Jody Azzouni: Ontology without Borders | Who Shaves the Barber? #50

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Jody Azzouni

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.…

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