Much ado about ontological nihilism

Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy (forthcoming)
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According to ontological nihilism nothing exists. A recent argument purports to show that this view is indefensible, since its most plausible formulations are tacitly committed to quantificational claims that are inconsistent with the nihilist's view that there aren't any existents. I show that this objection begs the question against the nihilist. The objector's argument relies on an equivalence principle implying that claims which nihilists regard as non-quantificational should nonetheless be interpreted as equivalent to quantified claims, given that both kinds of assertion are assertible in the same contexts. This style of reasoning is supported by considerations of charity, which suggest that similarities in inter-personal patterns of language use provide evidence of similarity in the semantic content of speakers' utterances. However, related considerations also suggest that intra-personal patterns of language use constitute significant semantic evidence of the same kind. When we appreciate this and further recognize that nihilists are disposed to assert the negation of any positive, quantified claim, we see that it is too much to expect principles of semantic interpretation based on considerations of charity to decisively refute nihilism. This result has interesting metametaphysical implications concerning the role and scope of analogous arguments based on principles of interpretive charity.



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Origins of Objectivity.Tyler Burge - 2010 - Oxford, GB: Oxford University Press.
On Denoting.Bertrand Russell - 1905 - Mind 14 (56):479-493.
Radical interpretation.Donald Davidson - 1973 - Dialectica 27 (1):314-328.
Radical Interpretation.Donald Davidson - 1973 - Dialectica 27 (3-4):313-328.
Ontological Pluralism.Jason Turner - 2010 - Journal of Philosophy 107 (1):5-34.

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