Rea’s Revenge and the Persistent Problem of Persistence for Realism

Philosophia 39 (2):375-391 (2011)
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Abstract

Realism about material objects faces a variety of epistemological objections. Recently, however, some realists have offered new accounts in response to these long-standing objections; many of which seem plausible. In this paper, I raise a new objection against realism vis-à-vis how we could empirically come to know mind-independent essential properties for objects. Traditionally, realists hold kind-membership and persistence as bound together for purposes of tracing out an object’s essential existence conditions. But I propose kind-membership and persistence for objects can conceptually come apart and function epistemologically distinctly from one another—in which case the usual reliance by realists on an assumption of persistence to determine kind-membership conditions is unjustified. Thus, present realist attempts to explain how empirical detection of mind-independent essential properties for objects could possibly occur inevitably results in circularity. The charge against the realist is to explain why we don’t have to first discover persistence conditions for an object before we can ascertain kind-membership conditions for an object. If no answer is forthcoming, then it seems the weight of the epistemological objection to realism is back in full force

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