Quine, “On What There Is” “A curious thing about the ontological problem is its simplicity. It can be put in three Anglo-Saxon monosyllables: ‘What is.

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Quine, “On What There Is” “A curious thing about the ontological problem is its simplicity. It can be put in three Anglo-Saxon monosyllables: ‘What is there?’ It can be answered, moreover, in a word – ‘Everything’ – and everyone will accept this answer as true. However, this is merely to say that there is what there is.” (p. 4a) (Q) Everything exists.

But, surely, some things don’t exist: hobbits, dragons, Pegasus. What there isWhat there isn’t HorsesDragons George BushPegasus Prime numbers > 10Largest prime (T) There are things that don’t exist  x~Ex (Ex: x exists) ?? Plato’s Beard, or The Riddle of nonbeing: How do we talk about what is not? When we deny the existence of x, what are we saying?

Some dumb philosophers, like McX, make the following argument: “If Pegasus were not…, we should not be talking about anything when we use the word; therefore it would be nonsense to say even that Pegasus is not.” (4b) When pressed, McX says, the Pegasus-idea exists. But, of course, that’s something different from Pegasus.

But some clever philosophers, e.g. Wyman (Meinong), argue that Pegasus has his being as an unactualized possible. (p. 5a) Actual Objects Horses Dragons All Objects

On this view, George Bush exists; he is spatio-temporally connected to you and me. Pegasus, on the other hand, subsists; Pegasus is a merely possible object. But, for Quine, this leads to a “bloated universe,” a “slum of possibles.” He is an advocate of “desert landscapes.” (p. 5b) Consider the possible fat man in the doorway. Is he identical with the possible bald man? Slogan #1: No entity without identity

Resolution: Russell: singular descriptions. “The author of Waverly was a poet”  “Something wrote Waverly and was a poet and nothing else wrote Waverly.” Virtue of Russell’s approach: use of bound variables, variables of quantification, i.e. “something,” “nothing” etc. Not names at all. Russell’s theory of descriptions allows us to discuss non- being. We must rephrase “Pegasus” as a definite description: “the winged horse that was captured by Bellerophon” I.e. “Pegasus does not exist”  “Either every thing failed to be the winged horse that was captured by Bellerophon or two or more things were winged horses captured by Bellerophon.”

Turn to universals McX claims that houses, roses, etc. can have an attribute – redness – in common. Ergo, McX: attributes exist. Ontological commitment: We could say: There is something which red houses and sunsets have in common. Or: There is something which is a prime number larger than a million. Slogan #2: to be assumed as an entity is, purely and simply, to be reckoned as the value of a variable.

“Some dogs are white”: some things that are dogs are white.  x(Dx & Wx) The range of the variable extends over some white dogs (if any there be) – but not over doghood and whiteness. “On the other hand, when we say that some zoological species are cross-fertile, we are committing ourselves to recognizing as entities the several species themselves, abstract though they are.” (p. 9b)

We look to bound variables not to know what there is but in order to know what a given remark or doctrine says there is. (p. 10b) Reasons for operating on the semantic plane: (1) to escape the problem from the beginning in which Q has difficulty talking about things that McX countenances and Q does not. (2) to find common ground on which to argue, n.b. references to conceptual schemes. Our acceptance of an ontology is similarity to our acceptance of a scientific theory  we adopt (or ought to adopt) the simplest conceptual scheme But appeals to theory simplicity are tricky. What ontology do we adopt? Question is open: approach with tolerance and an empirical spirit.

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