Hirsch's Attack on Ontologese

Noûs (forthcoming)
According to Eli Hirsch, non-commonsensical ontological claims just couldn’t be true. Oversimplifying: there is strong metasemantic pressure on correct interpretations of natural language to be charitable—to count a sentence as true if ordinary speakers regard it as being obviously true. Ordinary speakers regard sentences like “There is at least one building in New York City” and “Nothing is composed of Socrates’s nose and the Eiffel tower” as being obviously true; and there is no countervailing metasemantic pressure; so correct interpretations count them as true; so they are true. So non-commonsensical ontological views that say otherwise can be seen to be wrong—simply by attending to metasemantics. One source of countervailing metasemantic pressure might be Lewisian reference magnetism. David Lewis (1983, 1984) has argued on independent grounds that metasemantics cannot be based solely on charity, and that another source of metasemantic pressure is “eligibility”: good interpretations must, as much as possible, assign meanings that “carve at the joints”. So one reply to Hirsch, which I offered in my paper “Ontological Realism” and elsewhere, is that i) there are joint-carving meanings that are suitable to be meant by quantifiers; ii) Lewisian reference magnetism is true; and iii) charity is trumped by the eligibility of an interpretation that assigns the joint-carving meanings to the quantifiers.1 I also proposed a backup reply (to which I’m increasingly partial). Suppose that i) is true but either ii) or iii) is false. Suppose, that is, that although there are indeed joint-carving quantifier meanings, either Lewis is wrong that eligibility counts in metasemantics or else eligibility does count but not enough to outweigh charity in this case. Then Hirsch would be right about ontological claims in natural language; but ontology could instead be conducted in “Ontologese”, a language in which quantifiers are stipulated to stand for the joint-carving meanings..
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