One of the central questions of material-object metaphysics is which highly visible objects there are right before our eyes. Daniel Z. Korman defends a conservative view, according to which our ordinary, natural judgments about which objects there are are more or less correct. He begins with an overview of the arguments that have led people away from the conservative view, into revisionary views according to which there are far more objects than we ordinarily take there to be or far fewer. (...) Korman criticizes a variety of compatibilist strategies, according to which these revisionary views are actually compatible with our ordinary beliefs. He goes on to respond to debunking arguments; objections that the conservative's verdicts about which objects that are and aren't are objectionably arbitrary; the argument from vagueness; the overdetermination argument; the argument from material constitution; and the problem of the many. (shrink)
Moral debunking arguments are meant to show that, by realist lights, moral beliefs are not explained by moral facts, which in turn is meant to show that they lack some significant counterfactual connection to the moral facts (e.g., safety, sensitivity, reliability). The dominant, “minimalist” response to the arguments—sometimes defended under the heading of “third-factors” or “pre-established harmonies”—involves affirming that moral beliefs enjoy the relevant counterfactual connection while granting that these beliefs are not explained by the moral facts. We show that (...) the minimalist gambit rests on a controversial thesis about epistemic priority: that explanatory concessions derive their epistemic import from what they reveal about counterfactual connections. We then challenge this epistemic priority thesis, which undermines the minimalist response to debunking arguments (in ethics and elsewhere). (shrink)
Debunking arguments—also known as etiological arguments, genealogical arguments, access problems, isolation objec- tions, and reliability challenges—arise in philosophical debates about a diverse range of topics, including causation, chance, color, consciousness, epistemic reasons, free will, grounding, laws of nature, logic, mathematics, modality, morality, natural kinds, ordinary objects, religion, and time. What unifies the arguments is the transition from a premise about what does or doesn't explain why we have certain mental states to a negative assessment of their epistemic status. I examine (...) the common, underlying structure of the arguments and the different strategies for motivating and resisting the premises of debunking arguments. (shrink)
I present two puzzles about the metaphysics of stores, restaurants, and other such establishments. I defend a solution to the puzzles, according to which establishments are not material objects and are not constituted by the buildings that they occupy.
Nihilism is the thesis that no composite objects exist. Some ontologists have advocated abandoning nihilism in favor of deep nihilism, the thesis that composites do not existO, where to existO is to be in the domain of the most fundamental quantifier. By shifting from an existential to an existentialO thesis, the deep nihilist seems to secure all the benefits of a composite-free ontology without running afoul of ordinary belief in the existence of composites. I argue that, while there are well-known (...) reasons for accepting nihilism, there appears to be no reason at all to accept deep nihilism. In particular, deep nihilism draws no support either from the usual arguments for nihilism or from considerations of parsimony. (shrink)
This is a contribution to a symposium on Amie Thomasson’s Ontology Made Easy (2015). Thomasson defends two deflationary theses: that philosophical questions about the existence of numbers, tables, properties, and other disputed entities can all easily be answered, and that there is something wrong with prolonged debates about whether such objects exist. I argue that the first thesis (properly understood) does not by itself entail the second. Rather, the case for deflationary metaontology rests largely on a controversial doctrine about the (...) possible meanings of ‘object’. I challenge Thomasson's argument for that doctrine, and I make a positive case for the availability of the contested, unrestricted use of ‘object’. (shrink)
Rose and Schaffer (forthcoming) argue that teleological thinking has a substantial influence on folk intuitions about composition. They take this to show (i) that we should not rely on folk intuitions about composition and (ii) that we therefore should not reject theories of composition on the basis of intuitions about composition. We cast doubt on the teleological interpretation of folk judgments about composition; we show how their debunking argument can be resisted, even on the assumption that folk intuitions have a (...) teleological source; and we argue that, even if folk intuitions about composition carry no weight, theories of composition can still be rejected on the basis of the intuitions of metaphysicians. (shrink)
Debunking arguments are arguments that aim to undermine some range of beliefs by showing that those beliefs are not appropriately connected to their subject matter. Arguments of this sort rear their heads in a wide variety of domains, threatening beliefs about morality, mathematics, logic, color, and the existence of God. Perceptual beliefs about ordinary objects, however, are widely thought to be invulnerable to such arguments. I will show that this is a mistake. I articulate a debunking argument that purports to (...) undermine our most basic perceptual beliefs. I then challenge a number of responses to the argument, including the “permissivist” response that there are a plenitude of objects before us, virtually guaranteeing the accuracy of our object beliefs. (shrink)
An encyclopedia entry which covers various revisionary conceptions of which macroscopic objects there are, and the puzzles and arguments that motivate these conceptions: sorites arguments, the argument from vagueness, the puzzles of material constitution, arguments against indeterminate identity, arguments from arbitrariness, debunking arguments, the overdetermination argument, and the problem of the many.
Evolutionary debunking arguments abound, but it is widely assumed that they do not arise for our perceptual beliefs about midsized objects, insofar as the adaptive value of our object beliefs cannot be explained without reference to the objects themselves. I argue that this is a mistake. Just as with moral beliefs, the adaptive value of our object beliefs can be explained without assuming that the beliefs are accurate. I then explore the prospects for other sorts of vindications of our object (...) beliefs—which involve “bootstrapping” from our experiences as of midsized objects—and I defend bootstrapping maneuvers against a variety of objections. Finally, I argue for an explanatory constraint on legitimate bootstrapping and show how some attempts to respond to debunking arguments run afoul of the constraint. (shrink)
Conceptualism is the thesis that, for any perceptual experience E, (i) E has a Fregean proposition as its content and (ii) a subject of E must possess a concept for each item represented by E. We advance a framework within which conceptualism may be defended against its most serious objections (e.g., Richard Heck's argument from nonveridical experience). The framework is of independent interest for the philosophy of mind and epistemology given its implications for debates regarding transparency, relationalism and representationalism, demonstrative (...) thought, phenomenal character, and the speckled hen objection to modest foundationalism. (shrink)
Virtually everyone agrees that, even after having presented the arguments for their positions, proponents of revisionary philosophical theories are required to provide some sort of account of the conflict between their theories and what the folk believe. I examine various strategies for answering the challenge from folk belief. The examination proceeds as a case study, whose focus is eliminativism about ordinary material objects. I critically assess eliminativist attempts to explain folk belief by appeal to paraphrase, experience, and intuition.
Sometimes, learning about the origins of a belief can make it irrational to continue to hold that belief—a phenomenon we call ‘genealogical defeat’. According to explanationist accounts, genealogical defeat occurs when one learns that there is no appropriate explanatory connection between one’s belief and the truth. Flatfooted versions of explanationism have been widely and rightly rejected on the grounds that they would disallow beliefs about the future and other inductively-formed beliefs. After motivating the need for some explanationist account, we raise (...) some problems for recent versions of explanationism. Learning from their failures, we then produce and defend a more resilient explanationism. (shrink)
Particularists in material-object metaphysics hold that our intuitive judgments about which kinds of things there are and are not are largely correct. One common argument against particularism is the argument from arbitrariness, which turns on the claim that there is no ontologically significant difference between certain of the familiar kinds that we intuitively judge to exist (snowballs, islands, statues, solar systems) and certain of the strange kinds that we intuitively judge not to exist (snowdiscalls, incars, gollyswoggles, the fusion of the (...) my nose and the Eiffel Tower). Particularists frequently respond by conceding that there is no ontologically significant difference and embracing some sort of deflationary metaontology (relativism, constructivism, quantifier variance). I show -- by identifying ontologically significant differences -- that the argument can be resisted without retreating to any sort of deflationary metaontology. (shrink)
When some objects are the parts of another object, they compose that object and that object is composite. This article is intended as an introduction to the central questions about composition and a highly selective overview of various answers to those questions. In §1, we review some formal features of parthood that are important for understanding the nature of composition. In §2, we consider some answers to the question: which pluralities of objects together compose something? As we will see, the (...) dominant answers are all of them and none of them. In §§3-4, we examine one of the main arguments that has driven philosophers to these extreme answers: the argument from vagueness. In §5, we turn to the question of whether composition is unique: is it sometimes the case that some things compose more than one thing? Finally, in §6, we turn from the question of which composites exist to the question of which composites exist fundamentally. (shrink)
Many of those who accept the universalist thesis that mereological composition is unrestricted also maintain that the folk typically restrict their quantifiers in such a way as to exclude strange fusions when they say things that appear to conflict with universalism. Despite its prima facie implausibility, there are powerful arguments for universalism. By contrast, there is remarkably little evidence for the thesis that strange fusions are excluded from the ordinary domain of quantification. Furthermore, this reconciliatory strategy seems hopeless when applied (...) to the more fundamental conflict between universalism and the intuitions that tell against it. (shrink)
A symposium on my *Objects: Nothing Out of the Ordinary* (2015). In response to Wallace, I attempt to clarify the dialectical and epistemic role that my arguments from counterexamples were meant to play, I provide a limited defense of the comparison to the Gettier examples, and I embrace the comparison to Moorean anti-skeptical arguments. In response to deRosset, I provide a clearer formulation of conservatism, explain how a conservative should think about the interaction between intuition and science, and discuss what (...) conservatives should say about scattered territories, clonal colonies, and arbitrary systems. In response to Tillman and Spencer, I fortify my original presentation of the debunking arguments by clarifying why, even while trees (if they exist) are paradigmatically causal, conservatives are meant to be rationally obstructed from believing that it is trees that are causing our tree beliefs. (shrink)
Dry earth seems to its inhabitants (our intrinsic duplicates) just as earth seems to us, that is, it seems to them as though there are rivers and lakes and a clear, odorless liquid flowing from their faucets. But, in fact, this is an illusion; there is no such liquid anywhere on the planet. I address two objections to externalism concerning the nature of the concept that is expressed by the word 'water' in the mouths of the inhabitants of dry earth. (...) Gabriel Segal presents a dilemma for the externalist concerning the application conditions of the concept, and Paul Boghossian presents a dilemma for the externalist concerning the complexity of the concept. I show that, in both cases, the externalist may occupy the horn of his choice without departing from either the letter or spirit of externalism. (shrink)
There’s the question of what there is, and then there’s the question of what ultimately exists. Many contend that, once we have this distinction clearly in mind, we can see that there is no sensible debate to be had about whether there are such things as properties or tables or numbers, and that the only ontological question worth debating is whether such things are ultimate (in one or another sense). I argue that this is a mistake. Taking debates about ordinary (...) objects as a case study, I show that the arguments that animate these debates bear directly on the question of which objects there are and cannot plausibly be recast as arguments about what’s ultimate. I also address the objection that, because they are easy answerable, questions about what there is cannot be a proper subject of ontological debate. (shrink)
Words, languages, symphonies, fictional characters, games, and recipes are plausibly abstract artifacts— entities that have no spatial location and that are deliberately brought into existence as a result of creative acts. Many accept that composition is unrestricted: for every plurality of material objects, there is a material object that is the sum of those objects. These two views may seem entirely unrelated. I will argue that the most influential argument against restricted composition—the vagueness argument—doubles as an argument that there can (...) be no abstract artifacts. There is no way to resist the vagueness argument against abstract artifacts that does not also undermine the vagueness argument against restricted composition. (shrink)
Our aim here is to explore the prospects of a relativist response to moral debunking arguments. We begin by clarifying the relativist thesis under consideration, and we explain why relativists seem well-positioned to resist the arguments in a way that avoids the drawbacks of existing responses. We then show that appearances are deceiving. At bottom, the relativist response is no less question-begging than standard realist responses, and – when we turn our attention to the strongest formulation of the debunking argument (...) – the virtues of relativism turn out to be vices. (shrink)
I defend an interpretation of Locke’s remarks on substratum according to which substrata not only have sensible qualities but are just familiar things and stuffs: horses, stones, gold, wax, and snow. The supporting relation that holds between substrata and the qualities that they support is simply the familiar relation of having, or instantiating, which holds between a particular substance and its qualities. I address the obvious objection to the interpretation -- namely, that it cannot be reconciled with Locke’s claim that (...) the idea substratum is an obscure, confused idea of we know not what -- and I identify numerous textual parallels between Locke's discussions of substrata and particular substances which strongly support the deflationary interpretation. (shrink)
We present an explanatory objection to Norton's material theory of induction, as applied to predictive inferences. According to the objection we present, there is an explanatory disconnect between our beliefs about the future and the relevant future facts. We argue that if we recognize such a disconnect, we are no longer rationally entitled to our future beliefs.
The counterintuitive implications of law necessitarianism pose a far more serious threat than its proponents recognize. Law necessitarians are committed to scientific essentialism, the thesis that there are metaphysically necessary truths which can be known only a posteriori. The most frequently cited arguments for this position rely on modal intuitions. Rejection of intuition thus threatens to undermine it. I consider ways in which law necessitarians might try to defend scientific essentialism without invoking intuition. I then consider ways in which law (...) necessitarians who accept the general reliability of intuition might try to explain away the intuitions which conflict with their theory. (shrink)
You see a cherry and you experience it as red. A textbook explanation for why you have this sort of experience is going to cite such things as the cherry’s chemical surface properties and the distinctive mixture wavelengths of light it is disposed to reflect. What does not show up in this explanation is the redness of the cherry. Many allege that the availability of color-free explanations of color experience somehow calls into question our beliefs about the colors of objects (...) around us. We explore how such explanations are supposed to undermine color beliefs, and in particular whether evolutionary considerations have any special role to play. (shrink)
A review of Jody Azzouni's "Ontology without Borders". Azzouni defends "ontological projectivism", a variety of ontological nihilism according to which "ontological borders" are not "worldly". I raise some questions about the view and about his master argument for it.
Kripke maintains that one who stipulatively introduces the term ' one meter' as a rigid designator for the length of a certain stick s at time t is in a position to know a priori that if s exists at t then the length of s at t is one meter. Some (e.g., Soames 2003) have objected to this alleged instance of the contingent a priori on the grounds that the stipulator's knowledge would have to be based in part on (...) substantive metalinguistic knowledge. I examine Soames's argument for the a posteriority of the relevant metalinguistic knowledge, and I argue that its main premise is false. (shrink)
Chapter 1: “Ordinary Objects and the Argument from Strange Concepts.” Chapter 2: “Restricted Composition Without Sharp Cut-Offs.” Chapter 3: “Three Solutions to the Grounding Problem for Coincident Objects.” Chapter 4: “Ordinary Objects Without Overdetermination.” Chapter 5: “Eliminativism and the Challenge from Folk Belief.” Chapter 6: “Unrestricted Composition and Restricted Quantification.”.
The main focus of the review is Horgan and Potrč’s strategy for reconciling austere ontologies -- like their own, which includes exactly one concrete particular: “the blobject” -- with ordinary discourse about tables and the like. I try to show that, once we accept their ontological conclusions, there is no reason to prefer their conciliatory ontological-cum-semantic package to a more straightforward error-theoretic package on which we simply say lots of false things in ordinary discourse about tables and the like.
Textual entailment is a relationship that obtains between fragments of text when one fragment in some sense implies the other fragment. The automation of textual entailment recognition supports a wide variety of text-based tasks, including information retrieval, information extraction, question answering, text summarization, and machine translation. Much ingenuity has been devoted to developing algorithms for identifying textual entailments, but relatively little to saying what textual entailment actually is. This article is a review of the logical and philosophical issues involved in (...) providing an adequate definition of textual entailment. We show that many natural definitions of textual entailment are refuted by counterexamples, including the most widely cited definition of Dagan et al. We then articulate and defend the following revised definition: T textually entails H = df typically, a human reading T would be justified in inferring the proposition expressed by H from the proposition expressed by T. We also show that textual entailment is context-sensitive, nontransitive, and nonmonotonic. (shrink)
Punishment stands in need of justification because it involves intentionally harming offenders. Trust-based retributivists attempt to justify punishment by appeal to the offender’s violation of the victim’s trust, maintaining that the state is entitled to punish offenders as a means of restoring conditions of trust to their pre-offense levels. I argue that trust-based retributivism fails on two counts. First, it entails the permissibility of punishing the legally innocent and fails to justify the punishment of some offenders. Second, it cannot satisfactorily (...) explain why it is morally permissible for the government to intentionally harm offenders. (shrink)
In Form, Matter, Substance, Kathrin Koslicki articulates and defends her preferred brand of hylomorphism, weighing in on how we should conceive of the matter and the form of such compounds, and on how they can qualify as fundamental “substances” despite being ontologically dependent on their components. I review Koslicki’s principal claims and conclusions (§1), and then raise some concerns about her master argument for “individual forms” (§2) and her criticism of standard essentialist accounts of artifacts (§3).
Thoroughly updated, the second edition of this highly successful textbook continues to represent the most comprehensive and authoritative collection of canonical readings in metaphysics. In addition to updated material from the first edition, it presents entirely new sections on ontology and the metaphysics of material objects.
Learning from Arguments advances accessible versions of key philosophical arguments, in a form that students can emulate in their own writing, and with the primary aim of cultivating an understanding of the dynamics of philosophical argumentation. -/- The book contains ten core chapters, covering the problem of evil, Pascal’s wager, personal identity, the irrationality of fearing death, free will and determinism, Cartesian skepticism, the problem of induction, the problem of political authority, the violinist argument, the future-like-ours argument, the ethics of (...) eating meat, utilitarianism (both act and rule), and the trolley problem. Additionally, there is an introductory chapter explaining what arguments are and surveying some common argumentative strategies, an appendix on logic explaining the mechanics and varieties of valid arguments, and an appendix providing detailed advice for writing philosophy papers. -/- Each of the ten core chapters offers a sustained argument for some controversial thesis, specifically written for an audience of beginners. The aim is to introduce newcomers to the dynamics of philosophical argumentation, using some of the arguments standardly covered in an introductory philosophy course, but without the additional hurdles one encounters when reading the primary sources of the arguments: challenging writing, specialized jargon, and references to unfamiliar books, philosophers, or schools of thought. (shrink)