Ontic terms and metaontology, or: on what there actually is

Philosophical Studies (2):1-16 (2013)
Abstract
Terms such as ‘exist’, ‘actual’, etc., (hereafter, “ontic terms”) are recognized as having uses that are not ontologically committing, in addition to the usual commissive uses. (Consider, e.g., the Platonic and the neutral readings of ‘There is an even prime’.) In this paper, I identify five different noncommissive uses for ontic terms, and (by a kind of via negativa) attempt to define the commissive use, focusing on ‘actual’ as my example. The problem, however, is that the resulting definiens for the commissive ‘actual’ is itself equivocal between a commissive and a noncommissive reading. I thus consider other proposals for defining the commissive use, including two proposals from David Lewis. However, each proposal is found to be equivocal in the same way—and eventually I argue that it is impossible to define an ontic term unequivocally. Even so, this is not meant to overshadow that we can understand an ontic term as univocally commissive, in certain conversational contexts. I close by illustrating the import of these observations for the Hirsch–Sider debate in metaontology
Keywords Quine on ontology  Existence  Metaontology  Theodore Sider  Eli Hirsch  David Lewis  Jody Azzouni  Regimentation  Being qua being
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Jonathan Bennett (1966). Real. Mind 75 (300):501-515.

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