On the substantive nature of disagreements in ontology

This paper concerns a fundamental dispute in ontology between the “Foundational Ontologist”, who believes that there is only one correct way of characterizing what there is, and the ontological “Skeptic”, who believes that there are viable alternative characterizations of what there is. I examine in detail an intriguing recent proposal in Dorr (2005), which promises to yield (i) a way of interpreting the Skeptic by means of a counterfactual semantics; and (ii) a way of converting the Skeptic to a position within Foundational Ontology, viz., that of Nihilism (according to which nothing composes anything and the world consists of mereological simples); this alleged conversion crucially turns on a novel notion of “metaphysical analyticity”. I argue that both components of Dorr’s proposal are problematic in central ways: as a result, the Foundational Ontologist gains an indirect argument against the coherence of the Skeptic’s position; and the non-Nihilist Foundational Ontologist may feel confirmed in his doubts towards the Nihilist outlook.
Keywords Ontological disagreement  Mereological Nihilism  Analyticity
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DOI 10.1111/j.1933-1592.2005.tb00431.x
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Hilary Putnam (1975). The Meaning of 'Meaning'. Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science 7:131-193.

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