On What There Is
Quine (W.V.)
Source: Quine - From a Logical Point of View
Paper - Abstract

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Frazer MacBride’s Notes on W.V.O. Quine "On What There Is" (MPhil Stud Seminar, Birkbeck, 3rd October 2005)

Fundamental Point: "To be assumed as an entity is, purely and simply, to be reckoned as the value of a variable.... We are convicted of a particular ontological presupposition if, and only if, the alleged presuppositum has to be reckoned among the entities over which our variables range in order to render one of our affirmations true" (OWI: 13).

Structure of paper

  1. Plato's Beard—unsatisfactory responses to the Puzzle of Non-Being (OWI: 1-5)
  2. Untangling the Beard using Russell's Theory of Descriptions (OWI: 5-9)
  3. The Problem of Universals1—there are no universals2 (OWI: 9-15)
  4. Ontological Methodology—how to adjudicate between rival ontologies (OWI: 15-19)
  1. Plato's Beard: Does Pegasus exist? If he doesn't then what am I denying the existence of?
    • a) McX3 identifies Pegasus with a mental idea but Pegasus no more an idea than the Parthenon.
    • b) Wyman4 identifies Pegasus with an un-actualised possibility but such entities are unduly mysterious and there also non-existent things which could not exist (e.g. the round square cupola).
  2. Untangling the Beard
    There's no necessity to admit non-existent objects because
    • (c) Russell's theory of descriptions and
    • (d) Frege's distinction between sense and reference
    show that being meaningful and naming are different things.
      (TD5): The F Gs ↔ (∃xFx & (∀yFy → x=y)) & Gx
  3. The Problem of Universals6
    There is no need to admit mysterious entities like being red any more than non-existent things like Pegasus because
    • (e) the semantic role of a predicate is simply to be true or false of an entity picked out by a name,
    • (f) expressions can be meaningful without there being meanings and
    • (g) we do not quantify over predicate expressions.
    Clarifying ontological commitment by comparison with philosophy of mathematics:
      realism—logicism, conceptualism—intuitionism, nominalism—formalism.
  4. Ontological Methodology
    A criterion of ontological commitment does not tell us what there is, but what someone says there is; whether we accept what someone says is guided by the general ideals of theory construction; a choice of ontology is determined by the over-all conceptual scheme that accommodates science in the broadest sense.


Required reading for Birkbeck MPhil Stud Seminar 03/10/2005; Also in:- Photocopy filed in "Various - Heythrop Essays & Supporting Material (Boxes)". Note - see "Funkhouser (Eric) - Notes on Quine, “On What There Is”".

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 3: TT: Presumably McTaggart.

Footnote 4: TT: Presumably Meinong.

Footnote 5: TD = “(Russell’s) Theory of Descriptions.” For helpful HTML tags for logical connectives, see Wikipedia: List of logic symbols.

Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)

  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2019
  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)

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