# Ontological Commitment

Edited by Henry Laycock (Queen's University)
 Summary Both the idea of ontological commitment and its connection to the idea of quantification are associated especially with the work of Quine. In Quine’s scheme (as in most others) the highest-level ontic category is that provided by the form of the variable itself; to be assumed as an entity is to be assumed as a value of a variable. Below this level, the question becomes one of the adoption of particular ranges of variables for particular ranges of putative entities (class variables versus individual variables, just for instance). In excluding semantically plural variables – a possiblity Quine seemingly never considered – his formulation is ‘singularist’; but this, it seems, should make no ontological difference. The idea of a distinctively ontic operator is articulated by Quine in several closely related ways - for example, ‘We commit ourselves outright to an ontology containing numbers when we say there are prime numbers between 1000 and1010; we commit ourselves to an ontology containing centaurs when we say there are centaurs’. Thus conceived, the role of the (so-called) existential quantifier is quite precise. It is not a device for expressing just any kind of existential information; it is a quite specifically ontic device, for speaking of categories and kinds of things exclusively – not for information as to numbers of the items in these categories and kinds. Ontically, what matters is purely and simply whether there are things of this or that kind or not. Quine declares: ‘Existence is what existential quantification expresses’, and continues, using the (bare plural) form, ‘There are things of kind F if and only if (∃x)(Fx)’. What the operator ∃ represents is here quantification in name only, precisely because its role is to be numerically neutral. Commonplace accounts of quantifiers stating that they specify ‘which or how many of some kind of things have some property’ misrepresent the content of the existential quantifier, in contrast with so-called numerical quantifiers (as in ‘There are exactly two prime numbers between 1 and 4’). Yet  insofar as the semantics of variables, whether singular or plural, implicate countability in the first place, the question of the ontological neutrality of their use is not distinct from the unsettled question of whether talk of entities or objects itself is ontically neutral. For Quine’s claim is that ‘all traits of reality worthy of the name can be set down in an idiom of this austere form if in any idiom’ – in spirit, ‘a philosophical doctrine of categories’. But Quine frequently indicates serious concern, regarding what he calls the 'artifice' or 'reduction' of talk involving his so-called 'mass terms' to talk of entities or objects in the first place.
 Key works Quine 1961 marks an early and powerful affirmation of the tight bond promoted by Quine between the semantics of current basic logic and ontology. Carnap 1950, in the spirit of Quine, explicitly relativises ontology to a 'linguistic framework', and in Quine 1957 and Quine 1960, a distinction is made between the inescapable formal framework of our 'adult' or 'mature' conceptual scheme, based on individuation or the use of variables, and the logically recalcitrant pre-individuative status of so-called 'mass terms' - which can only be accommodated in the scheme via certain artificial reductive devices. Ontological relativism is thereby reinforced.
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1. Ontological Commitments.William P. Alston - 1958 - Philosophical Studies 9 (1-2):8 - 17.
2. Church on Ontological Commitment.Alan Ross Anderson - 1959 - Journal of Philosophy 56 (10):448-452.
3. Talking About Nothing. Numbers, Hallucinations, and Fictions.István Aranyosi - 2012 - Philosophy 87 (1):145-150.
If everything exists, then it looks, prima facie, as if talking about nothing is equivalent to not talking about anything. However, we appear as talking or thinking about particular nothings, that is, about particular items that are not among the existents. How to explain this phenomenon? One way is to deny that everything exists, and consequently to be ontologically committed to nonexistent “objects”. Another way is to deny that the process of thinking about such nonexistents is a genuine singular thought. (...)
4. How to Express Ontological Commitment in the Vernacular.Jamin Asay - 2010 - Philosophia Mathematica 18 (3):293-310.
According to the familiar Quinean understanding of ontological commitment, (1) one undertakes ontological commitments only via theoretical regimentations, and (2) ontological commitments are to be identified with the domain of a theory’s quantifiers. Jody Azzouni accepts (1), but rejects (2). Azzouni accepts (1) because he believes that no vernacular expression carries ontological commitments. He rejects (2) by locating a theory’s commitments with the extension of an existence predicate. I argue that Azzouni’s two theses undermine each other. If ontological commitments follow (...)
5. Can Quine’s criterion for ontological commitment be comparatively applied across different logics? If so, how? Cross-logical evaluations of discourses are central to contemporary philosophy of mathematics and metaphysics. The focus here is on the influential and important arguments of George Boolos and David Lewis that second-order logic and plural quantification don’t incur additional ontological commitments over and above those incurred by first-order quantifiers. These arguments are challenged by the exhibition of a technical tool—the truncation-model construction of notational equivalents—that compares the (...)
6. Ontological Commitment in the Vernacular.Jody Azzouni - 2007 - Noûs 41 (2):204–226.
7. If we must take mathematical statements to be true, must we also believe in the existence of abstract eternal invisible mathematical objects accessible only by the power of pure thought? Jody Azzouni says no, and he claims that the way to escape such commitments is to accept (as an essential part of scientific doctrine) true statements which are about objects that don't exist in any sense at all. Azzouni illustrates what the metaphysical landscape looks like once we avoid a militant (...)
8. On "on What There Is".Jody Azzouni - 1998 - Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 79 (1):1–18.
All sides in the recent debates over the Quine‐Putnam Indispensability thesis presuppose Quine's criterion for determining what a discourse is ontologically committed to. I subject the criterion to scrutiny, especially in regard to the available competitor‐criteria, asking what means of evaluation there are for comparing alternative criteria against each other. Finding none, the paper concludes that ontological questions, in a certain sense, are philosophically indeterminate.
9. Applied Mathematics, Existential Commitment and the Quine-Putnam Indispensability Thesis.Jody Azzouni - 1997 - Philosophia Mathematica 5 (3):193-209.
The ramifications are explored of taking physical theories to commit their advocates only to ‘physically real’ entities, where ‘physically real’ means ‘causally efficacious’ (e.g., actual particles moving through space, such as dust motes), the ‘physically significant’ (e.g., centers of mass), and the merely mathematical—despite the fact that, in ordinary physical theory, all three sorts of posits are quantified over. It's argued that when such theories are regimented, existential quantification, even when interpreted ‘objectually’ (that is, in terms of satisfaction via variables, (...)
10. A Model-Theoretic Criterion of Ontology.John Bacon - 1987 - Synthese 71 (1):1 - 18.
My aim has been to adapt Quine's criterion of the ontological commitment of theories couched in standard quantificational idiom to a much broader class of theories by focusing on the set-theoretic structure of the models of those theories. For standard first-order theories, the two criteria coincide on simple entities. Divergences appear as they are applied to higher-order theories and as composite entities are taken into account. In support of the extended criterion, I appeal to its fruits in treating the various (...)
11. Ontological Commitment and Free Logic.John Bacon - 1969 - The Monist 53 (2):310-319.
12. Review of David Chalmers, David Manley, Ryan Wasserman (Eds.), Metametaphysics: New Essays on the Foundations of Ontology[REVIEW]Elizabeth Barnes - 2009 - Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 2009 (10).
13. Ontological Commitment.Kenneth T. Barnes & G. Norton - 1977 - Philosophia 7 (1):181-196.
14. Existential and Ontological Commitment.Kalipada Baxi - 1982 - Indian Philosophical Quarterly 9 (2):147.
15. On the Ontology of Linguistic Frameworks Toward a Comprehensive Version of Empiricism.Majid Davoody Beni - 2015 - Philosophia Scientiae 19 (1):115-126.
Can the abstract entities be designated? While the empiricists usually took the positive answer to this question as the first step toward Platonism, in his ``Empiricism, Semantics, and Ontology’’ [Carnap 1950], Carnap tried to make a reconciliation between the language referring to abstract entities on the one hand, and empiricism on the other. In this paper, firstly, I show that the ingenuity of Carnap’s approach notwithstanding, it is prone to criticism from different aspects. But I also show how, even without (...)
16. Second-Order Arithmetic Sans Sets.L. Berk - 2013 - Philosophia Mathematica 21 (3):339-350.
This paper examines the ontological commitments of the second-order language of arithmetic and argues that they do not extend beyond the first-order language. Then, building on an argument by George Boolos, we develop a Tarski-style definition of a truth predicate for the second-order language of arithmetic that does not involve the assignment of sets to second-order variables but rather uses the same class of assignments standardly used in a definition for the first-order language.
17. Existence as a Real Property.Francesco Berto - 2012 - Synthèse Library, Springer.
This book is both an introduction to and a research work on Meinongianism. “Meinongianism” is taken here, in accordance with the common philosophical jargon, as a general label for a set of theories of existence – probably the most basic notion of ontology. As an introduction, the book provides the first comprehensive survey and guide to Meinongianism and non-standard theories of existence in all their main forms. As a research work, the book exposes and develops the most up-to-date Meinongian theory (...)
18. Ontology and Metaontology. A Contemporary Guide.Francesco Berto & Matteo Plebani - 2015 - Bloomsbury Academic.
'Ontology and Metaontology: A Contemporary Guide' is a clear and accessible survey of ontology, focussing on the most recent trends in the discipline. -/- Divided into parts, the first half characterizes metaontology: the discourse on the methodology of ontological inquiry, covering the main concepts, tools, and methods of the discipline, exploring the notions of being and existence, ontological commitment, paraphrase strategies, fictionalist strategies, and other metaontological questions. The second half considers a series of case studies, introducing and familiarizing the reader (...)
19. Ontology After Carnap Edited by Stephan Blatti and Sandra Lapointe.Darren Bradley - forthcoming - Analysis:anx093.
© The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The Analysis Trust. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oup.com‘Carnap is not completely unknown to us’ comments Richard Creath in his contribution to this book. ‘We often know just enough to be baffled’. It will be no surprise to anyone when I say that this book will not unbaffle us. But it does give us a collection of rewarding papers that each wrestle with the legacy Carnap has (...)
20. What Is Existence?João Branquinho - 2012 - Disputatio 4 (34):575.
This paper has a negative and a positive claim. The negative claim is that the Frege-Russell account of existence as a higher-order predicate is mistaken and should be abandoned, even with respect to general statements of existence such as “Flying mammals exist” (where statements of this sort are supposed to be best accommodated by the account). The Frege-Russell view seems to be supported by two ideas. First, the idea that existence is entirely expressed by the existential quantifier of standard predicate (...)
21. Inscrutability and Ontological Commitment.Berit Brogaard - 2008 - Philosophical Studies 141 (1):21 - 42.
There are two doctrines for which Quine is particularly well known: the doctrine of ontological commitment and the inscrutability thesis—the thesis that reference and quantification are inscrutable. At first glance, the two doctrines are squarely at odds. If there is no fact of the matter as to what our expressions refer to, then it would appear that no determinate commitments can be read off of our best theories. We argue here that the appearance of a clash between the two doctrines (...)
22. Number Words and Ontological Commitment.Berit Brogaard - 2007 - Philosophical Quarterly 57 (226):1–20.
With the aid of some results from current linguistic theory I examine a recent anti-Fregean line with respect to hybrid talk of numbers and ordinary things, such as ‘the number of moons of Jupiter is four’. I conclude that the anti-Fregean line with respect to these sentences is indefensible.
23. A Subject with No Object: Strategies for Nominalistic Interpretation of Mathematics.John P. Burgess & Gideon A. Rosen - 1997 - Oxford University Press.
Numbers and other mathematical objects are exceptional in having no locations in space or time or relations of cause and effect. This makes it difficult to account for the possibility of the knowledge of such objects, leading many philosophers to embrace nominalism, the doctrine that there are no such objects, and to embark on ambitious projects for interpreting mathematics so as to preserve the subject while eliminating its objects. This book cuts through a host of technicalities that have obscured previous (...)
24. How to Be a Nominalist and a Fictional Realist.Ross P. Cameron - 2013 - In Christy Mag Uidhir (ed.), Art and Abstract Objects. Oxford University Press. pp. 179.
25. 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 (...)
26. Truthmakers and Ontological Commitment: Or How to Deal with Complex Objects and Mathematical Ontology Without Getting Into Trouble.Ross P. Cameron - 2008 - Philosophical Studies 140 (1):1 - 18.
What are the ontological commitments of a sentence? In this paper I offer an answer from the perspective of the truthmaker theorist that contrasts with the familiar Quinean criterion. I detail some of the benefits of thinking of things this way: they include making the composition debate tractable without appealing to a neo-Carnapian metaontology, making sense of neo-Fregeanism, and dispensing with some otherwise recalcitrant necessary connections.
27. Unity and Plurality. Philosophy, Logic, and Semantics.Massimiliano Carrara, Alessandra Arapinis & Friederike Moltmann (eds.) - 2016 - Oxford University Press.
This volume brings together new work on the logic and ontology of plurality and a range of recent articles exploring novel applications to natural language semantics. The contributions in this volume in particular investigate and extend new perspectives presented by plural logic and non-standard mereology and explore their applications to a range of natural language phenomena. Contributions by P. Aquaviva, A. Arapinis, M. Carrara, P. McKay, F. Moltmann, O. Linnebo, A. Oliver and T. Smiley, T. Scaltsas, P. Simons, and B.-Y. (...)
28. On the Ontological Commitment of Mereology.Massimiliano Carrara & Enrico Martino - 2009 - Review of Symbolic Logic 2 (1):164-174.
In Parts of Classes (1991) and Mathematics Is Megethology (1993) David Lewis defends both the innocence of plural quantification and of mereology. However, he himself claims that the innocence of mereology is different from that of plural reference, where reference to some objects does not require the existence of a single entity picking them out as a whole. In the case of plural quantification . Instead, in the mereological case: (Lewis, 1991, p. 87). The aim of the paper is to (...)
29. Ontological Commitment and Reconstructivism.Massimiliano Carrara & Achille C. Varzi - 2001 - Erkenntnis 55 (1):33-50.
Some forms of analytic reconstructivism take natural language (and common sense at large) to be ontologically opaque: ordinary sentences must be suitably rewritten or paraphrased before questions of ontological commitment may be raised. Other forms of reconstructivism take the commitment of ordinary language at face value, but regard it as metaphysically misleading: common-sense objects exist, but they are not what we normally think they are. This paper is an attempt to clarify and critically assess some common limits of these two (...)
30. Metametaphysics: New Essays on the Foundations of Ontology.D. Chalmers, D. Manley & R. Wasserman (eds.) - 2009 - Oxford University Press.
This volume concerns the status and ambitions of metaphysics as a discipline.
31. Ontic Commitment and the Empty Universe.Chung-Ying Cheng & Michael David Resnik - 1965 - Journal of Philosophy 62 (14):359-364.
32. Our Ontological Commitment to Universals.Charles S. Chihara - 1968 - Noûs 2 (1):25-46.
33. The Ontological Commitment of Physical Theories.James William Child - 1967 - Dissertation, Indiana University
34. Beyond Being and Nonbeing.Roderick M. Chisholm - 1973 - Philosophical Studies 24 (4):245 - 257.
35. Drei Versionen der Meinongschen Logik.Arkadiusz Chrudzimski - 2005 - Zeitschrift für Philosophische Forschung 59 (1):49-70.
Alexius Meinong nimmt in der Geschichte der Ontologie eine ausgezeichnete Stellung ein. Er war der erste Philosoph, der in systematischer Weise eine quasi-onto¬logische Disziplin entwickelte, die im Vergleich zu der Disziplin, die man traditionell Metaphysik oder Ontologie nennt, viel allgemeiner sein sollte. Die Metaphysik untersucht das Seiende als Seiendes, und die seienden Entitäten bilden – so die These Meinongs – nur ein kleines Fragment dessen, was man unter dem Namen „Gegenstands¬theorie” untersuchen kann. Die Gegenstände als solche sind „außerseiend”, d.h. sie (...)
36. Quine, Meinong und Aristoteles. Zwei Dimensionen der ontologischen Verpflichtung.Arkadiusz Chrudzimski - 2003 - Metaphysica 4 (1):39-68.
Quine claimed that to be is is to be a value of a bound variable. In the paper we assume that this claim contains an important philosophical insight and investigate its background. It is argued that there are two dimensions involved in Quine’s slogan: (i) the distinction between existing and non-existing objects and (ii) the question of the systematic ambiguity of being that can be traced back to Aristotle. At the first sight it is tempting to construe Quine’s criterion according (...)
37. Ontological Commitment.Alonzo Church - 1958 - Journal of Philosophy 55 (23):1008-1014.
38. Logical Form and Ontological Decisions.Patricia Smith Churchland - 1974 - Journal of Philosophy 71 (17):599-600.
39. Causal Explanation and Ontological Commitment.Mark Colyvan - 1999 - In Uwe Meixner Peter Simons (ed.), Metaphysics in the Post-Metaphysical Age. Austrian Ludwig Wittgenstein Society. pp. 1--141.
40. Constructive Empiricism, Observability, and Three Kinds of Ontological Commitment.Gabriele Contessa - 2006 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 37 (4):454–468.
In this paper, I argue that, contrary to the constructive empiricist’s position, observability is not an adequate criterion as a guide to ontological commitment in science. My argument has two parts. First, I argue that the constructive empiricist’s choice of observability as a criterion for ontological commitment is based on the assumption that belief in the existence of unobservable entities is unreasonable because belief in the existence of an entity can only be vindicated by its observation. Second, I argue that (...)
41. Ontological Commitment.Neil Cooper - 1966 - The Monist 50 (1):125-129.
42. What is the Problem of Non-Existence?Tim Crane - 2012 - Philosophia 40 (3):417-434.
It is widely held that there is a problem of talking about or otherwise representing things that not exist. But what exactly is this problem? This paper presents a formulation of the problem in terms of the conflict between the fact that there are truths about non-existent things and the fact that truths must be answerable to reality, how things are. Given this, the problem of singular negative existential statements is no longer the central or most difficult aspect of the (...)
43. Nominalism by Theft.Richard Creath - 1980 - American Philosophical Quarterly 17 (4):311 - 318.
44. Ontological Commitments of Everyday Language.Charles Crittenden - 1974 - Metaphilosophy 5 (3):198–215.
45. Analyticity and Ontology.Louis deRosset - 2015 - Oxford Studies in Metaphysics 9.
/Analyticity theorists/, as I will call them, endorse the /doctrine of analyticity in ontology/: if some truth P analytically entails the existence of certain things, then a theory that contains P but does not claim that those things exist is no more ontologically parsimonious than a theory that also claims that they exist. Suppose, for instance, that the existence of a table in a certain location is analytically entailed by the existence and features of certain particles in that location. The (...)
46. Getting Priority Straight.Louis deRosset - 2010 - Philosophical Studies 149 (1):73-97.
Consider the kinds of macroscopic concrete objects that common sense and the sciences allege to exist: tables, raindrops, tectonic plates, galaxies, and the rest. Are there any such things? Opinions differ. Ontological liberals say they do; ontological radicals say they don't. Liberalism seems favored by its plausible acquiescence to the dictates of common sense abetted by science; radicalism by its ontological parsimony. Priority theorists claim we can have the virtues of both views. They hold that tables, raindrops, etc., exist, but (...)
47. In Defense of Quinean Ontological Naturalism.Patrick Dieveney - 2012 - Erkenntnis 76 (2):225-242.
Quinean Ontological Naturalism addresses the question “What is there?” Advocates of the view maintain that we can answer this question by applying Quine’s criterion of ontological commitment to our best scientific theories. In this paper, I discuss two major objections that are commonly offered to this view, what I call the “Paraphrase Objection” and “First Philosophy Objection”. I argue that these objections arise from a common uncharitable characterization of the Quinean Ontological Naturalist’s project that fails to distinguish two distinct roles (...)
48. Ontological Infidelity.Patrick Dieveney - 2008 - Synthese 165 (1):1 - 12.
In ethical discourse, it is common practice to distinguish between normative commitments and descriptive commitments. Normative commitments reflect what a person ought to be committed to, whereas descriptive commitments reflect what a person actually is committed to. While the normative/descriptive distinction is widely accepted as a way of talking about ethical commitments, philosophers have missed this distinction in discussing ontological commitments. In this paper, I distinguish between descriptive ontological commitments and normative ontological commitments and discuss several significant benefits of recognizing (...)
49. Minimalism and the Unbearable Lightness of Being.John Divers & Alexander Miller - 1995 - Philosophical Papers 24 (2):127-139.
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