A Tension in Quine’s Theory of Existence

Philo 6 (2):193-204 (2003)
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Abstract

According to Quine, the ontological question can be posed in three Anglo-Saxon monosyllables: “What is there?” But if we call this the ontological question, what shall we call the logically prior question: “What is it for an item to be there?” Peter van Inwagen has recently suggested that this be called the meta-ontological question, and more importantly, has endorsed Quine’s answer to it. Ingredient in this Quinean answer to the meta-ontological question are several theses, among them, “Being is the same as existence”; “Being is univocal”; and “The single sense of being or existence is adequately captured by the existential quantifier of formal logic.” This articleexamines the last of these theses, which van Inwagen claims “ought to be uncontroversial.” But far from having this deontic property, the thesis in question ought to be not only controverted, but rejected.

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