Philosophical Quarterly 56 (222):1–15 (2006)
|Abstract||Historically, opponents of realism have argued that the world’s objects are constructed by our cognitive activities—or, less colorfully, that they exist and are as they are only relative to our ways of thinking and speaking. To this realists have stoutly replied that even if we had thought or spoken in ways different from our actual ones, the world would still have been populated by the same objects as it actually is, or at least by most of them. (Our thinking differently could cause some differences in which objects exist, or in what some existing objects are like, but that is another matter.) Yet this reply has repeatedly failed to amount to a decisive objection. For opponents of realism have repeatedly argued, in one way or another, that we construct the world’s objects in just such a way as to render such a counterfactual true. We construct them so as to appear not to be our constructs. Just such a debate is currently underway concerning the properties that are essential to the world’s objects. It is widely agreed, with varying caveats1, that there are such properties—that by virtue of belonging to one or another natural kind, the world’s objects possess certain properties essentially, and have individual careers that last exactly as long as those essential properties are jointly present. But what underlies the status as essential of the properties that are thus essential to objects in the world? The realist answer treats essential status as mind-independent, and assigns it to the way the world works (Elder..|
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