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Eliminative Conceptions of Material Objects

Edited by Daniel Z. Korman (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, Australian National University)
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Summary Eliminative conceptions of material objects are those that eliminate a wide range of ordinary objects. Eliminativism is motivated by a variety of puzzles that arise for ordinary objects, involving vagueness, arbitrariness, overdetermination, persistence, and identity. Eliminativism comes in different forms. One is mereological nihilism, according to which there are no composite objects—which is not to deny that there are “atoms arranged baseballwise”, “atoms arranged humanwise”, and so forth. Other forms of eliminativism are more liberal about which composites there are, but deny that any of those composites belong to such familiar kinds as baseball, human, etc.. Still others make exceptions for a certain range of familiar kinds, more notably persons and other organisms. Some defend a related, but importantly different view, according to which there are quantifiers that are more fundamental than the ordinary English quantifiers, and that these quantifiers do no range over ordinary objects.
Key works For defenses of mereological nihilism, see Hossack 2000 and Horgan & Potrč 2000. For defenses of "composite-friendly" eliminativism, see Unger 1979 and Heller 1990. For defenses of eliminativism that make an exception for organisms, see Van Inwagen 1990Hoffman & Rosenkrantz 1997, and Merricks 2001. For defenses of the view that ordinary objects are not in the domain of the most fundamental quantifiers, see Cameron 2010 and Dasgupta 2009.
Introductions Unger 1979; Unger 1980; Merricks 2001; Van Inwagen 1990; Cameron 2010.
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  1. Katherine Brading & Alexander Skiles (2012). Underdetermination as a Path to Structural Realism. In Elaine Landry & Dean Rickles (eds.), Structural Realism: Structure, Object, and Causality. Springer.
  2. Ross Cameron (2008). Truth and Ontology – Trenton Merricks. Philosophical Quarterly 58 (232):544–546.
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  3. Ross P. Cameron (2010). How to Have a Radically Minimal Ontology. Philosophical Studies 151 (2):249 - 264.
    In this paper I further elucidate and defend a metaontological position that allows you to have a minimal ontology without embracing an error-theory of ordinary talk. On this view 'there are Fs' can be strictly and literally true without bringing an ontological commitment to Fs. Instead of a sentence S committing you to the things that must be amongst the values of the variables if it is true, I argue that S commits you to the things that must exist as (...)
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  4. John W. Carroll & William R. Carter (2005). An Unstable Eliminativism. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 86 (1):1–17.
    In his book Objects and Persons, Trenton Merricks has reoriented and fine-tuned an argument from the philosophy of mind to support a selective eliminativism about macroscopic objects.1 The argument turns on a rejection of systematic causal overdetermination and the conviction that microscopic things do the causal work that is attributed to a great many (though not all) macroscopic things. We will argue that Merricks’ argument fails to establish his selective eliminativism.
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  5. Gabriele Contessa (2014). One's a Crowd: Mereological Nihilism Without Ordinary‐Object Eliminativism. Analytic Philosophy 54 (4):199-221.
    Mereological nihilism is the thesis that there are no composite objects—i.e. objects with proper material parts. One of the main advantages of mereological nihilism is that it allows its supporters to avoid a number of notorious philosophical puzzles. However, it seems to offer this advantage only at the expense of certain widespread and deeply entrenched beliefs. In particular, it is usually assumed that mereological nihilism entails eliminativism about ordinary objects—i.e. the counterintuitive thesis that there are no such things as tables, (...)
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  6. Chris Daly & David Liggins, Hirsch's Charity Argument Against Revisionary Ontology.
    Eli Hirsch argues that metaphysical debates about material composition are merely verbal and the ontologists who take part in them are talking past each other. According to Hirsch, 'there is no uniquely best ontological language with which to describe the world', a doctrine he calls 'quantifier variance'. Hirsch argues that if we combine quantifier variance with an appeal to interpretative charity, we reach the conclusion that contemporary debates about composition are merely verbal. Much contemporary metaontological discussion has concerned Hirsch’s doctrine (...)
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  7. Cian Dorr (2003). Merricks on the Existence of Human Organisms. [REVIEW] Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 67 (3):711–718.
    BB Whenever a baseball causes an event, the baseball’s constituent atoms also cause that event, and the baseball is causally irrelevant to whether those atoms cause that event.
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  8. Matti Eklund (2002). Peter Van Inwagen on Material Beings. Ratio 15 (3):245–256.
    Peter van Inwagen's book Material Beings is centered on the special composition question: the question of when some simples constitute a complex object. Van Inwagen's answer to this question is that simples only constitute a complex object when they constitute an organism. I argue that van Inwagen's reasoning in favor of this conclusion is unconvincing, and also that the significance of the special composition question itself is doubtful.
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  9. Crawford L. Elder (2007). On the Phenomenon of “Dog- Wise Arrangement”. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 74 (1):132-155.
    An influential line of thought in metaphysics holds that where common sense discerns a tree or a dog or a baseball there may be just many microparticles. Provided the microparticles are arranged in the right way -- are “treewise” or “dogwise” or “baseballwise” arranged -- our sensory experiences will be just the same as if a tree or dog or baseball were really there. Therefore whether there really are suchfamiliar objects in the world can be decided only by determining what (...)
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  10. Mark Heller (1990). The Ontology of Physical Objects: Four-Dimensional Hunks of Matter. Cambridge University Press.
    This provocative new book attempts to resolve traditional problems of identity over time. It seeks to answer such questions as "How is it that an object can survive change?" and "How much change can an object undergo without being destroyed?" To answer these questions Professor Heller presents a completely new theory about the nature of physical objects and about the relationship between our language and the physical world. According to his theory, the only actually existing physical entities are what the (...)
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  11. Joshua Hoffman & Gary Rosenkrantz (1997). Substance: Its Nature and Existence. Routledge.
    Substance: Its Nature and Existence investigates the very nature and existence of individual substances, including both living things and inanimate objects. It provides an accessible introduction to the history and contemporary debates of this important and often complex issue. Starting with a critical survey of the main historical attempts by Aristotle, Descartes, Spinoza, Locke and Hume to provide an analysis of substance, the authors present the view that a substance must satisfy an independence condition which could not be satisfied by (...)
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  12. Terence Horgan (1993). Review: On What There Isn't. [REVIEW] Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 53 (3):693 - 700.
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  13. Terry Horgan & Matjaž Potrč (2000). Blobjectivism and Indirect Correspondence. Facta Philosophica 2:249-270.
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  14. Daniel Z. Korman (2014). Debunking Perceptual Beliefs About Ordinary Objects. Philosophers' Imprint 14 (13).
    Debunking arguments are arguments that aim to undermine some range of beliefs by showing that those beliefs are not appropriately connected to their subject matter. Arguments of this sort rear their heads in a wide variety of domains, threatening beliefs about morality, mathematics, logic, color, and the existence of God. Perceptual beliefs about ordinary objects, however, are widely thought to be invulnerable to such arguments. I will show that this is a mistake. I articulate a debunking argument that purports to (...)
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  15. Daniel Z. Korman (2013). Fundamental Quantification and the Language of the Ontology Room. Noûs 48 (3).
    Nihilism is the thesis that no composite objects exist. Some ontologists have advocated abandoning nihilism in favor of deep nihilism, the thesis that composites do not existO, where to existO is to be in the domain of the most fundamental quantifier. By shifting from an existential to an existentialO thesis, the deep nihilist seems to secure all the benefits of a composite-free ontology without running afoul of ordinary belief in the existence of composites. I argue that, while there are well-known (...)
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  16. Daniel Z. Korman (2011). Ordinary Objects. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
    An encyclopedia entry which covers various revisionary conceptions of which macroscopic objects there are, and the puzzles and arguments that motivate these conceptions: sorites arguments, the argument from vagueness, the puzzles of material constitution, arguments against indeterminate identity, arguments from arbitrariness, debunking arguments, the overdetermination argument, and the problem of the many.
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  17. Daniel Z. Korman (2010). Strange Kinds, Familiar Kinds, and the Charge of Arbitrariness. Oxford Studies in Metaphysics:119-144.
    Particularists in material-object metaphysics hold that our intuitive judgments about which kinds of things there are and are not are largely correct. One common argument against particularism is the argument from arbitrariness, which turns on the claim that there is no ontologically significant difference between certain of the familiar kinds that we intuitively judge to exist (snowballs, islands, statues, solar systems) and certain of the strange kinds that we intuitively judge not to exist (snowdiscalls, incars, gollyswoggles, the fusion of the (...)
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  18. Daniel Z. Korman (2009). Eliminativism and the Challenge From Folk Belief. Noûs 43 (2):242-264.
    Virtually everyone agrees that, even after having presented the arguments for their positions, proponents of revisionary philosophical theories are required to provide some sort of account of the conflict between their theories and what the folk believe. I examine various strategies for answering the challenge from folk belief. The examination proceeds as a case study, whose focus is eliminativism (nihilism) about ordinary material objects. I critically assess eliminativist attempts to explain folk belief by appeal to paraphrase, experience, and intuition.
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  19. Daniel Z. Korman (2008). Review of Terence E. Horgan, Matjaz Potrč, Austere Realism: Contextual Semantics Meets Minimal Ontology. [REVIEW] Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 2008.
    The main focus of the review is Horgan and Potrč’s strategy for reconciling austere ontologies -- like their own, which includes exactly one concrete particular: “the blobject” -- with ordinary discourse about tables and the like. I try to show that, once we accept their ontological conclusions, there is no reason to prefer their conciliatory ontological-cum-semantic package to a more straightforward error-theoretic package on which we simply say lots of false things in ordinary discourse about tables and the like.
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  20. Daniel Z. Korman (2007). The Naive Conception of Material Objects: A Defense. Dissertation, University of Texas at Austin
    Chapter 1: “Ordinary Objects and the Argument from Strange Concepts.” Chapter 2: “Restricted Composition Without Sharp Cut-Offs.” Chapter 3: “Three Solutions to the Grounding Problem for Coincident Objects.” Chapter 4: “Ordinary Objects Without Overdetermination.” Chapter 5: “Eliminativism and the Challenge from Folk Belief.” Chapter 6: “Unrestricted Composition and Restricted Quantification.”.
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  21. E. J. Lowe (2003). In Defense of Moderate-Sized Specimens of Dry Goods. [REVIEW] Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 67 (3):704–710.
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  22. Matthew McGrath (2005). No Objects, No Problem? Australasian Journal of Philosophy 83 (4):457 – 486.
    One familiar form of argument for rejecting entities of a certain kind is that, by rejecting them, we avoid certain difficult problems associated with them. Such problem-avoidance arguments backfire if the problems cited survive the elimination of the rejected entities. In particular, we examine one way problems can survive: a question for the realist about which of a set of inconsistent statements is false may give way to an equally difficult question for the eliminativist about which of a set of (...)
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  23. Trenton Merricks (2003). Replies. [REVIEW] Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 67 (3):727–744.
  24. Trenton Merricks (2001). Objects and Persons. Oxford University Press.
    With ontology motivated largely by causal considerations, this lucid and provocative work focuses on the idea that physical objects are causally non-redundant. Merricks "eliminates" inanimate composite macrophysical objects on the grounds that they would--if they existed--be at best completely causally redundant. He defends human existence by arguing, from certain facts about mental causation, that we cause things that are not determined by our proper parts. He also provides insight into a variety of philosophical puzzles, while addressing many significant issues like (...)
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  25. Trenton Merricks (2000). No Statues. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 78 (1):47 – 52.
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  26. John O'Leary-Hawthorne & Michaelis Michael (1996). Compatibilist Semantics in Metaphysics: A Case Study. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 74 (1):117 – 134.
    (1996). Compatibilist semantics in metaphysics: A case study. Australasian Journal of Philosophy: Vol. 74, No. 1, pp. 117-134. doi: 10.1080/00048409612347101.
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  27. Eric Olson, Critical Notice.
    For a long time philosophers thought material objects were unproblematic. Or nearly so. There may have been a problem about what a material object is: a substance, a bundle of tropes, a compound of substratum and universals, a collection of sense-data, or what have you. But once that was settled there were supposed to be no further metaphysical problems about material objects. This illusion has now largely been dispelled. No one can get a Ph.D. in philosophy nowadays without encountering the (...)
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  28. Eric Olson (1995). Why I Have No Hands. Theoria 61 (2):182-197.
    Trust me: my chair isn't big enough for two. You may doubt that every rational, conscious being is a person; perhaps there are beings that mistakenly believe themselves to be people. If so, read ‘rational, conscious being’ or the like for 'person'.
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  29. Alan Sidelle (1998). A Sweater Unraveled: Following One Thread of Thought for Avoiding Coincident Entities. Noûs 32 (4):423-448.
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  30. Theodore Sider (2004). Review of Trenton Merricks, Objects and Persons. [REVIEW] Mind 113 (449):195–198.
    Many otherwise reasonable philosophers are impatient with ontology. These philosophers will probably have little time for Objects and Persons, which claims that while there do exist “atoms arranged statuewise”, there do not exist statues; while there do exist atoms arranged tablewise and atoms arranged chairwise, there exist no tables and chairs. Though I join these philosophers, at the end of the day, in rejecting Merricks’s claims, that day is long, whereas they want a quick verdict. But why? Do our impatient (...)
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  31. Theodore Sider (2003). Review: What's so Bad About Overdetermination? [REVIEW] Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 67 (3):719 - 726.
    The intimate relationship between X and Y consists in the existence of (metaphysically) necessary truths correlating their occurrences/existences/instantiations. E would be in some sense “overdetermined” if caused by both X and Y.2 Some philosophers say this would be bad, that this cannot or does not happen, that we should construct theories ruling it out, at least in certain cases.3 But why? Given the necessary truths correlating objects and their parts, objects and events concerning those objects, physical and supervenient mental properties, (...)
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  32. Theodore Sider (1993). Van Inwagen and the Possibility of Gunk. Analysis 53 (4):285 - 289.
    We often speak of an object being composed of various other objects. We say that the deck is composed of the cards, that a road is the sum total of its sections, that a house is composed of its walls, ceilings, floors, doors, etc. Suppose we have some material objects. Here is a philosophical question: what conditions must obtain for those objects to compose something? In his recent book Material Beings, Peter van Inwagen addresses this question, which he calls the (...)
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  33. Amie L. Thomasson (2007). Ordinary Objects. Oxford University Press.
    Arguments that ordinary inanimate objects such as tables and chairs, sticks and stones, simply do not exist have become increasingly common and increasingly prominent. Some are based on demands for parsimony or for a non-arbitrary answer to the special composition question; others arise from prohibitions against causal redundancy, ontological vagueness, or co-location; and others still come from worries that a common sense ontology would be a rival to a scientific one. Until now, little has been done to address these arguments (...)
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  34. Peter Unger (1979). There Are No Ordinary Things. Synthese 41 (2):117 - 154.
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  35. Peter Van Inwagen (1990). Material Beings. Cornell University Press.
    The topic of this book is material objects. Like most interesting concepts, the concept of a material object is one without precise boundaries.
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  36. Samuel C. Wheeler (1979). On That Which is Not. Synthese 41 (2):155 - 173.
  37. Nathan Wildman (2012). Familiar Objects and Their Shadows. By Crawford L. Elder. (Cambridge UP, 2011. Pp. Xi + 210. Price £50.00, $85.00 H/B.). [REVIEW] Philosophical Quarterly 62 (246):195-197.
  38. Eric Yang (2013). Eliminativism, Interventionism and the Overdetermination Argument. Philosophical Studies 164 (2):321-340.
    In trying to establish the view that there are no non-living macrophysical objects, Trenton Merricks has produced an influential argument—the Overdetermination Argument—against the causal efficacy of composite objects. A serious problem for the Overdetermination Argument is the ambiguity in the notion of overdetermination that is being employed, which is due to the fact that Merricks does not provide any theory of causation to support his claims. Once we adopt a plausible theory of causation, viz. interventionism, problems with the Overdetermination will (...)
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