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

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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.

Audio

Video

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.…

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Do Abstract Objects Exist?

Real?

Do numbers “exist”? What about properties? I know my red apple exists, but does “redness” itself exist?

The existence of abstract objects seems, at first, like a deep metaphysical question. In fact, it’s a question of the pragmatics of language.

A couple of quick definitions. The view that abstract objects do exist is called “Platonism.” The view that they don’t is “nominalism.” Those who think they do exist, but only in the mind, are “conceptualists.”

Let’s take the case of numbers. A typical nominalist argument says that while you may bump into two apples somewhere along your travels, you’re never going to bump into “2.” There is no such thing independent of our descriptions of states of affairs. And that’s all abstract objects are – descriptions. They exist only in language.

The conceptualist replies: the fact that they exist even just as descriptions demonstrates that they do exist – in the mind. Abstract objects are mental fictions, and as such, they exist.

The Platonist’s retort: how do you explain that we all come up with the same mental fictions? When you and I speak of “the number of apples here,” we’re not talking about two different fictions that each of us came up with and which we happened to give the same name to. We’re speaking about the same thing: the number 2!

The Platonist may add that science corroborates the existence of numbers. Science predicts reality, and it does so through the use of numbers. This verifies the fact that numbers aren’t just some arbitrary or socially conditioned way of interpreting the world.…

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