibniz, is incompatible with human free will. It is suggested that Leibniz’ stance is worth investigating nor only for historical, but also for systematic reasons.

‘Prophets Against Ockhamism’, International Journal for the Philosophy of Religion, 75, 2014, 119-135.
In this paper, a cognate of the problem of divine foreknowledge is introduced: the problem of the prophet’s foreknowledge. The latter cannot be solved referring to Ockhamism—the doctrine that divine foreknowledge could, at least in principle, be compatible with human freedom because God’s beliefs about future actions are merely soft facts, rather than hard facts about the past. Under the assumption that if Ockhamism can solve the problem of divine foreknowledge then it should also yield a solution to the problem of the prophet’s foreknowledge, it is concluded that Ockhamism fails

Moral Enhancement

‘Enhancing beyond what ought to be the case’, Bioethics, 30, 2016, 384-388.
In order to do justice to the intuition that medical treatments as such do not form proper instances of bio-enhancement, as the notion is employed in the ethical debate, we should construe bio-enhancements as interventions, which do not aim at states that, other things being equal, ought to obtain. In the light of this clarification, we come to see that cases of moral enhancement are not covered by the notion of bio-enhancement, properly construed.

(with J. Schildmann, in German): ‘Enhancement der Moral. Zur Einführung’, in: R. van Riel, E. Di Nucci, J. Schildmann (eds.): Moralisches Enhancement. Mentis (9-17).
This contribution (in German) offers an introduction to the debate on moral enhancement.

Philosophy of Language

‘Lying beyond a conversational purpose. A critique of Stokke’s assertion based account of lying’, The Journal of Philosophy 116 (2), 2019, 106-118.
In this paper, I argue that Stokke’s version of an assertion based account of lying, according to which, roughly, to lie is to assert what one believes to be false, is mistaken – it is both, too broad and too narrow. These problems are mainly due to the fact that Stokke explicates the concept of an assertion in terms of a Stalnakerian common ground, where an assertion is a proposition to update the common ground for the purpose of the conversation. The account underestimates the relevance of the speaker’s intentional profile: given the right intentional profile, there may be lies which do not constitute an assertion (in Stalnaker’s sense), and there may be (Stalnakerian) assertions of what one believes to be false which do not constitute lies.

‘McDowell’s Frege’, in:Lauer & Barth (eds.) Die Philosophie John McDowells, Mentis, 2014, 203-222.
The paper (in German) introduces and criticizes McDowell’s interpretation, based on Evans, of the difference between sense and reference in the work of Frege.

‘Cognitive Significance and Epistemic Intensions’, Logique et Analyse 54, 2011.
The paper discusses the limits of Chalmers’ claim that a two-dimensional framework can appropriately model the Fregan notion of an expression’s sense.

Reduction and Related Topics in the Philosophy of Mind

(Accepted for publication): ‘Representationalist Physicalism’, in: Theoria.

(Forthcoming): Reduktionismus und reduktive Erklärung, in: Hoffmann-Kolss, V. (ed.) Handbuch Philosophie des Geistes Metzler (in German).

with R. N. Van Gulick: ‘Scientific Reduction’, in: E. Zalta (ed.) The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2019 edition – a revised version of the earlier 2014 entry.

  • (With R. N. Van Gulick): ‘Scientific Reduction’, in: E. Zalta (ed.) The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2014 edition.

‘Emergenz und Reduktion’, in: Schrenk, M. (ed.) Handbuch Metaphysik, Metzler 2017 (in German).

‘The Nature of Types and Tokens: On the Metaphysical Commitments of Non-Reductive Physicalism’, Metaphysica 2014,  DOI: 10.1515/mp-2014-0014.
Non-reductive physicalism has become the dominant view in the philosophy of mind. Some of its metaphysical underpinnings, however, have not been studied in detail yet the present paper suggests that non-reductive physicalism is committed to a particular view on the connection between the natures of types and the natures of their tokens-thereby defending nonreductive physicalism against an argument recently put forward by Susan Schneider.

‘Identity, Asymmetry, and the Relevance of Meanings for Models of Reduction’, The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 2012, doi: 10.1093/bjps/ axs028.
Assume that water reduces to H2O. If so, water is identical to H2O (according to one interpretation of the term ‘reduction’). At the same time, if water reduces to H2O, then H2O does not reduce to water—the reduction relation is asymmetric. This generates a puzzle—if water just is H2O, it is hard to see how we can account for the asymmetry of the reduction relation. The article proposes a solution to this puzzle. It is argued that (i) the reduction predicate generates intensional contexts; and that (ii) to account for the asymmetry, we should develop conditions on the meanings of expressions that flank the reduction predicate in true reduction statements. Finally, it is argued that if we adopt this interpretation, we can illuminate the epistemological difference between reduced and reducing item commonly referred to in the literature.

‘Pains, Pills, and Properties. Functionalism and the First-Order/Second- Order Distinction’, Dialectica 66, 2012, 543-562.
Among philosophers of mind, it is common to assume that at least some mental properties are functional in nature, and that functional properties are second-order properties. In the functionalist literature, the notion of being a second-order property is cashed out in three different ways: (i) in terms of semantic features of characterizations or definitions of properties, (ii) in terms of syntactic features of second-order quantification, and (iii) in terms of a metaphysical criterion, according to which properties are second order if they are properties of first-order properties. It is shown that in the context of functionalism reference to these interpretations is misguided, and it is suggested that the notion of an ordering of properties in this context is best understood as being tied to dependence-relations.

‘Nagelian Reduction beyond the Nagel Model’, Philosophy of Science, 78/3, 2011, 353-375.
Nagel’s official model of theory-reduction and the way it is represented in the literature are shown to be incompatible with the careful remarks on the notion of reduction Nagel gave while developing his model. Based on these remarks, an alternative model is outlined which does not face some of the problems the official model faces. Taking the context in which Nagel developed his model into account, it is shown that the way Nagel shaped his model and, thus, its well-known deficiencies, are best conceived of as a mere by-product of his philosophical background.

Scientific Models

(see also below: ‘Weberian Ideal Type Construction as Concept Replacement’, van Riel 2022)

‘Nagel on Idealization in the Sciences’, in: Neuber & Tuboly (eds.) Ernest Nagel, Philosophy of Science and the Fight for Clarity. Springer: 2021, 111-130.
In this paper, I offer a reconstruction of Ernest Nagel’s views on idealization and the use of models in the sciences.

‘What is the Problem of Explanation and Modeling?’, Acta Analytica, 2017, 263-275.
The paper takes its point of departure in a discussion of Reiss’ formulation of the problem of explanation and modeling. It will be shown that on two very natural interpretations of the assumptions involved in the alleged puzzle, only minimal reflection is required to see why these statements fail to constitute a genuine puzzle, let alone a robust paradox. I argue that there is a genuine puzzle in the vicinity of Reiss’ version of the puzzle, which clearly deserves attention, whereas the puzzle as articulated by Reiss has straightforward solutions, or, perhaps better: it will turn out to be a pseudoproblem.

‘The Content of Model-Based Information’, Synthese 192, 2015, 3839-3858.
The paper offers an account of the structure of information provided by models that relevantly deviate from reality. It is argued that accounts of scientific modeling according to which a model’s epistemic and pragmatic relevance stems from the alleged fact that models give access to possibilities fail. First, it seems that there are models that do not give access to possibilities, for what they describe is impossible. Secondly, it appears that having access to a possibility is epistemically and pragmatically idle. Based on these observations, an alternative is developed.

‘Modelle und Interpretationen. Grenzen eines allgemeinen Modellbegriffs.’ Commentary on Bernd Mahr’s ‘Modelle und ihre Befragbarkeit’, Erwägen- Wissen-Ethik 3, 2015, 399-401.
This short paper argues that we should keep a clear cut distinction between the concept of a model in the sense of the semanticist and the concept of a model in the sense of a representational item, which plays a paradigmatic role in the sciences.

Social Reality

‘Weberian Ideal-Type Construction as Concept Replacement’, European Journal of Philosophy, 2022, DOI: 10.1111/ejop.12752.
This paper contains a novel and coherent reading of Weberian ideal type construction, based on recent philosophical approaches to conceptual engineering. It will become apparent that Weber, when introducing his notion of an ideal type, did not merely summarize his views on methodology in the social sciences, but, rather, presented a two-step argument in favor of these views. Weber diagnosed, in a systematic fashion, types of problems we face when dealing with ordinary and scientific concepts that play a key role in the description of social reality, and he foreshadowed what is today sometimes described as ‘debunking’ projects. From a philosophy of science perspective, I propose Weber’s view (on the reconstruction proposed here) as a serious candidate for an adequate theory of concept replacement in the social sciences.

‘In Search of the Missing Mechanisms.’, in: Hufendiek et al. (eds): Social Functions in Philosophy: Metaphysical, Normative, and Methodological Perspectives, Routledge 2020, 70-92.
I explore the content and limits of the so called “missing mechanisms” argument against functionalism in the social sciences. It will turn out that there are several related arguments, all of which turn out to prove too much. I suggest we drop one tacit assumption about the connection between functionalism and explanation. As a consequence, we come to see that there are several types of innocent explanatory versions of functionalism in the social sciences.

(with Heiner Koch) ‘Gewalt – definitorische und normative Aspekte’, in: Sozialpsychiatrische Informationen 41, I 2019, 4-8.
We give an overview on recent debates concerning the concept of violence, and argue that, first, upon closer inspection, what often appear to be disputes about the concept’s definition turn out to be normative disputes. Moreover, we suggest that relying on a narrow conception of violence (in terms of, roughly, intentional use of force to cause physical harm) may be highly misleading.

‘Mental Disorder and the Indirect Construction of Social Facts’, Journal of Social Ontology 2016, Doi: 10.1515/jso-2016-0008
In this paper, I argue for two claims, (i) that on a common conception of the second order property of being a mental disorder, some facts about mental disorders are the result of social constructions, and (ii) that the way facts about mental disorders are constructed differs from the received view on social construction. The difference is examined, a novel type of social construction is identified, and it is suggested that there are numerous other types of social facts that are constructed in a similar way.

‘What is Constructionism in Psychiatry? From Social Causes to Psychiatric Classification’, 2016, Frontiers in PsychiatryDOI:  10.3389/fpsyt.2016.00057
It is common to note that social environment and cultural formation shape mental disorders. The details of this claim are, however, not well understood. The paper takes a look at the claim that culture has an impact on psychiatry from the perspective of metaphysics and the philosophy of science. Its aim is to offer, in a general fashion, partial explications of some significant versions of the thesis that culture and social environment shape mental disorders and to highlight some of the consequences social constructionism about psychiatry has for psychiatric explanation. In particular, it will be argued that the alleged dependence of facts about particular mental disorders and about the second order property of being a mental disorder on social facts amounts to a robust form of constructivism, whereas the view that clinician–patient interaction is influenced by cultural facts is perfectly compatible with an anti-constructivist stance.

Understanding and Knowledge

‘If you understand, you won’t be lucky’, Grazer Philosophische Studien, 93, 2016, 196-211
The paper argues that there is a structural difference between classical cases involving knowledge undermining environmental luck, and cases where a subject acquires understanding in the presence of environmental luck. This difference appears to bear on arguments against the reductionist thesis that understanding is a special form of knowledge.

‘Real Knowledge-Undermining Luck’, Logos and Episteme 7 (3), 2016, 325-344.
Based on the discussion of a novel version of the Barn County scenario, the paper argues for a new explication of knowledge undermining luck. In passing, an as yet undetected form of benign luck is identified.

Reuter, K., Kirfel, L., van Riel, R. Barlassina, L.: ‘The Good, the Bad, and the Timely: How Temporal Order and Moral Judgement Influence Causal Selection’, Frontiers in Psychology, 2014, doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01336
Causal selection is the cognitive process through which one or more elements in a complex causal structure are singled out as actual causes of a certain effect. In this paper, we report on an experiment in which we investigated the role of moral and temporal factors in causal selection. Our results are as follows. First, when presented with a temporal chain in which two human agents perform the same action one after the other, subjects tend to judge the later agent to be the actual cause. Second, the impact of temporal location on causal selection is almost canceled out if the later agent did not violate a norm while the former did. We argue that this is due to the impact that judgments of norm violation have on causal selection—even if the violated norm has nothing to do with the obtaining effect. Third, moral judgments about the effect influence causal selection even in the case in which agents could not have foreseen the effect and did not intend to bring it about. We discuss our findings in connection to recent theories of the role of moral judgment in causal reasoning, on the one hand, and to probabilistic models of temporal location, on the other.