An extensive exploration of the special properties of ‘exist’ is here undertaken. Two of several results are: Denying that `exist’ has associated with it a set of necessary and sufficient conditions has seemed to a number of philosophers to imply metaphysical nihilism . This is because it has seemed that without such conditions the target domain of `existence’ is arbitrarily open. I show this is wrong. Second, my analysis sheds light on the puzzling question of what we are asking when (...) we ask of something, `Does it exist?’ and mean that question in an ontically relevant way. (shrink)
Mereological Nihilism is the thesis that no material object has proper parts; every material object is a simple. Recent developments in plural semantics have made it possible to develop and motivate this position. In particular, some have argued that the tools of plural reference and quantification enable us to systematically paraphrase true statements apparently about composites into statements that only concern simples. Are composites really surplus to philosophical requirements? Given the resources of plural semantics, what must the world be like (...) if composites are to be theoretically indispensable? I will describe and defend the possibility of scenario in which mention of composites cannot be paraphrased. We will therefore come to appreciate one way in which the world would have to be in order for composites to be required and for Nihilism to fail. (shrink)
This essay explores a simple argument for a Ground of Being, objections to it, and limitations on it. It is nonsensical to refer to Nothing in the sense of utter absence, hence nothing can be claimed to come from Nothing. If, as it seems, the universe, or any physical ensemble containing it, is past-finite, it must be caused by an uncaused Ground. Speculative many-worlds, pocket universes and multiverses do not affect this argument, but the quantum cosmologies of Alex Vilenkin, and (...) J. B. Hartle and Stephen Hawking, which claim that the universe came from literally nothing, would. I argue that their novel project cannot work for reasons both physical (their "nothing" is actually a vacuum state governed by eternal physical laws) and methodological (physical theory cannot explain the emergence of the physical per se). Thus my argument stands. However, as David Hume showed, a posteriori arguments like mine infer a creation, and Creator, of a certain character, namely, a stochastic concept of creation and a panentheistic, partly physical Creator lacking omniscience and omnipotence. Rather than undermining the cosmological argument, as Hume intended, these limitations liberate the concept of the Ground from unnecessary problems, as Hartshorne suggested. (shrink)
Works of music do not appear to be concrete objects; but they do appear to be created by composers, and abstract objects do not seem to be the kind of things that can be created. In this paper I aim to develop an ontological position that lets us salvage the creativity intuition without either adopting an ontology of created abstracta or identifying musical works with concreta. I will argue that there are no musical works in our ontology, but nevertheless the (...) English sentences we want to hold true are literally true. I rely on a meta-ontological view whereby ‘a exists’ can be true without committing us to an entity that is a. This meta-ontological view is illustrated by its application to the familiar example of the statue and the clay. I argue that my account of musical ontology fares better on the balance of costs and benefits than its rivals. (shrink)
What remains when you eliminate all matter? Can empty space-a void-exist? _Frank Close takes the reader on a lively and accessible tour through ancient ideas and cultural superstitions (including Aristotle, who insisted that the vacuum was impossible) to the frontiers of current scientific research. These newest discoveries tell us extraordinary things about the cosmos and may provide answers to some of our most fundamental questions: What lies outside the universe? If there was once nothing, then how did the universe begin?
The study of metaphysical possibility involves two central questions: (i) What are possible worlds? (ii) Is there an empty possible world? In looking at the first question we consider the different accounts of possible worlds-Lewisian realism, ersatzism, etc. In looking at the second question we consider the discussions of metaphysical nihilism, the modal ontological arguments, etc. In this paper I am drawing these two questions together in order to show how the position we hold on one of these issues affects (...) the position we should hold on the other. (shrink)
Welcome to the world of cutting-edge math, physics, and neuroscience, where the search for the ultimate vacuum, the point of nothingness, ground zero of theory, has rendered the universe deep, rich, and juicy. "Modern physics has animated the void," says K. C. Cole in her entrancing journey into the heart of Nothing. Every time scientists and mathematicians think they have reached the ultimate void, new stuff appears: a black hole, an undulating string, an additional dimension of space or time, repulsive (...) anti-gravity, universes that breed like bunnies. Cole's exploration at the edge of everything is as animated and exciting as the void itself. Take Cole's hand on this adventure into the unknown, and you'll come back informed, amused, and excited. (shrink)
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, (...) apples, cats, and the like. In this paper, I argue that this assumption is false—mereological nihilists do not need to be eliminativists about tables, apples, or cats. Non-eliminativist nihilists claim that all it takes for there to be a cat is that there are simples arranged cat-wise. More specifically, non-eliminative nihilists argue that expressions such as ‘the cat’ in sentences such as ‘The cat is on the mat’ do not refer to composite objects but only to simples arranged cat-wise and compare this metaphysical discovery to the scientific discovery that ‘water’ refers to dihydrogen oxide. Non-eliminative nihilism, I argue, is not only a coherent position, but it is preferable to its more popular, eliminativist counterpart, as it enjoys the key benefits of nihilism without incurring the prohibitive costs of eliminativism. Moreover, unlike conciliatory strategies adopted by eliminative nihilists, non-eliminative nihilism allow its supporters to account not only for how we can assert something true by saying ‘The cat is on the mat’ but also for how we can believe something true by believing that the cat is on the mat. (shrink)
We naturally think of the material world as being populated by a large number of individuals . These are things, such as my laptop and the particles that compose it, that we describe as being propertied and related in various ways when we describe the material world around us. In this paper I argue that, fundamentally speaking at least, there are no such things as material individuals. I then propose and defend an individual-less view of the material world I call (...) “generalism”. (shrink)
In this paper I attempt two things. First, I argue that one can coherently imagine different communities using languages structurally similar to English, but in which the meanings of the quantifiers vary, so that the answers to ontological questions, such as ‘Under what circumstances do some things compose something?’, are different. Second, I argue that nevertheless, one can make sense of the idea that of the various possible assignments of meanings to the quantifiers, one is especially fundamental, so that there (...) is still room for genuine debate as regards the answers to ontological questions construed in the fundamental way. My attempt to explain what is distinctive about the fundamental senses of the quantifiers involves a generalisation of the idea that claims of existence are never analytic.<br>. (shrink)
Region R Question: How many objects — entities, things — are contained in R? Ignore the empty space. Our question might better be put, 'How many material objects does R contain?' Let's stipulate that A, B and C are metaphysical atoms: absolutely simple entities with no parts whatsoever besides themselves. So you don't have to worry about counting a particle's top half and bottom half as different objects. Perhaps they are 'point-particles', with no length, width or breadth. Perhaps they are (...) extended in space without possessing spatial parts (if that is possible). Never mind. We stipulate that A, B and C are perfectly simple. We also stipulate that they are connected as follows. A and B are stuck together in such a way that when a force is applied to one of them, they move together 'as a unit'. Moreover, the two of them together exhibit behavior that neither would exhibit on its own — Perhaps they emit a certain sound, or glow in the dark — whereas C is.. (shrink)
We argue that genuine modal realism can be extended, rather than modified, so as to allow for the possibility of nothing concrete, a possibility we term ‘metaphysical nihilism’. The issue should be important to the genuine modal realist because, not only is metaphysical nihilism itself intuitively plausible, but also it is supported by an argument with pre-theoretically credible premises, namely, the subtraction argument. Given the soundness of the subtraction argument, we show that there are two ways that the genuine modal (...) realist can accommodate metaphysical nihilism: (i) by allowing for worlds containing only spatiotemporal points and (ii) by allowing for a world containing nothing but the null individual. Oon methodological grounds, we argue that the genuine modal realist should reject the former way but embrace the latter way. (shrink)
Could an object have only mass and no other property? In giving an affirmative answer to this question, Jonathan Schaffer (2003, pp. 136-8) proposes what he calls ‘the subtraction argument’ for ‘the possibility of free mass’. In what follows, we aim to assess the cogency of this argument in comparison with an argument of the same general form which has also been termed a subtraction argument, namely, Thomas Baldwin’s (1996) subtraction argument for metaphysical nihilism, which is the claim that there (...) might have been no concrete objects. The comparison will be instructive because Baldwin’s argument has been the subject of considerable recent debate (of particular relevance for current purposes are Paseau 2002, Authors 2005, and Paseau 2006), and the lesson of this debate seems to be that subtraction arguments, such as Baldwin’s and Schaffer’s, are faced with a dilemma: either they are invalid or they fail to be suasive. We outline how Baldwin’s argument can be reformulated so as to avoid both horns of this dilemma, and we then argue that Schaffer’s argument cannot so avoid the dilemma. (shrink)
Nothingness addresses one of the most puzzling problems of physics and philosophy: Does empty space have an existence independent of the matter within it? Is "empty space" really empty, or is it an ocean seething with the creation and destruction of virtual matter? With crystal-clear prose and more than 100 cleverly rendered illustrations, physicist Henning Genz takes the reader from the metaphysical speculations of the ancient Greek philosophers, through the theories of Newton and the early experiments of his contemporaries, right (...) up to the current theories of quantum physics and cosmology to give us the story of one of the most fundamental and puzzling areas of modern physics and philosophy. (shrink)
Endurantism, the view that material objects are wholly present at each moment of their careers, is under threat from supersubstantivalism, the view that material objects are identical to spacetime regions. I discuss three compromise positions. They are alike in that they all take material objects to be composed of spacetime points or regions without being identical to any such point or region. They differ in whether they permit multilocation and in whether they generate cases of mereologically coincident entities.
Is there a vacuum in nature? This is a question which preoccupied natural philosophers for millennia. Great thinkers including Democritus and Newton maintained the existence of a vacuum, while Aristotle, Descartes and Leibniz argued strongly that there was not, and perhaps could not be, any such thing. A casual glance at the literature of contemporary physics may leave the impression that scientific progress has produced a definitive positive answer, so that the philosophers' debates are now of only historical interest. Not (...) only is the attainment of high vacua a multimillion dollar industry, but almost every text and research paper in theoretical high energy or condensed matter physics or cosmology includes multiple references to the vacuum and its often surprising properties. And yet we have it on the authority of no less a scientist than Einstein himself that his general theory of relativity vindicates Descartes' conclusion that there could be no vacuum since the idea of space without matter is unintelligible! Does this mean that there is after all no scientific consensus on this issue, and that the ancient philosophical debate should simply be resumed with renewed vigor? I shall argue that it does not. The progress of physics has given rise to such a proliferation of different (though related) uses of the word 'vacuum' as to irretrievably alter the terms of that debate. Rather than asking whether there is a vacuum in nature, one should ask how well what counts as the vacuum in some physical theory represents reality. This in turn splits up into a semantic question (What aspect of which model counts as the vacuum in this theory?) and an empirical question (How strong is the evidence that nature is faithfully represented by this aspect of the model?) I shall focus mainly on the prior, semantic question here. (shrink)
Atomism denies that complexes exist. Common-sense metaphysics may posit masses, composite individuals and sets, but atomism says there are only simples. In a singularist logic, it is difficult to make a plausible case for atomism. But we should accept plural logic, and then atomism can paraphrase away apparent reference to complexes. The paraphrases require unfamiliar plural universals, but these are of independent interest; for example, we can identify numbers and sets with plural universals. The atomist paraphrases would fail if plurals (...) presuppose complexes: but an Appendix shows that reference to complexes is not required in the semantics of plurals. (shrink)
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 (...) reasons for accepting nihilism, there appears to be no reason at all to accept deep nihilism. In particular, deep nihilism draws no support either from the usual arguments for nihilism or from considerations of parsimony. (shrink)
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.
This paper concerns a fundamental dispute in ontology between the “Foundational Ontologist”, who believes that there is only one correct way of characterizing what there is, and the ontological “Skeptic”, who believes that there are viable alternative characterizations of what there is. I examine in detail an intriguing recent proposal in Dorr (2005), which promises to yield (i) a way of interpreting the Skeptic by means of a counterfactual semantics; and (ii) a way of converting the Skeptic to a position (...) within Foundational Ontology, viz., that of Nihilism (according to which nothing composes anything and the world consists of mereological simples); this alleged conversion crucially turns on a novel notion of “metaphysical analyticity”. I argue that both components of Dorr’s proposal are problematic in central ways: as a result, the Foundational Ontologist gains an indirect argument against the coherence of the Skeptic’s position; and the non-Nihilist Foundational Ontologist may feel confirmed in his doubts towards the Nihilist outlook. (shrink)
Ted Sider argues that nihilism about objects is incompatible with the metaphysical possibility of gunk and takes this point to show that nihilism is flawed. I shall describe one kind of nihilism able to answer this objection. I believe that most of the things we usually encounter do not exist. That is, I take talk of macroscopic objects and macroscopic properties to refer to sets of fundamental properties, which are invoked as a matter of linguistic convention. This view is a (...) kind of nihilism: it rules out the existence of objects; that is, from an ontological point of view, there are no objects. But unlike the moderate nihilism of Mark Heller, Peter van Inwagen and Trenton Merricks that claims that most objects do not exist, I endorse a radical nihilism according to which there are no objects in the world, but only properties instantiated in spacetime. As I will show, radical nihilism is perfectly compatible with the metaphysical possibility of gunk. It is also compatible with the epistemic possibility that we actually live in a gunk world. The objection raised by Ted Sider only applies to moderate nihilism that admits some objects in its ontology. (shrink)
in Robin Le Poidevin (ed.) Being: Developments in Contemporary Metaphysics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Peter van Inwagen claims that there are no tables or chairs. He also claims that sentences such as ‘There are chairs here’, which seem to imply their existence, are often true. This combination of views opens van Inwagen to a charge of self-contradiction. I explain the charge, and van Inwagen’s response to it, which involves the claim that sentences like ‘There are tables’ shift their truth-conditions between (...) different contexts of utterance. I present an alternative response which involves the negation of that claim, and argue that it is preferable to van Inwagen’s. (shrink)
When do several objects compose a further object? The last twenty years have seen a great deal of discussion of this question. According to the most popular view on the market, there is a physical object composed of your brain and Jeremy Bentham’s body. According to the second-most popular view on the market, there are no such objects as human brains or human bodies, and there are also no atoms, rocks, tables, or stars. And according to the third-ranked view, there (...) are human bodies, but still no brains, atoms, rocks, tables, or stars. Although it’s pleasant to have so many crazy-sounding views around, I think it would also be nice to have a commonsense option available. The aim of this paper is to offer such an option. The approach I offer begins by considering a mereological question other than the standard one that has been the focus of most discussions in the literature. I try to show that the road to mereological sanity begins with giving the most straightforward and commonsensical answer to this other question, and then extending that answer to further questions about the mereology of physical objects. On the approach I am recommending, it turns out that all of the mereological properties and relations of physical objects are determined by their spatial properties and relations. (shrink)
According to standard, pre-philosophical intuitions, there are many composite objects in the physical universe. There is, for example, my bicycle, which is composed of various parts - wheels, handlebars, molecules, atoms, etc. Recently, a growing body of philosophical literature has concerned itself with questions about the nature of composition.1 The main question that has been raised about composition is, roughly, this: Under what circumstances do some things compose, or add up to, or form, a single object? It turns out that (...) it is surprisingly difficult to give a satisfactory answer to this question that accords with standard, pre-philosophical intuitions about the universe's composite objects. In fact, the three rival views in response to this question that have received the most support in the literature are (i) that there are no objects composed of two or more parts (which means that there are no stars, chairs, humans, or bicycles);2 (ii) that the only objects composed of two or more parts are living organisms (which still means no stars. (shrink)
I am attracted to ontological pluralism, the doctrine that some things exist in a different way than other things.1 For the ontological pluralist, there is more to learn about an object’s existential status than merely whether it is or is not: there is still the question of how that entity exists. By contrast, according to the ontological monist, either something is or it isn’t, and that’s all there is say about a thing’s existential status. We appear to be to be (...) ontological committed to what I will call almost nothings. Examples of almost nothings include holes, cracks, and shadows; almost nothings thrive in the absence of ‘positive’ entities such as donuts, walls, and sunlight. Let’s focus on holes, since the literature on them is voluminous.2 We quantify over holes, and even count them: we say, for example, that there are some holes in the cheese, seven to be precise. We ascribe features to them and talk as though they stand in relations: that hole is three feet wide, much wider than that tire over there. Holes apparently persist through time, as evidenced by the fact that my sweater has the same hole in it as the last time you saw me wear it. We even talk as though holes are causally efficacious: my ankle was badly sprained because I stepped in that hole in the sidewalk.3 It seems then that we believe in holes. If our beliefs are true, holes must enjoy some kind of reality. This puts the ontological monist in an uncomfortable position. According to her, everything that there is enjoys the same kind of reality, which is the kind of reality enjoyed by full-fledged concrete entities such as ourselves. She is committed to the unpleasant claim that holes are just as real as concretia, a claim that is apt to be met with incredulous stares by those not acquainted with contemporary metaphysics. Roy Sorensen (2008, p. 19) notes the tension almost nothings generate for ontological monists: ‘… it feels paradoxical to say that absences exist—but no better to say that absences do not exist’.. (shrink)
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 (...) puzzles of the ship of Theseus, the statue and the lump, the cat and its tail complement', amoebic fission, and others. These problems are especially pressing on the assumption that we ourselves are material objects. (shrink)
In this paper I argue that Modal Realism, the thesis that there exist non-actual possible individuals and worlds, can be made compatible with Metaphysical Nihilism, the thesis that it is possible that nothing concrete exists. Modal Realism as developed by Lewis rules out the possibility of a world where nothing concrete exists and so conflicts with Metaphysical Nihilism. In the paper I argue that Modal Realism can be modified so as to be compatible with Metaphysical Nihilism. Such a modification makes (...) Modal Realism neither incur further theoretical costs nor lose its theoretical benefits. Thus such a modification constitutes an improvement of Modal Realism. (shrink)
I believe in metaphysical nihilism, the thesis that there could have been no concrete objects, because I believe in a version of the subtraction argument, the subtraction argument*, that proves it. But both Jonathan Lowe (2002) and Alexander Paseau (2002) express doubts about the subtraction argument*. Paseau thinks the argument is invalid, and Lowe argues that invoking concrete* objects is unnecessary. Furthermore Lowe attempts to rebut my objections (Rodriguez-Pereyra 2000) to his anti-nihilist argument (Lowe 1998). In this paper I defend (...) the subtraction argument* from Paseau's and Lowe's criticisms as well as show that the premises of Lowe's anti-nihilist argument are still lacking support. (shrink)
By nihilism I shall understand the thesis that it is metaphysically possible that there are no concrete objects. I think there is a version of an argu- ment, the subtraction argument, which proves nihilism nicely (see Baldwin 1996 and Rodriguez-Pereyra 1997). But E. J. Lowe, who is no nihilist, has a very interesting argument purporting to show that concrete objects exist necessarily (Lowe 1996, 1998). In this paper I shall defend nihilism from Lowe’s argument.
The cosmological constant problem arises at the intersection between general relativity and quantum field theory, and is regarded as a fundamental problem in modern physics. In this paper, we describe the historical and conceptual origin of the cosmological constant problem which is intimately connected to the vacuum concept in quantum field theory. We critically discuss how the problem rests on the notion of physically real vacuum energy, and which relations between general relativity and quantum field theory are assumed in order (...) to make the problem well-defined. (shrink)
The vacuum is fast emerging as the central structure of modern physics. This collection brings together philosophically-minded specialists who engage these issues in the context of classical gravity, quantum electrodynamics, and the grand unification program. The vacuum emerges as the synthesis of concepts of space, time, and matter; in the context of relativity and the quantum this new synthesis represents a structure of the most intricate and novel complexity. This book is a work in modern metaphysics, in which the concepts (...) of substance and space interweave in the most intangible of forms, the background and context of our physical experience: vacuum, void, or nothingness. (shrink)
Mereological nihilism is the view that all concrete objects are simple. Existence monism is the view that the only concrete object is one big simple: the world. I will argue that nihilism culminates in monism. The nihilist demands the simplest sufficient ontology, and the monist delivers it.
I argue (1) that metaphysical views of material objects should be understood as 'packages', rather than individual claims, where the other parts of the package include how the theory addresses 'recalcitant data' (such as - the denier of artifacts has to account, somehow, for the seeming truth of 'there are three pencils on my table'), and (2) that when the packages meet certain general desiderata - which all of the currently competing views *can* meet - there is nothing in the (...) world that could make one of the theories true as opposed to any of the others. (shrink)
I will defend what Peter van Inwagen (1990) calls nihilism: the view that nothing is a (proper) part of anything. This formulation needs refining, but it will do for now.1 Nihilism may seem absurd. The world of common sense and science seems, after all, to consist primarily of entities with parts: persons, animals, plants, planets, stars, galaxies, molecules, viruses, rocks, mountains, rivers, tables, chairs, telephones, skyscrapers, cities… But the denial of such entities is not absurd when it is coupled with (...) the acceptance of their simple subatomic particles.2 Consider three subatomic particles, a, b , and c, arranged in a triangular pattern. According to me, there exist only three things here: a, b , and c. According to others, there exists a fourth thing: a triangle, T , which contains a, b , and c as parts. (Forgive my calling T a triangle even though it consists solely of the vertices.) Picture our disagreement thus. (shrink)
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 (...) ‘special composition question’; his answer is:1 (1) For any material objects X , the X s compose something iff the activity of the X s constitutes a life, or there is only one of the Xs. Additionally, he accepts a simpler thesis that follows from (1):2 (2) Every material object is either a mereological atom or a living thing, where a mereological atom is an object lacking proper parts. (2) may seem radical. If it is true then there are no tables, chairs, planets, protons, galaxies, gas stations, etc. But van Inwagen does not hold it lightly— there are serious difficulties with alternate views. Moreover, he claims that.. (shrink)
The special composition question asks, roughly, under what conditions composition occurs. The common sense view is that composition only occurs among some things and that all and only ‘ordinary objects’ exist. Peter van Inwagen has marshaled a devastating argument against this view. The common sense view appears to commit one to giving what van Inwagen calls a ‘series-style answer’ to the special composition question, but van Inwagen argues that series-style answers are impossible because they are inconsistent with the transitivity of (...) parthood. In what follows I answer this objection in addition to other, less troubling objections raised by van Inwagen. (shrink)
Maybe there is something rather than nothing because the nothingness force acted on itself, and when the nothing nothings itself it produces something. Robert Nozick suggested this as a candidate explanation of the fact that there is something rather than nothing. If he is right that it is a candidate explanation, we should pay attention: there are not many candidates out there. But his "explanation" looks, instead, like a paradigm case of philosophical nonsense. In this paper I describe a "metaphysical (...) dynamics" that makes sense out of Nozick's apparent nonsense. (shrink)