Amie Thomasson: Ontology Made Easy | Who Shaves the Barber? #23

Download this episode / Watch on YouTube / RSS Feed / iTunes

Amie Thomasson Ontology
Amie Thomasson

Do tables really exist?

While debate over such a seemingly trivial question may initially sound ridiculous, the existence of “ordinary objects” is a controversial question in contemporary metaphysics. Events, numbers, properties, and “mereological sums” are among other contested “objects”. Indeed, ontology today is a bit of a quagmire of proposed objects and criteria for existence.

One of the major voices in this field is that of philosopher Amie Thomasson, who claims that ontology can actually be quite simple. In this interview, Prof. Thomasson walks us through the recent history of ontology – from Carnap to Quine to the contemporary arena – and offers a diagnosis of how things got so muddled. She then offers her alternative, which she calls “easy ontology”. According to her view, since we know that “I have two apples” is true (assuming it is), then it follows that the number of apples is two, and so that there is a number two, and therefore that at least one number exists. In this part 1, Thomasson draws out both the history of these debates and her own approach. In the second half, she’ll defend it against common objections.



Next week: Amie Thomasson: Objections to Easy Ontology
Special thanks to Jackie Blum for the podcast art, and The Tin Box for the theme music.

Topics discussed

0:10 – Introduction to Amie Thomasson
2:43 – What is ontology?
4:21 – Arguments against tables and chairs
8:30 – Quine and the neo-Quinean approach
22:13 – Carnap on internal versus external questions (use v. mention)
33:39 – Criteria for existence
36:07 – Easy ontology


Ontology Made Easy by Amie Thomasson
Ordinary Objects by Amie Thomasson
Metaphysical Disputes and Metalinguistic Negotiations” by Amie Thomasson
On What There Is” by W.V.O. Quine
Empiricism, Semantics, and Ontology” by Rudolf Carnap
Do Tables and Chairs Really Exist? Controversy over Ordinary Objects” by Amie Thomasson (video lecture)

4 thoughts on “Amie Thomasson: Ontology Made Easy | Who Shaves the Barber? #23”

  1. I think that philosophy could profit much from the precision in field of mathematics or science?? For instance unicorns do exist as an idea!! We cannot say categorically that they do not exist?? But that, they exist solely as an idea for the moment!! And off curse they have properties?? We can conceive of properties for our ideas!!!

  2. But here’s the killer question: Do ideas exist as Ontic realities??
    But what is a table?? Is a table contained in its individual parts?? As Amie has pointed out when we take out parts from a table, the table remains until the last part which keeps it as a table is taken out!! But is the table contained in that last part?? But if a table is not in its parts then it must exist as an idea?? And if ideas do not exist as Ontic realities then what does that say of the existence of tables??

  3. As far as tables are concerned, I think we need to make a distinction between the actual physical object you have before you and the label of Table that you place on it?? Table is actually an idea which fits the physical object under consideration?? There are any kinds of tables!! But there are general norms for what a table is?? How it looks like?? Table is an umbrella term which is a idea!! The object before you is just that a physical object which obviously exists but which fits the idea of Table!!!

  4. Another way to look at the problem of tables I think is to consider Table linguistically semantically did you know that Table does not exist in Spanish?? No, the actual word Table with its particular configuration of letters T a b l e, is not found in Spanish!! This is a good way I think of jogging our reality, our sense of what we consider to be reality?? Much of what we consider reality are our arbitrary creations!! Labels we put on stuff!!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *