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Topics in Ontology: Carving up Reality Daniel von Wachter

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1 Topics in Ontology: Carving up Reality Daniel von Wachter

2 Change 21 February: The Existence of God 28 February: Event Causation 7 March: Agent Causation Discussion session Mondays 10am?

3 Essay Write two essays answering questions from the list. The first to warm up, not more than 2000 words. As soon as possible, at the latest till 25 February. The second not more than 3000 words. Till 3 March. (I am leaving 9 March)

4 Essential reading Armstrong, David M Universals: An Opinionated Introduction. Boulder: Westerview Press. (Or his A World of States of Affairs, 1997) Campbell, Keith Abstract Particulars. Oxford: Blackwell. Simons, Peter Particulars in Particular Clothing: Three Trope Theories of Substance. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 54: Loux, Michael J Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction. London: Routledge, ch..

5 How to write the essay Answer the question head on. Don’t start with “Already Plato …” Don’t write anything that is not relevant for the defence of your answer. Be concise!

6 Today: survey the main ontological theories and carve up reality The problem of universals Metaphysics versus semantics Various ontologies Carving up reality

7 What people mean by ‘ontology’ Christian Wolff (1729): “Ontology is the science of Being in general or as Being”. Part of metaphysics. Science of the most general structures of reality. Theory of semantic values and ontological commitments. Database structure.

8 The problem of universals Apparently, things can share something, e.g. two things can have mass 1 kg. What is going on there? There are things that resemble each other. What does resemblance consist in, at the most basic level? Things are causally complex. So do they have ontic constituents?

9 Universals as a solution to the problem of universals Resemblance is analysed in terms of identity. Two things can share something, namely a universal. So there are entities that, other than other kinds of entities, can be identically at different things.

10 Metaphysics versus Semantics Some authors, and we, mean by ontology the investigation of the most general structures of reality independently of whether and how things are referred to. But other authors mean by ontology the investigation of which concepts there are. By saying that there are universals they mean (something like) that there are general concepts.

11 Semantific metaphysics: the argument from meaning This is a bad, semantic, argument. There are general terms. There has to be something that constitutes or corresponds to the meaning of the general terms. So there has to be horseness, etc., i.e. universals. Semanticians may also call universals a kind of entity, but if you look closer you see that they really mean a kind of concept.

12 Armstrong on the argument from meaning “I regard this... line of argument as completely unsound. Furthermore, I believe that the identification of universals with meanings (connotations, intensions), which this argument presupposes, has been a disaster for the theory of universals. A thoroughgoing separation of the theory of universals from the theory of the semantics of general terms is in fact required. Only if we first develop a satisfactory theory of universals can we expect to develop fruitfully the further topic of the semantics of general terms.”

13 Semantific metaphysics: ‘descriptive metaphysics’ Strawson, in Individuals (1959), wants to be modest and do “descriptive metaphysics”: “Descriptive metaphysics is content to describe the actual structure of our thought about the world, revisionary metaphysics is concerned to produce a better structure.” This shows that Strawson is concerned only with concepts.

14 Semantific metaphysics: ‘ontological commitment’ Quine: ‘The universe of entities is the range of values of variables. To be is the value of a variable.’ (‘Designation and Existence’, 1939) ‘Entities of a given sort are assumed by a theory if and only if some of them must be counted among the values of the variables in order that the statements affirmed in the theory be true.’ Authors in this tradition inquire whether there is a certain type of entity by inquiring whether we ‘quantify over them’ and whether we can eliminate this quantification.

15 Semantific metaphysics: ‘ontological commitment’ See ‘On what there is’, in From a logical point of view. You can’t read off from language what kinds of entities there are. There are always different theories available about what the truthmakers of a given set of sentences are.

16 Semantific metaphysics: ‘semantic analysis’ (Lewis) Lewis: there are entities of a certain type (e.g. possible worlds; properties) if we ‘need’ them ‘to provide an adequate supply of semantic values for lingustic expressions’. Example: ‘Humility is a virtue’. We need an entity to assign as semantic value to the word. We should assume that there is the property humility (where a property is a class of possibilia: those things of which it is true to say that they are humble). ‘Properties can serve as the requisite semantic value.’

17 Open questions Is there a structure of reality parallel to the structure of language? What kind of theory is the metaphysician looking for? Is there a most general structure of reality describable philosophically, or does physics find out what the most general structure of reality is?

18 Properties Immanent vs transcendent universals Tropes (DC Williams; Husserl), abstract particulars (‘abstract’ not in the Quinean sense) Resemblance How does the realist account for non-exact universals?

19 Substrata vs bundles Bundles of properties –independent tropes –tropes dependent on other tropes Bare substratum Kinded substrata

20 Universals and substrata David Armstrong: A World of States of Affairs (1997) Immanent universals, which cannot exist without being instantiated Substrata that cannot exist without instantiating universals

21 Trope bundle theory DC Williams; K Campbell (Abstract Particulars, 1990) Peter Simons: 1994 ‘Particulars in particular clothing. Dependence as ontological glue.

22 Aristotle’s four category ontology inheres in a subject does not inhere in a subject is said of a subject whiteman is not said of a subject this whitethis man

23 Carving up reality Socrates (Phaedrus): Let’s try to carve up things at their natural joints. Not like a bad cook who destroys the limbs when he carves up the beast. What kind of carving is meant? What could make one way of carving up better than another one?

24 Carving up concrete things Are some portions of stuff ontologically privileged over others? Are boundaries something to be discovered? (If you point to a thing, is there a fact of the matter as to how far the thing goes?) Causal unity Boundaries Some contain a substratum that is an exemplification of a kind-universal

25 Carving up tropes Is the mass trope covering just the apple more natural than the mass trope covering just the apple? What could determine objective boundaries of tropes? Relativist view: We can refer, e.g., to the temperature in any region, and any region of temperature is equally legitimately to be conceived of as a temperature trope.

26 Lowe’s objection against tropes “[An object’s individual] color, say, is not “itself” an object, somehow related to the object of which it is the color. If it were an object, it would hve determinate identity conditions, and yet it does not appear that it can have these. Supposing the colored object to be uniformly colored, it makes doubtful sense to ask whether “the color” of its top half is numerically identical with “the color” of its bottom half, or whether either or both of these is identical with “the color” of the whole object. Certainly, these questions cannot apparently be answered in a nonarbitrary and principled way. (Lowe 1995, 512f)

27 Field ontology Campbell: Abstract Particulars, ch.. Wachter Relativism about carving up tropes. Tropes are carved out of something, of which each portion can be taken to be one trope. Boundaries are not something to be discovered. There is no non- arbitrary answer to the question how many temperature tropes there are in the pot. There is a certain number of fields (superimposed), each extended over all of space, each with a determinate strength at each point.

28 Field ontology Campbell: Abstract Particulars (p. 146): ‘Taking our clue from space-time itself, we now propose that all the basic tropes are partless and edgeless in the ways that space is, an that they change only in space-time’s innocent way. All basic tropes are space-filling fields, each one of them distributes some quantity, in perhaps varying intensities, across all of space time.’ Everywhere in space there are the same fields present. There may be, e.g., not a temperature field, but temperature consists ultimately of field strengths. Particles are certain configurations of field strengths in a certain region.

29 Questions Which ontologies entail that for each thing you refer to by pointing it is something to be discovered where it ends? Does ‘There are substances’ entail that substances have boundaries to be discovered? Which ontologies entail that there are privileged ways of carving up reality? Can one be conventionalist in ontology, e.g. by saying that one can refer to properties either as universals or as tropes? (Cf. Williams; Martin)


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