About this topic
Summary Eliminative conceptions of material objects are those that eliminate a wide range of ordinary objects. Eliminativism is motivated by a variety of puzzles that arise for ordinary objects, involving vagueness, arbitrariness, overdetermination, persistence, and identity. Eliminativism comes in different forms. One is mereological nihilism, according to which there are no composite objects—which is not to deny that there are “atoms arranged baseballwise”, “atoms arranged humanwise”, and so forth. Other forms of eliminativism are more liberal about which composites there are, but deny that any of those composites belong to such familiar kinds as baseball, human, etc.. Still others make exceptions for a certain range of familiar kinds, more notably persons and other organisms. Some defend a related, but importantly different view, according to which there are quantifiers that are more fundamental than the ordinary English quantifiers, and that these quantifiers do no range over ordinary objects.
Key works For defenses of mereological nihilism, see Hossack 2000 and Horgan & Potrč 2000. For defenses of "composite-friendly" eliminativism, see Unger 1979 and Heller 1990. For defenses of eliminativism that make an exception for organisms, see van Inwagen 1990Hoffman & Rosenkrantz 1997, and Merricks 2001. For defenses of the view that ordinary objects are not in the domain of the most fundamental quantifiers, see Cameron 2010 and Dasgupta 2009.
Introductions Unger 1979; Unger 1980; Merricks 2001; van Inwagen 1990; Cameron 2010.
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  1. Review of Objects and Persons, by Trenton Merricks. [REVIEW]Lynne Rudder Baker - 2003 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 81 (4):597 – 598.
    Book Information Objects and Persons. Objects and Persons Trenton Merricks . Oxford: Clarendon Press , 2001 , pp. xii + 203 , £30 ( cloth ), £14.99 ( paper ) . By Trenton Merricks. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Pp. xii + 203. £30 (cloth:), £14.99 (paper:).
  2. Eliminativism and Gunk.Jiri Benovsky - 2016 - Teorema: International Journal of Philosophy (1):59-66.
    Eliminativism about macroscopic material objects claims that we do not need to include tables in our ontology, and that any job – practical or theoretical – they have to do can be done by 'atoms arranged tablewise'. This way of introducing eliminativism faces the worry that if there are no 'atoms', that is, if there are no simples and the world is 'gunky', there are no suitable entities to be 'arranged tablewise'. In this article, I discuss various strategies the eliminativist (...)
  3. 'Nothing Over and Above' or 'Nothing'? On Eliminativism, Reductionism, and Composition.Jiri Benovsky - 2015 - Polish Journal of Philosophy 9 (2).
    In this article, I am interested in an issue concerning eliminativism about ordinary objects that can be put as the claim that the eliminativist is guilty of postulating the existence of something (atoms arranged tablewise) but not of something that is identical to it (the table). But, as we will see, this turns out to be a problem for everybody except the eliminativist. Indeed, this issue highlights a more general problem about the relationship between an entity and the parts the (...)
  4. Underdetermination as a Path to Structural Realism.Katherine Brading & Alexander Skiles - 2012 - In Elaine Landry & Dean Rickles (eds.), Structural Realism: Structure, Object, and Causality. Springer.
  5. Mereological Nihilism and Personal Ontology.Andrew Brenner - forthcoming - Philosophical Quarterly:pqw084.
    Mereological nihilists hold that composition never occurs, so that nothing is ever a proper part of anything else. Substance dualists generally hold that we are each identical with an immaterial soul. In this paper, I argue that every popular objection to substance dualism has a parallel objection to composition. This thesis has some interesting implications. First, many of those who reject composition, but accept substance dualism, or who reject substance dualism and accept composition, have some explaining to do. Secondly, one (...)
  6. Science and the Special Composition Question.Andrew Brenner - forthcoming - Synthese:1-22.
    Mereological nihilism is the thesis that composition never occurs. Some philosophers have thought that science gives us compelling evidence against nihilism. In this article I respond to this concern. An initial challenge for nihilism stems from the fact that composition is such a ubiquitous feature of scientific theories. In response I motivate a restricted form of scientific anti-realism with respect to those components of scientific theories which make reference to composition. A second scientifically based worry for nihilism is that certain (...)
  7. Truth and Ontology – Trenton Merricks.Ross Cameron - 2008 - Philosophical Quarterly 58 (232):544–546.
  8. How to Have a Radically Minimal Ontology.Ross P. Cameron - 2010 - Philosophical Studies 151 (2):249 - 264.
    In this paper I further elucidate and defend a metaontological position that allows you to have a minimal ontology without embracing an error-theory of ordinary talk. On this view 'there are Fs' can be strictly and literally true without bringing an ontological commitment to Fs. Instead of a sentence S committing you to the things that must be amongst the values of the variables if it is true, I argue that S commits you to the things that must exist as (...)
  9. An Unstable Eliminativism.John W. Carroll & William R. Carter - 2005 - Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 86 (1):1–17.
    In his book Objects and Persons, Trenton Merricks has reoriented and fine-tuned an argument from the philosophy of mind to support a selective eliminativism about macroscopic objects.1 The argument turns on a rejection of systematic causal overdetermination and the conviction that microscopic things do the causal work that is attributed to a great many (though not all) macroscopic things. We will argue that Merricks’ argument fails to establish his selective eliminativism.
  10. One's a Crowd: Mereological Nihilism Without Ordinary‐Object Eliminativism.Gabriele Contessa - 2014 - Analytic Philosophy 55 (2):199-221.
    Mereological nihilism is the thesis that there are no composite objects—i.e. objects with proper material parts. One of the main advantages of mereological nihilism is that it allows its supporters to avoid a number of notorious philosophical puzzles. However, it seems to offer this advantage only at the expense of certain widespread and deeply entrenched beliefs. In particular, it is usually assumed that mereological nihilism entails eliminativism about ordinary objects—i.e. the counterintuitive thesis that there are no such things as tables, (...)
  11. Parts as Counterparts.A. J. Cotnoir - 2013 - Thought: A Journal of Philosophy 2 (3):228-241.
    Mereological nihilists are faced with a difficult challenge: explaining ordinary talk about material objects. Popular paraphrase strategies involve plurals, arrangements of particles, or fictions. In this paper, a new paraphrase strategy is put forward that has distinct advantages over its rivals: it is compatible with gunk and emergent properties of macro-objects. The only assumption is a commitment to a liberal view of the nature of simples; the nihilist must be willing to accept the possibility of heterogeneous extended simples. The author (...)
  12. Is Ontological Revisionism Uncharitable?Chris Daly & David Liggins - 2016 - Canadian Journal of Philosophy 46 (3):405-425.
    Some philosophers deny the existence of composite material objects. Other philosophers hold that whenever there are some things, they compose something. The purpose of this paper is to scrutinize an objection to these revisionary views: the objection that nihilism and universalism are both unacceptably uncharitable because each of them implies that a great deal of what we ordinarily believe is false. Our main business is to show how nihilism and universalism can be defended against the objection. A secondary point is (...)
  13. Merricks on the Existence of Human Organisms. [REVIEW]Cian Dorr - 2003 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 67 (3):711–718.
    BB Whenever a baseball causes an event, the baseball’s constituent atoms also cause that event, and the baseball is causally irrelevant to whether those atoms cause that event.
  14. Embodied Mind Sparsism.S. Clint Dowland - 2016 - Philosophical Studies 173 (7):1853-1872.
    If we are physical things with parts, then accounts of what we are and accounts of when composition occurs have important implications for one another. Defenders of restricted composition tend to endorse a sparse ontology in taking an eliminativist stance toward composite objects that are not organisms, while claiming that we are organisms. However, these arguments do not entail that we are organisms, for they rely on the premise that we are organisms. Thus, sparsist reasoning need not be paired with (...)
  15. Peter Van Inwagen on Material Beings.Matti Eklund - 2002 - Ratio 15 (3):245–256.
    Peter van Inwagen's book Material Beings is centered on the special composition question: the question of when some simples constitute a complex object. Van Inwagen's answer to this question is that simples only constitute a complex object when they constitute an organism. I argue that van Inwagen's reasoning in favor of this conclusion is unconvincing, and also that the significance of the special composition question itself is doubtful.
  16. On the Phenomenon of “Dog- Wise Arrangement”.Crawford L. Elder - 2007 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 74 (1):132-155.
    An influential line of thought in metaphysics holds that where common sense discerns a tree or a dog or a baseball there may be just many microparticles. Provided the microparticles are arranged in the right way -- are “treewise” or “dogwise” or “baseballwise” arranged -- our sensory experiences will be just the same as if a tree or dog or baseball were really there. Therefore whether there really are suchfamiliar objects in the world can be decided only by determining what (...)
  17. No Composition, No Problem: Ordinary Objects as Arrangements.Jonah P. B. Goldwater - 2015 - Philosophia 43 (2):367-379.
    On the grounds that there are no mereological composites, mereological nihilists deny that ordinary objects exist. Even if nihilism is true, however, I argue that tables and chairs exist anyway: for I deny that ordinary objects are the mereological sums the nihilist rejects. Instead, I argue, ordinary objects have a different nature; they are arrangements, not composites. My argument runs as follows. First, I defend realism about ordinary objects by showing that there is something that plays the role of ordinary (...)
  18. Familiar Objects and Their Shadows, by Crawford Elder.D. L. Goswick - 2012 - Mind 121 (481):176-181.
  19. The Ontology of Physical Objects: Four-Dimensional Hunks of Matter.Mark Heller - 1990 - Cambridge University Press.
    This provocative book attempts to resolve traditional problems of identity over time. It seeks to answer such questions as 'How is it that an object can survive change?' and 'How much change can an object undergo without being destroyed'? To answer these questions Professor Heller presents a theory about the nature of physical objects and about the relationship between our language and the physical world. According to his theory, the only actually existing physical entities are what the author calls 'hunks', (...)
  20. Quantifier Variance and Realism: Essays in Metaontology.Eli Hirsch - 2010 - Oxford University Press.
    A sense of unity -- Basic objects : a reply to Xu -- Objectivity without objects -- The vagueness of identity -- Quantifier variance and realism -- Against revisionary ontology -- Comments on Theodore Sider's four dimensionalism -- Sosa's existential relativism -- Physical-object ontology, verbal disputes, and common sense -- Ontological arguments : interpretive charity and quantifier variance -- Language, ontology, and structure -- Ontology and alternative languages.
  21. Peter Van Inwagen's Material Beings.Review author[S.]: Eli Hirsch - 1993 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 53 (3):687-691.
  22. Substance: Its Nature and Existence.Joshua Hoffman & Gary Rosenkrantz - 1997 - Routledge.
    Substance has been a leading idea in the history of Western philosophy. _Joshua Hoffman and Gary S. Rosenkrantz_ explain the nature and existence of individual substances, including both living things and inanimate objects. Specifically written for students new to this important and often complex subject, _Substance_ provides both the historical and contemporary overview of the debate. Great Philosophers of the past, such as Aristotle, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibnitz, Locke, and Berkeley were profoundly interested in the concept of substance. And, the authors (...)
  23. Review: On What There Isn't. [REVIEW]Terence Horgan - 1993 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 53 (3):693 - 700.
  24. Blobjectivism and Indirect Correspondence.Terry Horgan & Matjaž Potrč - 2000 - Facta Philosophica 2:249-270.
  25. Fundamental Quantification and the Language of the Ontology Room.Daniel Z. Korman - 2015 - Noûs 49 (2):298-321.
    Nihilism is the thesis that no composite objects exist. Some ontologists have advocated abandoning nihilism in favor of deep nihilism, the thesis that composites do not existO, where to existO is to be in the domain of the most fundamental quantifier. By shifting from an existential to an existentialO thesis, the deep nihilist seems to secure all the benefits of a composite-free ontology without running afoul of ordinary belief in the existence of composites. I argue that, while there are well-known (...)
  26. Objects: Nothing Out of the Ordinary.Daniel Z. Korman - 2015 - Oxford University Press UK.
    One of the central questions of material-object metaphysics is which highly visible objects there are right before our eyes. Daniel Z. Korman defends a conservative view, according to which our ordinary, natural judgments about which objects there are are more or less correct. He begins with an overview of the arguments that have led people away from the conservative view, into revisionary views according to which there are far more objects than we ordinarily take there to be or far fewer. (...)
  27. Debunking Perceptual Beliefs About Ordinary Objects.Daniel Z. Korman - 2014 - Philosophers' Imprint 14 (13).
    Debunking arguments are arguments that aim to undermine some range of beliefs by showing that those beliefs are not appropriately connected to their subject matter. Arguments of this sort rear their heads in a wide variety of domains, threatening beliefs about morality, mathematics, logic, color, and the existence of God. Perceptual beliefs about ordinary objects, however, are widely thought to be invulnerable to such arguments. I will show that this is a mistake. I articulate a debunking argument that purports to (...)
  28. Ordinary Objects.Daniel Z. Korman - 2011 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
    An encyclopedia entry which covers various revisionary conceptions of which macroscopic objects there are, and the puzzles and arguments that motivate these conceptions: sorites arguments, the argument from vagueness, the puzzles of material constitution, arguments against indeterminate identity, arguments from arbitrariness, debunking arguments, the overdetermination argument, and the problem of the many.
  29. Strange Kinds, Familiar Kinds, and the Charge of Arbitrariness.Daniel Z. Korman - 2010 - Oxford Studies in Metaphysics:119-144.
    Particularists in material-object metaphysics hold that our intuitive judgments about which kinds of things there are and are not are largely correct. One common argument against particularism is the argument from arbitrariness, which turns on the claim that there is no ontologically significant difference between certain of the familiar kinds that we intuitively judge to exist (snowballs, islands, statues, solar systems) and certain of the strange kinds that we intuitively judge not to exist (snowdiscalls, incars, gollyswoggles, the fusion of the (...)
  30. Eliminativism and the Challenge From Folk Belief.Daniel Z. Korman - 2009 - Noûs 43 (2):242-264.
    Virtually everyone agrees that, even after having presented the arguments for their positions, proponents of revisionary philosophical theories are required to provide some sort of account of the conflict between their theories and what the folk believe. I examine various strategies for answering the challenge from folk belief. The examination proceeds as a case study, whose focus is eliminativism about ordinary material objects. I critically assess eliminativist attempts to explain folk belief by appeal to paraphrase, experience, and intuition.
  31. Review of Terence E. Horgan, Matjaz Potrč, Austere Realism: Contextual Semantics Meets Minimal Ontology[REVIEW]Daniel Z. Korman - 2008 - Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 2008.
    The main focus of the review is Horgan and Potrč’s strategy for reconciling austere ontologies -- like their own, which includes exactly one concrete particular: “the blobject” -- with ordinary discourse about tables and the like. I try to show that, once we accept their ontological conclusions, there is no reason to prefer their conciliatory ontological-cum-semantic package to a more straightforward error-theoretic package on which we simply say lots of false things in ordinary discourse about tables and the like.
  32. The Naive Conception of Material Objects: A Defense.Daniel Z. Korman - 2007 - Dissertation, University of Texas at Austin
    Chapter 1: “Ordinary Objects and the Argument from Strange Concepts.” Chapter 2: “Restricted Composition Without Sharp Cut-Offs.” Chapter 3: “Three Solutions to the Grounding Problem for Coincident Objects.” Chapter 4: “Ordinary Objects Without Overdetermination.” Chapter 5: “Eliminativism and the Challenge from Folk Belief.” Chapter 6: “Unrestricted Composition and Restricted Quantification.”.
  33. Super-Relationism: Combining Eliminativism About Objects and Relationism About Spacetime.Baptiste Le Bihan - 2016 - Philosophical Studies 173 (8):2151-2172.
    I will introduce and motivate eliminativist super-relationism. This is the conjunction of relationism about spacetime and eliminativism about material objects. According to the view, the universe is a big collection of spatio-temporal relations and natural properties, and no substance (material or spatio-temporal) exists in it. The view is original since eliminativism about material objects, when understood as including not only ordinary objects like tables or chairs but also physical particles, is generally taken to imply substantivalism about spacetime: if properties are (...)
  34. No Physical Particles for a Dispositional Monist?Baptiste Le Bihan - 2015 - Philosophical Papers 44 (2):207-232.
    A dispositional monist believes that all properties are essentially causal. Recently, an overdetermination argument has been proposed by Trenton Merricks to support nihilism about ordinary objects. I argue that this argument can be extended to target both nihilism about ordinary objects and nihilism about physical particles when dispositional monism is assumed. It implies that a philosopher who both endorses dispositional monism and takes seriously the overdetermination argument should not believe in the existence of physical particles. I end up by discussing (...)
  35. Why a Gunk World is Compatible with Nihilism About Objects.Baptiste Le Bihan - 2013 - Studia Philosophica Estonica 6 (1):1-14.
    Ted Sider argues that nihilism about objects is incompatible with the metaphysical possibility of gunk and takes this point to show that nihilism is flawed. I shall describe one kind of nihilism able to answer this objection. I believe that most of the things we usually encounter do not exist. That is, I take talk of macroscopic objects and macroscopic properties to refer to sets of fundamental properties, which are invoked as a matter of linguistic convention. This view is a (...)
  36. In Defense of Moderate-Sized Specimens of Dry Goods. [REVIEW]E. J. Lowe - 2003 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 67 (3):704–710.
  37. Parts and Wholes.Kris McDaniel - 2010 - Philosophy Compass 5 (5):412-425.
    Philosophical questions concerning parts and wholes have received a tremendous amount of the attention of contemporary analytic metaphysicians. In what follows, I discuss some of the central questions. The questions to be discussed are: how general is parthood? Are there different kinds of parthood or ways to be a part? Can two things be composed of the same parts? When does composition occur? Can material objects gain or lose parts? What is the logical form of the parthood relation enjoyed by (...)
  38. Gunky Objects in a Simple World.Kris McDaniel - 2006 - Philo 9 (1):39-46.
    Suppose that a material object is gunky: all of its parts are located in space, and each of its parts has a proper part. Does it follow from this hypothesis that the space in which that object resides must itself be gunky? I argue that it does not. There is room for gunky objects in a space that decomposes without remainder into mereological simples.
  39. No Objects, No Problem?Matthew McGrath - 2005 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 83 (4):457 – 486.
    One familiar form of argument for rejecting entities of a certain kind is that, by rejecting them, we avoid certain difficult problems associated with them. Such problem-avoidance arguments backfire if the problems cited survive the elimination of the rejected entities. In particular, we examine one way problems can survive: a question for the realist about which of a set of inconsistent statements is false may give way to an equally difficult question for the eliminativist about which of a set of (...)
  40. Replies. [REVIEW]Trenton Merricks - 2003 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 67 (3):727–744.
  41. Objects and Persons.Trenton Merricks - 2001 - Oxford University Press.
    Objects and Persons presents an original theory about what kinds of things exist. Trenton Merricks argues that there are no non-living inanimate macrophysical objects -- no statues or rocks or chairs or stars -- because they would have no causal role over and above the causal role of their microphysical parts. Humans do exist: we have non-redundant causal powers. Along the way, Merricks has interesting things to say about mental causation, free will, and various philosophical puzzles. Anyone working in metaphysics (...)
  42. 'No Statues'.Trenton Merricks - 2000 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 78 (1):47 – 52.
  43. Compatibilist Semantics in Metaphysics: A Case Study.John O'Leary-Hawthorne & Michaelis Michael - 1996 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 74 (1):117 – 134.
    (1996). Compatibilist semantics in metaphysics: A case study. Australasian Journal of Philosophy: Vol. 74, No. 1, pp. 117-134. doi: 10.1080/00048409612347101.
  44. Critical Notice of T. Merricks, Objects and Persons. [REVIEW]Eric Olson - 2002 - Philosophical Books 43:292-99.
  45. Why I Have No Hands.Eric T. Olson - 1995 - Theoria 61 (2):182-197.
    Trust me: my chair isn't big enough for two. You may doubt that every rational, conscious being is a person; perhaps there are beings that mistakenly believe themselves to be people. If so, read ‘rational, conscious being’ or the like for 'person'.
  46. A Sweater Unraveled: Following One Thread of Thought for Avoiding Coincident Entities.Alan Sidelle - 1998 - Noûs 32 (4):423-448.
    One obvious solution to the puzzles of apparently coincident objects is a sort of reductionism - the tree really just is the wood, the statue is just the clay, and nothing really ceases to exist in the purported non-identity showing cases. This paper starts with that approach and its underlying motivation, and argues that if one follows those motivations - specifically, the rejection of coincidence, and the belief that 'genuine' object-destroying changes must differ non-arbitrarily from accidental changes, that one can (...)
  47. Review of Trenton Merricks, Objects and Persons. [REVIEW]Theodore Sider - 2004 - Mind 113 (449):195–198.
    Many otherwise reasonable philosophers are impatient with ontology. These philosophers will probably have little time for Objects and Persons, which claims that while there do exist “atoms arranged statuewise”, there do not exist statues; while there do exist atoms arranged tablewise and atoms arranged chairwise, there exist no tables and chairs. Though I join these philosophers, at the end of the day, in rejecting Merricks’s claims, that day is long, whereas they want a quick verdict. But why? Do our impatient (...)
  48. Review: What's so Bad About Overdetermination? [REVIEW]Theodore Sider - 2003 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 67 (3):719 - 726.
    The intimate relationship between X and Y consists in the existence of (metaphysically) necessary truths correlating their occurrences/existences/instantiations. E would be in some sense “overdetermined” if caused by both X and Y.2 Some philosophers say this would be bad, that this cannot or does not happen, that we should construct theories ruling it out, at least in certain cases.3 But why? Given the necessary truths correlating objects and their parts, objects and events concerning those objects, physical and supervenient mental properties, (...)
  49. Van Inwagen and the Possibility of Gunk.Theodore Sider - 1993 - Analysis 53 (4):285 - 289.
    We often speak of an object being composed of various other objects. We say that the deck is composed of the cards, that a road is the sum total of its sections, that a house is composed of its walls, ceilings, floors, doors, etc. Suppose we have some material objects. Here is a philosophical question: what conditions must obtain for those objects to compose something? In his recent book Material Beings, Peter van Inwagen addresses this question, which he calls the (...)
  50. Metaphysical Arguments Against Ordinary Objects.Amie Thomasson - 2006 - Philosophical Quarterly 56 (224):340 - 359.
    Several prominent attacks on the objects of 'folk ontology' argue that these would be omitted from a scientific ontology, or would be 'rivals' of scientific objects for their claims to be efficacious, occupy space, be composed of parts, or possess a range of other properties. I examine causal redundancy and overdetermination arguments, 'nothing over and above' appeals, and arguments based on problems with collocation and with property additivity. I argue that these share a common problem: applying conjunctive principles to cases (...)
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