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Summary

These papers explore a range of issues in metaphysics by drawing on empirical work.  While much of the current work has been focused on the ordinary understanding of causation (see Experimental Philosophy: Causation), other work has focused on issues such as event individuation, mereology, personal identity, and temporal experience. This work is largely focused on bringing certain empirical results to bear on relevant disputes in metaphysics.  But some of this work—especially early work by Alvin Goldman and more recently Laurie Paul—is more programmatic (e.g., arguing for the relevance of cognitive science to metaphysics).

Key works Personal identity: Bruno & Nichols 2010.  Temporal experience: Paul 2010.  Event individuation: Goldman 2007.  Mereology: Rose & Schaffer manuscript.  Causation: see Experimental Philosophy: Causation.
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For useful overviews of the relevance of cognitive science to metaphysics see e.g., Goldman 1987, Goldman 1989, Goldman 2007, Paul 2010

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Experimental Philosophy: Causation
  1. Mark Alicke (2008). Blaming Badly. Journal of Cognition and Culture 8:179-186.
    Moral philosophers, legal theorists, and psychologists who study moral judgment are remarkably agreed in prescribing how to blame people. A blameworthy act occurs when an actor intentionally, negligently or recklessly causes foreseen, or foreseeable, harmful consequences without any compelling mitigating or extenuating circumstances. This simple formulation conveniently forestalls intricacies about how to construe concepts such as will, causation, foresight, and mitigation, but putting that aside for the moment, it seems fair to say that blame “professionals” share compatible conceptions of how (...)
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  2. Mark Alicke & David Rose (2012). Culpable Control and Deviant Causal Chains. Personality and Social Psychology Compass 6 (10):723-735.
    Actions that are intended to produce harmful consequences can fail to achieve their desired effects in numerous ways. We refer to action sequences in which harmful intentions are thwarted as deviant causal chains. The culpable control model of blame (CCM)is a useful tool for predicting and explaining the attributions that observers make of the actors whose harmful intentions go awry. In this paper, we describe six types of deviant causal chains; those in which: an actor’s attempt is obviated by the (...)
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  3. Mark Alicke & David Rose (2010). Culpable Control or Moral Concepts? Behavioral and Brain Sciences 33 (04):330-331.
    Knobe argues in his target article that asymmetries in intentionality judgments can be explained by the view that concepts such as intentionality are suffused with moral considerations. We believe that the “culpable control” model of blame can account both for Knobe's side effect findings and for findings that do not involve side effects.
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  4. Mark Alicke, David Rose & Dori Bloom (2011). Causation, Norm Violation, and Culpable Control. Journal of Philosophy 108 (12):670-696.
    Causation is one of philosophy's most venerable and thoroughly-analyzed concepts. However, the study of how ordinary people make causal judgments is a much more recent addition to the philosophical arsenal. One of the most prominent views of causal explanation, especially in the realm of harmful or potentially harmful behavior, is that unusual or counternormative events are accorded privileged status in ordinary causal explanations. This is a fundamental assumption in psychological theories of counterfactual reasoning, and has been transported to philosophy by (...)
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  5. Randolph Clarke, Joshua Shepherd, John Stigall, Robyn Repko Waller & Chris Zarpentine (forthcoming). Causation, Norms, and Omissions: A Study of Causal Judgments. Philosophical Psychology:1-15.
    Many philosophical theories of causation are egalitarian, rejecting a distinction between causes and mere causal conditions. We sought to determine the extent to which people's causal judgments discriminate, selecting as causes counternormal events—those that violate norms of some kind—while rejecting non-violators. We found significant selectivity of this sort. Moreover, priming that encouraged more egalitarian judgments had little effect on subjects. We also found that omissions are as likely as actions to be judged as causes, and that counternormative selectivity appears to (...)
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  6. Fiery Cushman, Joshua Knobe & Walter Sinnott-Armstrong (2008). Moral Appraisals Affect Doing/Allowing Judgments. Cognition 108 (2):353-380.
    An extensive body of research suggests that the distinction between doing and allowing plays a critical role in shaping moral appraisals. Here, we report evidence from a pair of experiments suggesting that the converse is also true: moral appraisals affect doing/allowing judgments. Specifically, morally bad behavior is more likely to be construed as actively ‘doing’ than as passively ‘allowing’. This finding adds to a growing list of folk concepts influenced by moral appraisal, including causation and intentional action. We therefore suggest (...)
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  7. David Danks, David Rose & Edouard Machery (2013). Demoralizing Causation. Philosophical Studies:1-27.
    There have recently been a number of strong claims that normative considerations, broadly construed, influence many philosophically important folk concepts and perhaps are even a constitutive component of various cognitive processes. Many such claims have been made about the influence of such factors on our folk notion of causation. In this paper, we argue that the strong claims found in the recent literature on causal cognition are overstated, as they are based on one narrow type of data about a particular (...)
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  8. Joseph Y. Halpern & Christopher Hitchcock (forthcoming). Graded Causation and Defaults. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science:axt050.
    Recent work in psychology and experimental philosophy has shown that judgments of actual causation are often influenced by consideration of defaults, typicality, and normality. A number of philosophers and computer scientists have also suggested that an appeal to such factors can help deal with problems facing existing accounts of actual causation. This article develops a flexible formal framework for incorporating defaults, typicality, and normality into an account of actual causation. The resulting account takes actual causation to be both graded and (...)
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  9. Christopher Hitchcock (2012). Portable Causal Dependence: A Tale of Consilience. Philosophy of Science 79 (5):942-951.
    This article describes research pursued by members of the McDonnell Collaborative on Causal Learning. A number of members independently converged on a similar idea: one of the central functions served by claims of actual causation is to highlight patterns of dependence that are highly portable into novel contexts. I describe in detail how this idea emerged in my own work and also in that of the psychologist Tania Lombrozo. In addition, I use the occasion to reflect on the nature of (...)
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  10. Christopher Hitchcock & Joshua Knobe (2009). Cause and Norm. Journal of Philosophy 106 (11):587-612.
    Much of the philosophical literature on causation has focused on the concept of actual causation, sometimes called token causation. In particular, it is this notion of actual causation that many philosophical theories of causation have attempted to capture.2 In this paper, we address the question: what purpose does this concept serve? As we shall see in the next section, one does not need this concept for purposes of prediction or rational deliberation. What then could the purpose be? We will argue (...)
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  11. Joshua Knobe (2010). Person as Scientist, Person as Moralist. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 33 (4):315.
    It has often been suggested that people’s ordinary capacities for understanding the world make use of much the same methods one might find in a formal scientific investigation. A series of recent experimental results offer a challenge to this widely-held view, suggesting that people’s moral judgments can actually influence the intuitions they hold both in folk psychology and in causal cognition. The present target article distinguishes two basic approaches to explaining such effects. One approach would be to say that the (...)
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  12. Joshua Knobe (2009). Folk Judgments of Causation. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 40 (2):238-242.
    When scientists are trying to uncover the causes of a given outcome, they often make use of statistical information. Thus, if scientists wanted to know whether there was a causal relationship between attending philosophy lectures and learning philosophy, they might randomly assign students to either attend or not attend certain lectures and then check to see whether those who attended the lectures ended up learning more philosophy than those who did not.
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  13. Joshua Knobe & Ben Fraser (2008). Causal Judgment and Moral Judgment: Two Experiments. In Walter Sinnott-Armstrong (ed.), Moral Psychology. MIT Press.
    It has long been known that people’s causal judgments can have an impact on their moral judgments. To take a simple example, if people conclude that a behavior caused the death of ten innocent children, they will therefore be inclined to regard the behavior itself as morally wrong. So far, none of this should come as any surprise. But recent experimental work points to the existence of a second, and more surprising, aspect of the relationship between causal judgment and moral (...)
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  14. Jonathan Livengood & Edouard Machery (2007). The Folk Probably Don't Think What You Think They Think: Experiments on Causation by Absence. Midwest Studies in Philosophy 31 (1):107–127.
    Folk theories—untutored people’s (often implicit) theories about various features of the world—have been fashionable objects of inquiry in psychology for almost two decades now (e.g., Hirschfeld and Gelman 1994), and more recently they have been of interest in experimental philosophy (Nichols 2004). Folk theories of psy- chology, physics, biology, and ethics have all come under investigation. Folk meta- physics, however, has not been as extensively studied. That so little is known about folk metaphysics is unfortunate for (at least) two reasons. (...)
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  15. Jonathan Livengood, Justin Sytsma & David Rose, Following the FAD: Folk Attributions and Theories of Actual Causation.
    Using structural equations and directed graphs, Christopher Hitchcock (2007a) proposes a theory specifying the circumstances in which counterfactual dependence of one event e on another event c is necessary and sufficient for c to count as an actual cause of e. In this paper, we argue that Hitchcock is committed to a widely-endorsed folk attribution desideratum (FAD) for theories of actual causation. We then show experimentally that Hitchcock’s theory does not satisfy the FAD, and hence, it is in need of (...)
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  16. Tania Lombrozo (2010). Causal-Explanatory Pluralism: How Intentions, Functions, and Mechanisms Influence Causal Ascriptions. Cognitive Psychology 61 (4):303-332.
    Both philosophers and psychologists have argued for the existence of distinct kinds of explanations, including teleological explanations that cite functions or goals, and mechanistic explanations that cite causal mechanisms. Theories of causation, in contrast, have generally been unitary, with dominant theories focusing either on counterfactual dependence or on physical connections. This paper argues that both approaches to causation are psychologically real, with different modes of explanation promoting judgments more or less consistent with each approach. Two sets of experiments isolate the (...)
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  17. Peter Menzies (2010). Norms, Causes, and Alternative Possibilities. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 33 (14):346-347.
    I agree with Knobe's claim in his “Person as Scientist, Person as Moralist” article that moral considerations are integral to the workings of people's competence in making causal judgments. However, I disagree with the particular explanation he gives of the way in which moral considerations influence causal judgments. I critically scrutinize his explanation and outline a better one.
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  18. David Rose & David Danks (2012). Causation: Empirical Trends and Future Directions. Philosophy Compass 7 (9):643-653.
    Empirical research has recently emerged as a key method for understanding the nature of causation, and our concept of causation. One thread of research aims to test intuitions about the nature of causation in a variety of classic cases. These experiments have principally been used to try to resolve certain debates within analytic philosophy, most notably that between proponents of transference and dependence views of causation. The other major thread of empirical research on our concept of causation has investigated the (...)
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  19. Craig Roxborough & Jill Cumby (2009). Folk Psychological Concepts: Causation. Philosophical Psychology 22 (2):205-213.
    Which factors influence the folk application of the concept of causation? Knobe has argued that causal judgments are primarily influenced by the moral valence of the behavior under consideration. Whereas Driver has pointed out that the data Knobe relies on can also be used to support the claim that it is the atypicality of the agent's behavior that influences our willingness to assign causality to that agent. While Knobe and Fraser have provided a further study to address the cogency of (...)
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  20. Justin Sytsma, Jonathan Livengood & David Rose (2012). Two Types of Typicality: Rethinking the Role of Statistical Typicality in Ordinary Causal Attributions. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C 43 (4):814-820.
    Empirical work on the use of causal language by ordinary people indicates that their causal attributions tend to be sensitive not only to purely descriptive considerations, but also to broadly moral considerations. For example, ordinary causal attributions appear to be highly sensitive to whether a behavior is permissible or impermissible. Recently, however, a consensus view has emerged that situates the role of permissibility information within a broader framework: According to the consensus, ordinary causal attributions are sensitive to whether or not (...)
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  21. Jason Turner & Eddy A. Nahmias (2006). Are the Folk Agent-Causationists? Mind and Language 21 (5):597-609.
    Experimental examination of how the folk conceptualize certain philosophically loaded notions can provide information useful for philosophical theorizing. In this paper, we explore issues raised in Shaun Nichols' (2004) studies involving people's conception of free will, focusing on his claim that this conception fits best with the philosophical theory of agent-causation. We argue that his data do not support this conclusion, highlighting along the way certain considerations that ought to be taken into account when probing the folk conception of free (...)
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  22. Clare R. Walsh & Steven A. Sloman (2011). The Meaning of Cause and Prevent: The Role of Causal Mechanism. Mind and Language 26 (1):21-52.
    How do people understand questions about cause and prevent? Some theories propose that people affirm that A causes B if A's occurrence makes a difference to B's occurrence in one way or another. Other theories propose that A causes B if some quantity or symbol gets passed in some way from A to B. The aim of our studies is to compare these theories' ability to explain judgements of causation and prevention. We describe six experiments that compare judgements for causal (...)
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Experimental Philosophy: Metaphysics, Misc
  1. Fernando Aguiar, Pablo Brañas-Garza, Maria Paz Espinosa & Luis M. Miller (2010). Personal Identity: A Theoretical and Experimental Analysis. Journal of Economic Methodology 17 (3):261-275.
    This paper aims to analyze the role of personal identity in altruism. To this end, it starts by reviewing critically the growing literature on economics and identity. Considering the ambiguities that the concept of social identity poses, our proposal focuses on the concept of personal identity. A formal model to study how personal identity enters in individuals' utility function when facing a dictator game decision is then presented. Finally, this ?identity-based? utility function is studied experimentally. The experiment allows us to (...)
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  2. Michael Bruno & Shaun Nichols (2010). Intuitions About Personal Identity: An Empirical Study. Philosophical Psychology 23 (3):293-312.
    Williams (1970) argues that our intuitions about personal identity vary depending on how a given thought experiment is framed. Some frames lead us to think that persistence of self requires persistence of one's psychological characteristics; other frames lead us to think that the self persists even after the loss of one's distinctive psychological characteristics. The current paper takes an empirical approach to these issues. We find that framing does affect whether or not people judge that persistence of psychological characteristics is (...)
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  3. Jonathan Cohen & Shaun Nichols (2010). Colours, Colour Relationalism and the Deliverances of Introspection. Analysis 70 (2):218 - 228.
    An important motivation for relational theories of color is that they resolve apparent conflicts about color: x can, without contradiction, be red relative to S1 and not red relative to S2. Alas, many philosophers claim that the view is incompatible with naive, phenomenally grounded introspection. However, when we presented normal adults with apparent conflicts about color (among other properties), we found that many were open to the relationalist's claim that apparently competing variants can simultaneously be correct. This suggests that, philosophers' (...)
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  4. Florian Cova & Nicolas Pain (2012). Can Folk Aesthetics Ground Aesthetic Realism? The Monist 95 (2):241-263.
    We challenge an argument that aims to support Aesthetic Realism by claiming, first, that common sense is realist about aesthetic judgments because it considers that aesthetic judgments can be right or wrong, and, second, that becauseAesthetic Realism comes from and accounts for “folk aesthetics,” it is the best aesthetic theory available.We empirically evaluate this argument by probing whether ordinary people with no training whatsoever in the subtle debates of aesthetic philosophy consider their aesthetic judgments as right or wrong. Having shown (...)
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  5. Alvin Goldman (1987). Cognitive Science and Metaphysics. Journal of Philosophy 84 (October):537-544.
  6. Alvin I. Goldman (2007). A Program for “Naturalizing” Metaphysics, with Application to the Ontology of Events. The Monist 90 (3):457-479.
    I wish to advance a certain program for doing metaphysics, a program in which cognitive science would play an important role.1 This proposed ingredient is absent from most contemporary metaphysics. There are one or two local parts of metaphysics where a role for cognitive science is commonly accepted, but I advocate a wider range of application. I begin by laying out the general program and its rationale, with selected illustrations. Then I explore in some detail a single application: the ontology (...)
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  7. Alvin I. Goldman (1989). Metaphysics, Mind, and Mental Science. Philosophical Topics 17 (1):131-145.
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  8. Andrew Higgins & Brittany Smith, A Citation Based View of the Ontology Community in Philosophy. Proceedings of the ACM Web Science 2013.
    While many bibliometric techniques have been employed to represent the structure of academic research communities over the years, much of this work has been conducted on scientific fields as opposed to those in the humanities. Here we use graphing techniques to present two networks that allow us to explore the structure of a subset of the philosophy community by mapping the citations between philosophical texts on the topic of ontology (the study of what exists). We find a citation gap between (...)
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  9. L. A. Paul (2012). Metaphysics as Modeling: The Handmaiden's Tale. Philosophical Studies 160 (1):1-29.
    Critics of contemporary metaphysics argue that it attempts to do the hard work of science from the ease of the armchair. Physics, not metaphysics, tells us about the fundamental facts of the world, and empirical psychology is best placed to reveal the content of our concepts about the world. Exploring and understanding the world through metaphysical reflection is obsolete. In this paper, I will show why this critique of metaphysics fails, arguing that metaphysical methods used to make claims about the (...)
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  10. L. A. Paul (2010). A New Role for Experimental Work in Metaphysics. Review of Philosophy and Psychology 1 (3):461-476.
    Recent work in philosophy could benefit from paying greater attention to empirical results from cognitive science involving judgments about the nature of our ordinary experience. This paper describes the way that experimental and theoretical results about the nature of ordinary judgments could—and should—inform certain sorts of enquiries in contemporary philosophy, using metaphysics as an exemplar, and hence defines a new way for experimental philosophy and cognitive science to contribute to traditional philosophical debates.
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  11. L. A. Paul (2010). Temporal Experience. Journal of Philosophy 107 (7):333-359.
    The question I want to explore is whether experience supports an antireductionist ontology of time, that is, whether we should take it to support an ontology that includes a primitive, monadic property of nowness responsible for the special feel of events in the present, and a relation of passage that events instantiate in virtue of literally passing from the future, to the present, and then into the past.
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  12. Jonathan Phillips & Joshua Knobe (2009). Moral Judgments and Intuitions About Freedom. Psychological Inquiry 20 (1):30-36.
    Reeder’s article offers a new and intriguing approach to the study of people’s ordinary understanding of freedom and constraint. On this approach, people use information about freedom and constraint as part of a quasi-scientific effort to make accurate inferences about an agent’s motives. Their beliefs about the agent’s motives then affect a wide variety of further psychological processes, including the process whereby they arrive at moral judgments. In illustrating this new approach, Reeder cites an elegant study he conducted a number (...)
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  13. Pendaran Roberts, James Andow & Kelly Schmidtke (forthcoming). Colour Relationalism and the Real Deliverances of Introspection. Erkenntnis:1-17.
    Colour relationalism holds that the colours are constituted by relations to subjects. Anti-relationalists have claimed that this view stands in stark contrast to our phenomenally-informed, pre-theoretic intuitions. Is this claim right? Cohen and Nichols’ recent empirical study suggests not, as about half of their participants seemed to be relationalists about colour. Despite Cohen and Nichols’ study, we think that the anti-relationalist’s claim is correct. We explain why there are good reasons to suspect that Cohen and Nichols’ experimental design skewed their (...)
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  14. Pendaran Roberts & Kelly Schmidtke (2012). In Defense of Incompatibility, Objectivism, and Veridicality About Color. Review of Philosophy and Psychology 3 (4):547-558.
    Are the following propositions true of the colors: No object can be more than one determinable or determinate color all over at the same time (Incompatibility); the colors of objects are mind-independent (Objectivism); and most human observers usually perceive the colors of objects veridically in typical conditions (Veridicality)? One reason to think not is that the empirical literature appears to support the proposition that there is mass perceptual disagreement about the colors of objects amongst human observers in typical conditions (P-Disagreement). (...)
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  15. David Rose & Shaun Nichols (2013). The Lesson of Bypassing. Review of Philosophy and Psychology 4 (4):599-619.
    The idea that incompatibilism is intuitive is one of the key motivators for incompatibilism. Not surprisingly, then philosophers who defend incompatibilism often claim that incompatibilism is the natural, commonsense view about free will and moral responsibility (e.g., Pereboom 2001, Kane Journal of Philosophy 96:217–240 1999, Strawson 1986). And a number of recent studies find that people give apparently incompatibilist responses in vignette studies. When participants are presented with a description of a causal deterministic universe, they tend to deny that people (...)
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  16. David Rose & Jonathan Schaffer, Folk Mereology Is Teleological.
    When do the folk think that mereological composition occurs? Many metaphysicians have wanted a view of composition that fits with folk intuitions, and yet there has been little agreement about what the folk intuit. We aim to put the tools of experimental philosophy to constructive use. Our studies suggest that folk mereology is teleological: people tend to intuit that composition occurs when the result serves a purpose. We thus conclude that metaphysicians should dismiss folk intuitions, as tied into a benighted (...)
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  17. Brian J. Scholl (2007). Object Persistence in Philosophy and Psychology. Mind and Language 22 (5):563–591.
    What makes an object the same persisting individual over time? Philosophers and psychologists have both grappled with this question, but from different perspectives—philosophers conceptually analyzing the criteria for object persistence, and psychologists exploring the mental mechanisms that lead us to experience the world in terms of persisting objects. It is striking that the same themes populate explorations of persistence in these two very different fields—e.g. the roles of spatiotemporal continuity, persistence through property change, and cohesion violations. Such similarities may reflect (...)
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  18. Barry Smith (1999). Ontology with Human Subjects Testing: An Empirical Investigation of Geographic Categories. American Journal of Economics and Sociology 58 (2):245–272.
    Ontology, since Aristotle, has been conceived as a sort of highly general physics, a science of the types of entities in reality, of the objects, properties, categories and relations which make up the world. At the same time ontology has been for some two thousand years a speculative enterprise. It has rested methodologically on introspection and on the construction and analysis of elaborate world-models and of abstract formal-ontological theories. In the work of Quine and others this ontological theorizing in abstract (...)
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  19. Fei Xu (1997). From Lot's Wife to a Pillar of Salt: Evidence That Physical Object is a Sortal Concept. Mind and Language 12 (3&4):365–392.
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