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#50 - Jody Azzouni: Ontology without Borders

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An old problem: I say, “Santa Claus is fat”. I am saying something true about Santa Claus. But (content warning) Santa Claus doesn’t exist. So what is it that I am correctly saying is fat? And what – if not its ostensive subject – makes the sentence true?

This problem is at the center of ontology. The most influential approach in the 20th century was offered by W. V. O. Quine, who argued that we’re committedto the existence of any object that we must quantify over in order to state the truths of physics in first-order logic. At first, this seems rather arbitrary. Why first-order logic? What makes quantifiers so special? Why physics? And what does what we’re “committed to” tell us about what actually exists? For roughly the first half of this interview, philosopher Jody Azzouni unpacks the thinking behind Quine’s famous criterion. In the second half, he expounds his own view: he rejects Quine’s criterion, and so sees no problem with referring to that which doesn’t exist. This leaves Azzouni open to embrace a radical nominalism, in which almost none of the objects we typically think of as existing really do. This is because, as Azzouni explains, “ontological borders” are projected. There is nothing “out there” that separates one object from another. The fact that our language is built around distinct objects tells us plenty about our psychology, but nothing about the world itself, which comes with “features” but not individual objects.

Want to hear a different take on the same questions? Check out my interview with Amie Thomasson.

Featured Blog Post

The Easy Case for Dialetheism: Timmy the Square Circle and Divaltopian Law

Dialetheism is the view that some contradictions are true. Put another way, dialetheists claim that there are propositions that are both true and false at the same time and in the same respect. I argue that, despite initial appearances, dialetheism is intuitively compelling and even quite obviously true. I conjure the cases of Timmy the Square Circle and Divaltopian Law to show why this must be.

This is part one of a two-part series. Part two considers the possibility of contradictions about physical reality.

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Talia (audiodrama album)

"It all started when I decided to write a self-aware character." A narrative and musical  journey into the mind of a writer who fears that a fictional character of his own creation may be plotting to permanently hijack his very identity and agency. The humorous, philosophical, tragic, and absurd story is accompanied by a rich and varied original score, incorporating elements of electronica, prog rock, jazz, hip-hop, chamber, choral, avant-garde, and metal. 96 min. album.