Ontology without hierarchy

In Javier Cumpa (ed.), The Question of Ontology: The Contemporary Debate. Oxford University Press (forthcoming)
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Abstract

It has recently become popular to suggest that questions of ontology ought be settled by determining, first, which fundamental things exist, and second, which derivative things depend on, or are grounded by, those fundamental things. This methodology typically leads to a hierarchical view of ontology according to which there are chains of entities, each dependent on the next, all the way down to a fundamental base. In this paper we defend an alternative ontological picture according to which there is no ontological hierarchy. Such a picture appears counterintuitive (at least to many), in part because in the absence of a hierarchical structure to our world, there would be no structure apt to back metaphysical explanations. There are two reasons to suppose this is so. First, there would be no structure apt to back metaphysical explanations because there would be a fatal mismatch between the formal features of metaphysical explanation, on the one hand, and the structure of the world, on the other hand. Second, in the absence of an ontological hierarchy there would be no structure apt to back metaphysical explanations because the only connections that would obtain between relevant facts are mere correlational connections. But mere correlations are not the right kinds of relations to back metaphysical explanations: explanation requires something more. This paper aims to show that neither of these is a good reason to prefer a hierarchical view of ontology.

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Author Profiles

Kristie Miller
University of Sydney
Michael J. Duncan
University of Sydney
James Norton
University of Iceland

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