Ontology and objectivity

Dissertation, Stanford University (1999)
Ontology is the study of what there is, what kinds of things make up reality. Ontology seems to be a very difficult, rather speculative discipline. However, it is trivial to conclude that there are properties, propositions and numbers, starting from only necessarily true or analytic premises. This gives rise to a puzzle about how hard ontological questions are, and relates to a puzzle about how important they are. And it produces the ontologyobjectivity dilemma: either (certain) ontological questions can be trivially answered using only uncontroversial premises, or the uncertainties of ontology are really a threat to the truth of basically everything we say or believe. The main aim of this dissertation is to resolve these puzzles and to shed some light on the discipline of ontology. I defend a view inspired by Carnap’s internal-external distinction about what there is, but one according to which both internal and external questions are fully factual and meaningful. In particular, I argue that the trivial arguments are valid, but they do not answer any ontological questions. Furthermore, I propose an account of the function of our talk about properties, propositions and natural numbers. According to this account our talk about them has no ontological presuppositions for its literal and objective truth. This avoids the ontology-objectivity dilemma, and solves the puzzles about ontology. To do this I look at quantification and noun phrases in general, and at their relation to ontology. I argue that quantifiers are semantically underspecified in a certain respect, and play two different roles in communication. I discuss the relation between syntactic form and information structure, the function of certain non-referential, non-quantificational noun phrases, the uses of bare number determiners, and how arithmetic truths are learned and taught. The more metaphysical issues discussed include: inexpressible properties, logicism about arithmetic, nominalism, Carnap’s view about ontology, the problem of universals, the relationship between ontology and objectivity, different projects within ontology, non-existent....
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