Objects & Persons: Preface
Merricks (Trenton)
Source: Merricks - Objects and Persons, 2001, Preface
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  1. Ontological discovery is not empirical. But ontologists do make discoveries. Empirical investigation might tell us that an object is perforated. But it won't discover that there are holes, surrounded by (or partially composing) perforated objects. Only a good argument could discover that. We can see that one thing is the same colour as another. But whether this implies the existence of a universal, present in both, must be resolved philosophically. Census-takers may count us. But only an ontologist can find out whether there is a number that numbers us.
  2. Ontological discovery is not empirical. But ontologists do make discoveries. Or so say believers in ontology. And I believe. If seeing were believing, then by the end of this book you would believe too. For — assuming my arguments are successful — ontological discoveries follow.
  3. I shall argue that there are no inanimate macrophysical objects such as statues1 or baseballs or rocks or stars. But my ‘eliminativism' about these objects — like (so one might argue) controversial ontological claims about holes, universals2, and numbers — is consistent with the empirically established facts. This is because, as we shall see, I agree with my opponents that there are microscopica arranged in various ways, such as 'statuewise3', 'baseballwise', 'rockwise', and 'starwise'.
  4. Chapter 1 explains eliminativism in detail and addresses challenges to its coherence. Chapter 2 raises a number of considerations that motivate eliminativism. In Chapter 3 we find that, if things like statues4 and baseballs existed, everything they allegedly cause would be caused by their parts; if statues5 and baseballs existed, they would be — at best — wholly causally redundant. This, I argue, leads to their elimination.
  5. So much for what there is not. The next three chapters deal with what there is, focusing primarily on us human organisms. Chapter 4 argues that we have ‘non-redundant' causal powers — we can cause things not causally overdetermined by our proper parts — and that this keeps us from being eliminated by the arguments of Chapter 3. Chapter 5 shows why Chapter 2's considerations do not motivate eliminating us.
  6. Chapter 4's arguments work only if some conscious mental states are causally efficacious. So Chapter 6 blocks a serious argument for mental epiphenomenalism. That chapter also argues, among other things, that incompatibilists about free will should endorse the claim that we have non-redundant causal powers of the sort defended in Chapter 4. At least, incompatibilists should endorse this if they believe that we are human organisms who act freely.
  7. The seventh and final chapter argues that, though both believe falsely, someone who believes in statues6 (and baseballs and rocks and the rest) is better off than someone who believes in unicorns.
  8. My ontology is, more or less, in the tradition of those (arguably Aristotle's, obviously van Inwagen's) that endorse organisms and eliminate inanimate composite objects. But only more or less. For while I deny the existence of inanimate macroscopica — statues7, baseballs, rocks, stars, etc. — their problem is not that they are inanimate. Their problem is, among other things, that were they to exist, their causal powers would be at best redundant. (Thus it makes no real difference to my ontology if there happen to be some exotic inanimate macroscopica, just so long as they have non-redundant causal powers.) And I defend our existence — not on the grounds that we are alive — but on the grounds that, among other things, we have non-redundant causal powers. I am happy to eliminate any alleged organisms that, if theyexisted, would at most cause only what their parts overdetermine.
  9. I wrote most of this book during the academic year 1999/2000, while enjoying a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities and a leave from Virginia Commonwealth University. I am grateful to the NEH and to VCU for their generosity.
  10. Close ancestors of two short arguments in Chapter 1, and of an argument in Chapter 4, have already been published. They can be found8 in ‘Composition as Identity, Mereological Essentialism, and Counterpart Theory', '"No Statues9"', and ‘Against the Doctrine of Microphysical Supervenience10'. The first two articles appeared in the Australasian Journal of Philosophy, the third in Mind. I presented other arguments from this book at the University of Virginia (1999), the Eastern Division APA Symposium on Ontology (1999), and Notre Dame's awkwardly named but smoothly run Mighty Midwestern Metaphysical Mayhem IV (1999).
  11. I received a great deal of help on this book. I here offer my thanks to the many who made suggestions, raised objections, and responded to my questions. Thanks also go to Randy Carter, Tamar Gendler, John Hawthorne, Mark Heller, Jaegwon Kim, Al Plantinga, Thomas Williams, and Dean Zimmerman. They gave careful attention to extensive stretches of one or another draft of this book. And I am especially grateful to the following who provided valuable comments on (in some cases multiple drafts of) the entire manuscript: Mike Bergmann, Jonathan Lowe, Gene Mills, Mark Murphy, Eric Olson, Mike Rea, Alan Sidelle, and Ted Sider.



In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 8: See
"Merricks (Trenton) - Composition as Identity, Mereological Essentialism, and Counterpart Theory",
"Merricks (Trenton) - No Statues", and
"Merricks (Trenton) - Against the Doctrine of Microphysical Supervenience".


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