I propose a way of thinking aboout content, and a related way of thinking about ontologicalcommitment. (This is part of a series of four closely related papers. The other three are ‘On Specifying Truth-Conditions’, ‘An Actualist’s Guide to Quantifying In’ and ‘An Account of Possibility’.).
Quine’s general approach is to treat ontology as a matter of what a theory says there is. This turns ontology into a question of which existential statements are consequences of that theory. This approach is contrasted favourably with the view that takes ontologicalcommitment as a relation to things. However within the broadly Quinean approach we can distinguish different accounts, differing as to the nature of the consequence relation best suited for determining those consequences. It is suggested that (...) Quine’s own narrowly formal account fails. Then a consideration of the necessitation approach championed by Jackson and Lewis shows that it does not do justice to the role of acknowledging consequences in determining rationality. I suggest that an approach which puts a priori consequence as the key relation does a better job. The task of spelling out the nature of a priori consequence is sketched, along with reasons to doubt the adequacy of the double indexing approach to analysing the a priori. The sorts of relations we can stand in to theories which allow us to inherit ontological commitments are touched on with a number of important philosophical strategies for introducing belief-like attitudes which nevertheless avoid ontologicalcommitment. (shrink)
Actualism is the doctrine that the only things there are, that have being in any sense, are the things that actually exist. In particular, actualism eschews possibilism, the doctrine that there are merely possible objects. It is widely held that one cannot both be an actualist and at the same time take possible world semantics seriously — that is, take it as the basis for a genuine theory of truth for modal languages, or look to it for insight into the (...) modal structure of reality. For possible world semantics, it is supposed, commits one to possibilism. In this paper I take issue with this view. To the contrary, I argue that one can take possible world semantics seriously without any commitment to possible worlds or possibilism and hence remain in full compliance with actualist scruples. Moreover, one can do so without without invoking either "ersatz" worlds or haecceities. (shrink)
What are the ontological commitments of a sentence? In this paper I offer an answer from the perspective of the truthmaker theorist that contrasts with the familiar Quinean criterion. I detail some of the benefits of thinking of things this way: they include making the composition debate tractable without appealing to a neo-Carnapian metaontology, making sense of neo-Fregeanism, and dispensing with some otherwise recalcitrant necessary connections.
It is persons who are ontologically committed. But a person is not ontologically committed by virtue of his character, his height, his social standing or whatever, but by virtue of the sentences he assents to. Hence we should look to sentences for a criterion of ontologicalcommitment. This is precisely what is done by advocates of what I will call the Referential theory. In this paper I argue that the Referential theory faces serious objections related to the role (...) paraphrase must play in it. I then present a modified Referential theory and go on to discuss certain implications of the modified theory. More precisely, the paper divides up as follows. In §1 I present the Referential theory. In §2 I argue that it is in trouble over paraphrase. In §3 I consider a general objection to the arguments of §2. In §4 I present the modified theory. In §5 I consider the implications of the modified theory for polemic over what there is and for the existence of properties or universals. (shrink)
There are two different ways of understanding the notion of ‘ontologicalcommitment ’. A question about ‘what is said to be’ by a theory or ‘what a theory says there is’ deals with ‘explicit’ commitment ; a question about the ontological costs or preconditions of the truth of a theory concerns ‘implicit’ commitment. I defend a conception of ontologicalcommitment as implicit commitment, and argue that existentially quantified idioms in natural language are (...) implicitly, but not explicitly, committing. I use the distinction between the two kinds of ontologicalcommitment to diagnose a flaw in a widely used argument to the effect that existential quantification is not ontologically committing. (shrink)
According to recent suggestions within the global pragmatism discussion, metaethical debate must be fundamentally re-framed. Instead of carving out metaethical differences in representational terms, it has been argued that metaethics should be given an inferentialist footing. In this paper, I put inferentialist metaethics to the test by subjecting it to the following two criteria for success: Inferentialist metaethicists must be able to save the metaethical differences between moral realism and expressivism, and do so in a way that employs understandings of (...) these metaethical accounts which would be acceptable to moral realists or expressivists who endorse an inferentialist theory of meaning. Two results follow from my discussion. The first concerns inferentialist metaethics more narrowly, casting doubts on inferentialists’ ability to fulfil the two criteria for success by showing that proposed metaethical demarcation attempts either meet the first criterion but violate the second, or pass the second criterion but fail the first. The second upshot pertains to the global pragmatism debate more widely, pressing the point that inferentialists have not as yet provided a convincing account of ontologicalcommitment. (shrink)
Some forms of analytic reconstructivism take natural language (and common sense at large) to be ontologically opaque: ordinary sentences must be suitably rewritten or paraphrased before questions of ontologicalcommitment may be raised. Other forms of reconstructivism take the commitment of ordinary language at face value, but regard it as metaphysically misleading: common-sense objects exist, but they are not what we normally think they are. This paper is an attempt to clarify and critically assess some common limits (...) of these two reconstructivist strategies. (shrink)
There are two doctrines for which Quine is particularly well known: the doctrine of ontologicalcommitment and the inscrutability thesis—the thesis that reference and quantification are inscrutable. At first glance, the two doctrines are squarely at odds. If there is no fact of the matter as to what our expressions refer to, then it would appear that no determinate commitments can be read off of our best theories. We argue here that the appearance of a clash between the (...) two doctrines is illusory. The reason that there is no real conflict is not simply that in determining our theories’ ontological commitments we naturally rely on our home language but also (and more importantly) that ontologicalcommitment is not intimately tied to objectual quantification and a reference-first approach to language. Or so we will argue. We conclude with a new inscrutability argument which rests on the observation that the notion of objectual quantification, when properly cashed out, deflates. (shrink)
Presentism is the doctrine that only the present is real. Since ordinary talk and thought are full of quantification over non-present objects, presentists are in a familiar predicament: in their unreflective moments they apparently commit themselves to far more than their ontological scruples allow. A familiar response is to begin a project of paraphrase. Truths appearing to quantify over problematic entities are shown, on analysis, to not involve quantification over those entities after all. But I think that we might (...) be better off abandoning paraphrase altogether. I suggest a project of discovering “underlying truths” rather than paraphrases. I will explore this strategy as applied to defending presentism, but my hope is that lovers of desert landscapes everywhere will herein find words of comfort. (shrink)
George Boolos's employment of plurals to give an ontologically innocent interpretation of monadic higher‐order quantification continues and extends a minority tradition in thinking about quantification and ontologicalcommitment. An especially prominent member of that tradition is Stanislaw Leśniewski, and shall first draw attention to this work and its relation to that of Boolos. Secondly I shall stand up briefly for plurals as logically respectable expressions, while noting their limitations in offering ontologically deflationary accounts of higher‐order quantification. Thirdly I (...) shall focus on the key idea of ontologicalcommitment and investigate its connection with the idea of truth‐making. Fourthly I shall consider how different interpretations of quantification may sideline Boolos's work, but finally I shall largely support his analysis of quantification involving nominal expressions, while arguing, in the spirit of Arthur Prior, that non‐nominal quantification is non‐committing. (shrink)
When we use a directly referential expression to denote an object, do we incur an ontologicalcommitment to that object, as Russell and Barcan Marcus held? Not according to Quine, whose regimented language has only variables as denoting expressions, but no constants to model direct reference. I make a case for a more liberal conception of ontologicalcommitment—more wide-ranging than Quine’s—which allows for commitment to individuals, with an improved logical language of regimentation. The reason for (...) Quine’s prohibition on commitment to individuals, I argue, is that his choice of regimented language is heavily informed by his holist epistemology, in which objects are introduced via a description of their explanatory role. But non-holists can coherently attempt to commit to individuals using directly referential expressions, modelled in a formal language as constants. While holding on to the insight that a logical language is a helpful medium for ontology, I propose instead a more permissive language of regimentation, one expanded to permit the use of constants to record attempts to commit to individuals, which allows us to make sense of non-holist theories with alternative name-based or name-and-variable-based criteria of ontologicalcommitment as well as Quinean theories. (shrink)
Contemporary logicians sometimes discuss questions like ‘What criterion is there for deciding whether a portion of language or a theory is committed to the existence of anything?’, ‘Does mathematics require us to countenance or tolerate abstract entities?’. In the course of these discussions ancient problems about universals reappear in a new dress. Quine, for one, would agree that it is not by our use of general terms that we commit ourselves to the existence of anything, for general terms like ‘red’ (...) and ‘five’ are not names. Nor does the use of names commit one to corresponding entities, for we sometimes use a name non–designatively. “Names,” as Quine says, “are in fact altogether immaterial to the onto–logical issue.” Quine argues that there is only one way in which we can find out what entities a theory commits us to. Given that the theory is expressed in the symbolism of quantification theory, we discover what entities the theory is committed to by examining what entities have to be values of our bound variables if the statements made in the theory are to be true. “To be is purely and simply to be the value of a variable”. I want to argue in this paper that Quine’s criterion of ontologicalcommitment cannot distinguish genuine from bogus ontologicalcommitment and is therefore inadequate. (shrink)
From Parmenides to the present, philosophers have been attracted by characterizations of being as being uttered or utterable, formulated or formulable. But what for Parmenides was presumably a valid co-entailment between antecedently understood concepts reappears in contemporary thought as a proffered explication of what it is to be. Without presuming to discredit Parmenidean views in general, my purpose here is to examine certain members of a modern family of theories of existence that fall into place around Quine’s. Depending on the (...) methodology of explication espoused, the theories in this family are either semantic commentaries on ideal languages, or they are themselves interpreted formalized languages. The former may be called, after Quine, theories of ontologicalcommitment. The theories of the latter sort I wish to consider are called, after Karel Lambert, free logics, i.e., logic systems the singular terms of which are free of existential import. My conclusion about theories of both kinds is that, while unexceptionable on their own terms, from a broader point of view they beg the question of what it is to be. In arguing that these theories thus fail to clarify the concept of existence, I believe I am not so much propounding a new insight as articulating an objection many thinkers have felt in the face of views akin to Quine’s. (shrink)
In this paper, I articulate and argue for a new truthmaker view of ontologicalcommitment, which I call the “General Truthmaker View”: when one affirms a sentence, one is ontologically committed to there being something that makes true the proposition expressed by the sentence. This view comes apart from Quinean orthodoxy in that we are not ontologically committed to the things over which we quantify, and it comes apart from extant truthmaker views of ontologicalcommitment in (...) that we are not ontologically committed to the truthmakers of our sentences. (shrink)
Terence Horgan's "contextual semantics" is supposed to be a means to avoid unwanted ontological commitments, in particular commitments to non-physical objects, such as institutions, theories and symphonies. The core of contextual semantics is the claim that truth is correct assertibility, and that there are various standards of correct assertibility, the standards of "referential semantics" being only one among others. I am investigating the notions of correct assertibility,assertibility norms and indirect reference. I argue that closer inspection reveals that contextual semantics (...) ultimately amounts – contra Horgan's intentions – to a paraphrase strategy. I defend an ontologicalcommitment to theories and symphonies. (shrink)
With the aid of some results from current linguistic theory I examine a recent anti-Fregean line with respect to hybrid talk of numbers and ordinary things, such as ‘the number of moons of Jupiter is four’. I conclude that the anti-Fregean line with respect to these sentences is indefensible.
This commentary suggests that understanding the “Folk Psychology of Souls” requires studying a problem articulating ontology with psychology: How do human beings, both as perceivers and thinkers, track and refer to (1) living and dead intentional agents and (2) supernatural agents? The problem is discussed in the light of the principle of the ontologicalcommitment in agent tracking.
According to the familiar Quinean understanding of ontologicalcommitment, (1) one undertakes ontological commitments only via theoretical regimentations, and (2) ontological commitments are to be identified with the domain of a theory’s quantifiers. Jody Azzouni accepts (1), but rejects (2). Azzouni accepts (1) because he believes that no vernacular expression carries ontological commitments. He rejects (2) by locating a theory’s commitments with the extension of an existence predicate. I argue that Azzouni’s two theses undermine each (...) other. If ontological commitments follow from predications of existence, then ontological commitments can be expressed in the vernacular via negative existential sentences. (shrink)
Emotion education is enjoying new-found popularity. This paper explores the ‘cosy consensus’ that seems to have developed in education circles, according to which approaches to emotion education are immune from metaethical considerations such as contrasting rationalist and sentimentalist views about the moral ontology of emotions. I spell out five common assumptions of recent approaches to emotion education and explore their potential compatibility with four paradigmatic moral ontologies. I argue that three of these ontologies fail to harmonise with the common assumptions. (...) Either those three must therefore be rejected or, if we want to retain one or more of them, we need to revise our assumptions about the practice of emotion education in ways that are both radical and, I argue, ultimately unacceptable. (shrink)
Second-order axiomatizations of certain important mathematical theories—such as arithmetic and real analysis—can be shown to be categorical. Categoricity implies semantic completeness, and semantic completeness in turn implies determinacy of truth-value. Second-order axiomatizations are thus appealing to realists as they sometimes seem to offer support for the realist thesis that mathematical statements have determinate truth-values. The status of second-order logic is a controversial issue, however. Worries about ontologicalcommitment have been influential in the debate. Recently, Vann McGee has argued (...) that one can get some of the technical advantages of second-order axiomatizations—categoricity, in particular—while walking free of worries about ontologicalcommitment. In so arguing he appeals to the notion of an open-ended schema—a schema that holds no matter how the language of the relevant theory is extended. Contra McGee, we argue that second-order quantification and open-ended schemas are on a par when it comes to ontologicalcommitment. (shrink)
The standard account of ontologicalcommitment is quantificational. There are many old and well-chewed-over challenges to the account, but recently Kit Fine added a new challenge. Fine claimed that the ‘‘quantificational account gets the basic logic of ontologicalcommitment wrong’’ and offered an alternative account that used an existence predicate. While Fine’s argument does point to a real lacuna in the standard approach, I show that his own account also gets ‘‘the basic logic of ontological (...)commitment wrong’’. In response, I offer a full quantificational account, using the resources of plural logic, and argue that it leads to a complete theory of natural language ontologicalcommitment. (shrink)
In Parts of Classes (1991) and Mathematics Is Megethology (1993) David Lewis defends both the innocence of plural quantification and of mereology. However, he himself claims that the innocence of mereology is different from that of plural reference, where reference to some objects does not require the existence of a single entity picking them out as a whole. In the case of plural quantification . Instead, in the mereological case: (Lewis, 1991, p. 87). The aim of the paper is to (...) argue that one—an innocence thesis similar to that of plural reference is defensible. To give a precise account of plural reference, we use the idea of plural choice. We then propose a virtual theory of mereology in which the role of individuals is played by plural choices of atoms. (shrink)
Disagreement over what exists is so fundamental that it tends to hinder or even to block dialogue among disputants. The various controversies between believers and atheists, or realists and nominalists, are only two kinds of examples. Interested in contributing to the intelligibility of the debate on ontology, in 1939 Willard van Orman Quine began a series of works which introduces the notion of ontologicalcommitment and proposes an allegedly objective criterion to identify the exact conditions under which a (...) theoretical discourse signals an assumption of existence. I intend to present the concept of ontologicalcommitment and the Quinean criterion, to expose and evaluate some of the many criticisms to which the criterion has subject and to situate it in the context of Quine’s philosophy. As a product of such analyses, I hope to contribute to the discussion on the application and relevance of the notion of ontologicalcommitment. (shrink)
In almost all of his writings on ontology, Quine celebrated the discovery of contextual definition as a milestone of the history of philosophy. The philosophical appeal of this tool resides in the hope that it allows us to reduce the ontological commitments of theories in substantial ways. The goal of this paper is to show that contextual definition does not really come up to this hope. It is argued that the material adequacy of such definitions presupposes a very strong (...) context-principle, one implying that theories do not have any ontological commitments at all. (shrink)
Modal Platonism utilizes "weak" logical possibility, such that it is logically possible there are abstract entities, and logically possible there are none. Modal Platonism also utilizes a non-indexical actuality operator. Modal Platonism is the EASY WAY, neither reductionist nor eliminativist, but embracing the Platonistic language of abstract entities while eliminating ontologicalcommitment to them. Statement of Modal Platonism. Any consistent statement B ontologically committed to abstract entities may be replaced by an empirically equivalent modalization, MOD(B), not so ontologically (...) committed. This equivalence is provable using Modal/Actuality Logic S5@. Let MAX be a strong set theory with individuals. Then the following Schematic Bombshell Result (SBR) can be shown: MAX logically yields [T is true if and only if MOD(T) is true], for scientific theories T. The proof utilizes Stephen Neale's clever model-theoretic interpretation of Quantified Lewis S5, which I extend to S5@. (shrink)
The most important argument against the B-theory of time is the paraphrase argument. The major defense against that argument is the “new” tenseless theory of time, which is built on what I will call the “indexical reply” to the paraphrase argument. The move from the “old” tenseless theory of time to the new is most centrally a change of viewpoint about the nature and determiners of ontologicalcommitment. Ironically, though, the new tenseless theorists have generally not paid enough (...) sustained, direct attention to that notion. I will defend a general criterion of ontologicalcommitment and apply it to generate a version of the new tenseless theory of time. I will argue that many of the extant versions of the new tenseless theory of time (specifically, all those which seek to identify tenseless truth-conditions of tensed sentences as a way out of apparent ontologicalcommitment to tensed features of reality) are unsatisfactory because their general criterion of ontologicalcommitment is inadequate. Those versions of the new tenseless theory which are adequate (specifically, those which identify tenseless truthmakers for tensed sentences) actually entail the criterion of ontologicalcommitment that I defend, despite appearances to the contrary. (shrink)
In this paper, I argue that, contrary to the constructive empiricist’s position, observability is not an adequate criterion as a guide to ontologicalcommitment in science. My argument has two parts. First, I argue that the constructive empiricist’s choice of observability as a criterion for ontologicalcommitment is based on the assumption that belief in the existence of unobservable entities is unreasonable because belief in the existence of an entity can only be vindicated by its observation. (...) Second, I argue that the kind of ontologicalcommitment that is under consideration when accepting a scientific theory is commitment to what I call theoretical kinds and that observation can vindicate commitment to kinds only in exceptional cases. (shrink)
In his article on pre-conventions, Celano presents, what the author calls, the OntologicalCommitment Thesis and the Normative Bite Thesis. In this short comment, the author argues that the two theses are together both incompatible with the idea that pre-conventions are facts which have causal powers in human behaviour; also, if the ontological thesis is abandoned, normative determination could not be obtained. In other terms, the author argues that either pre-conventions are part of our causal explanation of (...) human behaviour or pre-conventions are abstract entities able to determine human behaviour normatively. In the first case, pre-conventions lack normative meaning, while in the second pre-conventions cannot integrate our causal explanation of human actions. Tertium non datur. (shrink)