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Summary

Perhaps the answers to ontological questions turn on facts about our conventions—how we have collectively decide to think and talk about reality. Some even think of ontological questions as being answerable only relative to a given conceptual, linguistic, or theoretical framework. (Both views come in limited forms  as well, applied to specific ontological questions-- like whether there are fictional entities, possible worlds, or even macro-sized objects.) This category covers a range of metaontological views in the vicinity.

Key works Carnap 1950 Goodman 1978 Putnam 1981 Putnam 1987 Sidelle 1992 Sosa 1999 Hirsch 2005 Chalmers 2009 Thomasson 2007
Introductions Classic works in themselves, there is enough introductory material in the following papers that they may serve as useful beginning points: Sidelle 1992 Sosa 1999 Hirsch 2005 Chalmers 2009 Thomasson 2007. Views of this sort are also surveyed in the introduction to Chalmers et al 2009.
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  1. Robert F. Allen (1998). Absolutism Vs. Relativism in Contemporary Ontology. Journal of Philosophical Research 23:343-352.
    In this paper, I examine Emest Sosa’s defense of Conceptual Relativism: the view that what exists is a function of human thought. My examination reveals that his defense entails an ontology that is indistinguishable from that of the altemative he labels less “sensible,” viz., Absolutism: the view that reality exists independently of our thinking. I conclude by defending Absolutism against Sosa’s objections.
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  2. Jody Azzouni (2006). Deflating Existential Consequence: A Case for Nominalism. OUP USA.
    If we must take mathematical statements to be true, must we also believe in the existence of abstract eternal invisible mathematical objects accessible only by the power of pure thought? Jody Azzouni says no, and he claims that the way to escape such commitments is to accept (as an essential part of scientific doctrine) true statements which are about objects that don't exist in any sense at all. Azzouni illustrates what the metaphysical landscape looks like once we avoid a militant (...)
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  3. Karen Bennett (2004). Spatio-Temporal Coincidence and the Grounding Problem. Philosophical Studies 118 (3):339-371.
    A lot of people believe that distinct objectscan occupy precisely the same place for theentire time during which they exist. Suchpeople have to provide an answer to the`grounding problem' – they have to explain howsuch things, alike in so many ways, nonethelessmanage to fall under different sortals, or havedifferent modal properties. I argue in detailthat they cannot say that there is anything invirtue of which spatio-temporally coincidentthings have those properties. However, I alsoargue that this may not be as bad as (...)
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  4. Jiri Benovsky (2010). Relational and Substantival Ontologies, and the Nature and the Role of Primitives in Ontological Theories. Erkenntnis 73 (1):101 - 121.
    Several metaphysical debates have typically been modeled as oppositions between a relationist approach and a substantivalist approach. Such debates include the Bundle Theory and the Substratum Theory about ordinary material objects, the Bundle (Humean) Theory and the Substance (Cartesian) Theory of the Self, and Relationism and Substantivalism about time. In all three debates, the substantivalist side typically insists that in order to provide a good treatment of the subject-matter of the theory (time, Self, material objects), it is necessary to postulate (...)
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  5. Lajos L. Brons (2012). Bare and Indexical Existence: Integrating Logic and Sensibility in Ontology. In S. Watanabe (ed.), Logic and Sensibility. Keio University Press.
  6. Lajos L. Brons (2012). Dharmakīrti, Davidson, and Knowing Reality. Comparative Philosophy 3 (1):30-57.
    If we distinguish phenomenal effects from their noumenal causes, the former being our conceptual(ized) experiences, the latter their grounds or causes in reality ‘as it is’ independent of our experience, then two contradictory positions with regards to the relationship between these two can be distinguished: either phenomena are identical with their noumenal causes, or they are not. Davidson is among the most influential modern defenders of the former position, metaphysical non-dualism. Dharmakīrti’s strict distinction between ultimate and conventional reality, on the (...)
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  7. Tim Button (2013). The Limits of Realism. Oxford University Press.
    Tim Button explores the relationship between words and world; between semantics and scepticism. A certain kind of philosopher—the external realist—worries that appearances might be radically deceptive; we might all, for example, be brains in vats, stimulated by an infernal machine. But anyone who entertains the possibility of radical deception must also entertain a further worry: that all of our thoughts are totally contentless. That worry is just incoherent. We cannot, then, be external realists, who worry about the possibility of radical (...)
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  8. D. Chalmers, D. Manley & R. Wasserman (eds.) (2009). Metametaphysics: New Essays on the Foundations of Ontology. Oxford University Press.
  9. John Divers & Alexander Miller (1995). Minimalism and the Unbearable Lightness of Being. Philosophical Papers 24 (2):127-139.
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  10. Cian Dorr (2014). Review of The Construction of Logical Space by Agustín Rayo. [REVIEW] Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 201406.
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  11. Iris Einheuser (2011). Toward a Conceptualist Solution of the Grounding Problem. Noûs 45 (2):300-314.
    This paper defends a conceptualist answer to the question how objects come by their modal properties. It isolates the controversial metaphysical assumptions that are needed to get ontological conceptualism off the ground, outlines the conceptualist answer to the question and shows that conceptualism is not in as bad a shape as some critics have maintained.
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  12. Iris Einheuser (2006). Counterconventional Conditionals. Philosophical Studies 127 (3):459 - 482.
    Some philosophical positions maintain that some aspect of reality depends on human practices, cognitive attitudes or sentiments. This paper presents a framework for understanding such positions in a way that renders them immune to a number of natural but allegedly devastating objections.
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  13. Matti Eklund (2013). Carnap's Metaontology. Noûs 47 (2):229-249.
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  14. Matti Eklund (2008). Putnam on Ontology. Poznan Studies in the Philosophy of the Sciences and the Humanities 95 (1):203-222.
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  15. Matti Eklund (2008). The Picture of Reality as an Amorphous Lump. In Theodore Sider, John Hawthorne & Dean W. Zimmerman (eds.), Contemporary Debates in Metaphysics. Blackwell Pub.. 382--96.
    (1) Abstract objects. The nominalist (as the label is used today) denies that there exist abstract objects. The platonist holds that there are abstract objects. One example is numbers. The nominalist denies that there are numbers; the platonist typically affirms it.
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  16. Matti Eklund (2006). Neo-Fregean Ontology. Philosophical Perspectives 20 (1):95–121.
    Neo-Fregeanism in the philosophy of mathematics consists of two main parts: the logicist thesis, that mathematics (or at least branches thereof, like arithmetic) all but reduce to logic, and the platonist thesis, that there are abstract, mathematical objects. I will here focus on the ontological thesis, platonism. Neo-Fregeanism has been widely discussed in recent years. Mostly the discussion has focused on issues specific to mathematics. I will here single out for special attention the view on ontology which underlies the neo-Fregeans’ (...)
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  17. Crawford L. Elder (2011). Familiar Objects and Their Shadows. Cambridge University Press.
    Most contemporary metaphysicians are sceptical about the reality of familiar objects such as dogs and trees, people and desks, cells and stars. They prefer an ontology of the spatially tiny or temporally tiny. Tiny microparticles 'dog-wise arranged' explain the appearance, they say, that there are dogs; microparticles obeying microphysics collectively cause anything that a baseball appears to cause; temporal stages collectively sustain the illusion of enduring objects that persist across changes. Crawford L. Elder argues that all such attempts to 'explain (...)
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  18. Nelson Goodman (1978). Ways of Worldmaking. Harvester Press.
    Required reading at more than 100 colleges and universities throughout North America.
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  19. Bob Hale & Crispin Wright (2009). The Metaontology of Abstraction. In David John Chalmers, David Manley & Ryan Wasserman (eds.), Metametaphysics: New Essays on the Foundations of Ontology. Oxford University Press.
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  20. Tobias Hansson Wahlberg (2011). Can Persistence Be a Matter of Convention? Axiomathes 21 (4):507-529.
    This paper asks whether persistence can be a matter of convention. It argues that in a rather unexciting de dicto sense persistence is indeed a matter of convention, but it rejects the notion that persistence can be a matter of convention in a more substantial de re sense. However, scenarios can be imagined that appear to involve conventional persistence of the latter kind. Since there are strong reasons for thinking that such conventionality is impossible, it is desirable that our metaphysical-cum-semantic (...)
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  21. John Hawthorne (2009). Superficialism in Ontology. In David John Chalmers, David Manley & Ryan Wasserman (eds.), Metametaphysics: New Essays on the Foundations of Ontology. Oxford University Press. 213--30.
    draft, forthcoming Chalmers, Manley and Wasserman eds., Metametaphysics.
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  22. Mark Heller (2008). The Donkey Problem. Philosophical Studies 140 (1):83 - 101.
    The Donkey Problem (as I am calling it) concerns the relationship between more and less fundamental ontologies. I will claim that the moral to draw from the Donkey Problem is that the less fundamental objects are merely conventional. This conventionalism has consequences for the 3D/4D debate. Four-dimensionalism is motivated by a desire to avoid coinciding objects, but once we accept that the non-fundamental ontology is conventional there is no longer any reason to reject coincidence. I therefore encourage 4Dists to become (...)
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  23. Eli Hirsch (2009). Ontology and Alternative Languages. In David John Chalmers, David Manley & Ryan Wasserman (eds.), Metametaphysics: New Essays on the Foundations of Ontology. Oxford University Press. 231--58.
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  24. D. Liebesman (2013). Quantifier Variance and Realism: Essays in Metaontology. [REVIEW] Philosophical Review 122 (2):310-314.
  25. Øystein Linnebo (2012). Metaontological Minimalism. Philosophy Compass 7 (2):139-151.
    Can there be objects that are ‘thin’ in the sense that very little is required for their existence? A number of philosophers have thought so. For instance, many Fregeans believe it suffices for the existence of directions that there be lines standing in the relation of parallelism; other philosophers believe it suffices for a mathematical theory to have a model that the theory be coherent. This article explains the appeal of thin objects, discusses the three most important strategies for articulating (...)
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  26. Michael P. Lynch (1999). Relativity of Fact and Content. Southern Journal of Philosophy 37 (4):579-595.
    A common strategy amongst realists grants relativism at the level of language or thought but denies it at the level of fact. Their point is that even if our concept of an object is relative to a conceptual scheme, it doesn't follow that objects themselves are relative to conceptual schemes. This is a sensible point. But in this paper I present a simple argument for the conclusion that it is false. According to what I call the T-argument, relativism about content (...)
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  27. Diego E. Machuca (forthcoming). Pyrrhonian Relativism. Elenchos: Rivista di Studi Sul Pensiero Antico.
    This paper argues that Sextus Empiricus’s Pyrrhonism is a form of relativism markedly different from the positions typically referred to by this term. The scholars who have explored the relativistic elements found in Sextus’s texts have claimed that his outlook is not actually a form of relativism, or that those elements are inconsistent with his account of Pyrrhonism, or that he is confusing skepticism with relativism. The reason for these views is twofold: first, when employing the term ‘relativism’ one hardly (...)
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  28. Matthew MacKenzie (2008). Ontological Deflationism in Madhyamaka. Contemporary Buddhism 9 (2):197-207.
  29. Gerald Marsh (2010). Is the Hirsch-Sider Dispute Merely Verbal? Australasian Journal of Philosophy 88 (3):459-469.
    There is currently debate between deflationists and anti-deflationists about the ontology of persisting objects. Some deflationists think that disputes between, for example, four-dimensionalists (e.g. Ted Sider and David Lewis) and quasi-nihilists (e.g. Peter Van Inwagen and Trenton Merricks) are merely verbal disputes. Anti-deflationists deny this. Eli Hirsch is a deflationist who maintains that many ontological disputes are merely verbal. Theodore Sider maintains that the disputes are not merely verbal. Hirsch and Sider are thus engaged in a metaontological dispute. In this (...)
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  30. Paul O'Grady (2002). Relativism. Acumen.
    This book offers a systematic discussion of a variety of different relativist positions that are often grouped together under a single label.
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  31. Hilary Putnam (1977). Realism and Reason. Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association 50.
  32. W. V. Quine (1968). Ontological Relativity. Journal of Philosophy 65 (7):185-212.
  33. Steven Rappaport (1993). Must a Metaphysical Relativist Be a Truth Relativist? Philosophia 22 (1-2):75-85.
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  34. François Recanati, Isidora Stojanovic & Neftali Villanueva (eds.) (2010). Context-Dependence, Perspective and Relativity. Mouton de Gruyter.
  35. Howard Sankey (2000). Kuhn's Ontological Relativism. Science and Education 9 (1-2):59--75.
  36. Markus Seidel & Arne Weber (2010). Trivial, Platitudinous, Boring? Searle on Conceptual Relativism. In Dirk Franken, Attila Karakus & Jan Michel (eds.), John R. Searle. Thinking About the Real World. Ontos.
    In this paper we explore Searle’s defense of conceptual relativism. It emerges that Searle formulates the thesis in many different ways and that contrary to his contention not all are trivial and platitudinous. Specifically he does not distinguish clearly between an ontological and a linguistic version of conceptual relativism as well as between weak difference and stronger incommensurability of conceptual schemes. This has consequences for Searle’s defense of external realism.
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  37. Theodore Sider (2009). Ontological Realism. In David John Chalmers, David Manley & Ryan Wasserman (eds.), Metametaphysics: New Essays on the Foundations of Ontology. Oxford University Press.
    In , Peter van Inwagen asked a good question. (Asking the right question is often the hardest part.) He asked: what do you have to do to some objects to get them to compose something---to bring into existence some further thing made up of those objects? Glue them together or what?1 Some said that you don’t have to do anything.2 No matter what you do to the objects, they’ll always compose something further, no matter how they are arranged. Thus we (...)
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  38. Ernest Sosa (1999). Existential Relativity. Midwest Studies in Philosophy 23 (1):132–143.
  39. Ernest Sosa (1993). Putnam's Pragmatic Realism. Journal of Philosophy 60 (12):605-626.
  40. Tuomas E. Tahko (2012). Boundaries in Reality. Ratio 25 (4):405-424.
    This paper defends the idea that there must be some joints in reality, some correct way to classify or categorize it. This may seem obvious, but we will see that there are at least three conventionalist arguments against this idea, as well as philosophers who have found them convincing. The thrust of these arguments is that the manner in which we structure, divide or carve up the world is not grounded in any natural, genuine boundaries in the world. Ultimately they (...)
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  41. Christina Van Dyke & Sam Baron (forthcoming). Animal Interrupted, or Why Accepting Pascal’s Wager Might Be the Last Thing You Ever Do. Southern Journal of Philosophy.
    According to conventionalist accounts of personal identity, persons are constituted in part by practices and attitudes of certain sorts of care. In this paper, we concentrate on the most well-developed and defended version of conventionalism currently on offer (namely, that proposed by David Braddon-Mitchell, Caroline West, and Kristie Miller) and discuss how the conventionalist appears forced either 1) to accept arbitrariness concerning from which perspective to judge one’s survival or 2) to maintain egalitarianism at the cost of making ‘transfiguring’ decisions (...)
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  42. Achille C. Varzi (2014). Realism in the Desert. In Massimo Dell’Utri, Fabio Bacchini & Stefano Caputo (eds.), Realism and Ontology without Myths. Cambridge Scholars Publishing. 16–31.
    Quine’s desert is generally contrasted with Meinong’s jungle, as a sober ontological alternative to the exuberant luxuriance that comes with the latter. Here I focus instead on the desert as a sober metaphysical alternative to the Aristotelian garden, with its tidily organized varieties of flora and fauna neatly governed by fundamental laws that reflect the essence of things and the way they can be, or the way they must be. In the desert there are no “natural joints”; all the boundaries (...)
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  43. Achille C. Varzi (2013). Fictionalism in Ontology. In Carola Barbero, Maurizio Ferraris & Alberto Voltolini (eds.), From Fictionalism to Realism. Cambridge Scholars Publishing. 133–151.
    Fictionalism in ontology is a mixed bag. Here I focus on three main variants—which I label after the names of Pascal, Berkeley, and Hume—and consider their relative strengths and weaknesses. The first variant is just a version of the epistemic Wager, applied across the board. The second variant builds instead on the fact that ordinary language is not ontologically transparent; we speak with the vulgar, but deep down we think with the learned. Finally, on the Humean variant it’s the structure (...)
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  44. Achille C. Varzi (2011). Boundaries, Conventions, and Realism. In Michael O'Rourke, Joseph K. Campbell & Matthew H. Slater (eds.), Carving Nature at Its Joints: Natural Kinds in Metaphysics and Science. Mit Press. 129–153.
    Are there any bona fide boundaries, i.e., boundaries that carve at the joints? Or is any boundary —hence any object—the result of a fiat articulation reflecting our cognitive biases and our so-cial practices and conventions? Does the choice between these two options amount to a choice between realism and wholesome relativism?
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  45. Achille C. Varzi (2010). Il mondo messo a fuoco. Storie di allucinazioni e miopie filosofiche. Laterza.
    At the beginning, all there is is world. It’s not all alike: here is mama, there is cold, over there—noise. Soon we begin to distinguish and to recognize: more mama, more cold, more noise! Yet initially these things appear to be all of a type. Each is, in Quine’s words, just a history of sporadic encounter, a mere portion of all there is. Only with time does this fluid totality in which we are immersed begin to take shape: sensations recur; (...)
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  46. Tobias Hansson Wahlberg (forthcoming). The Endurance/Perdurance Controversy is No Storm in a Teacup. Axiomathes:1-20.
    Several philosophers have maintained in recent years that the endurance/perdurance debate is merely verbal: these prima facie distinct theories of objects’ persistence are in fact metaphysically equivalent, they claim. The present paper challenges this view. Three proposed translation schemes (those set forth by Miller in Erkenntnis 62:91–117, 2005, McCall and Lowe in Noûs 40:570–578, 2006, and Hirsch in Metametaphysics—new essays on the foundations of ontology. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2009) are examined; all are shown to be faulty. In the process, (...)
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  47. Nick Zangwill (1992). Quietism. Midwest Studies in Philosophy 17 (1):160-176.
    Metaphysics-—the enquiry into the constitution of reality-seems like the very crown of philosophy. What could be more exciting, more important, and more substantive than the pursuit of such a discipline? The majority of philosophers have been content to assume that metaphysics is a viable enterprise; they have held various metaphysical views and engaged in metaphysical arguments. But there has always been a small but persistent maverick minority of philosophers who have cast aspersions on the whole undertaking. Metaphysics, they tell us, (...)
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