Considerations in Favour of Eliminativism
Merricks (Trenton)
Source: Merricks - Objects and Persons, 2001, Chapter 2
Paper - Abstract

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Further clarifies eliminativism, and further demonstrates its intelligibility, by showing eliminativism's novel and interesting solutions to a number of philosophical puzzles. The arguments of this chapter also support the truth of eliminativism. The arguments touch on a variety of topics, including vagueness and the 'Sorites1 Game,' worries about co-location and constitution, and the way a thinker (such as a person) is related to her brain.

  1. The Water in the Pool
  2. The Sorites2 Game
  3. The Statue3 and the Lump
  4. Brains and Thinkers
  5. Conclusion:
    • One could respond to the Sorites4 Game by embracing metaphysical vagueness. Or one could avoid commitment to co-location by endorsing mereological essentialism and the claim that exactly one object – a mereologically invariant one – is composed of atoms arranged statuewise-lumpwise5. And so on. Moreover, eliminativism itself is a striking thesis. Thus it is far from obvious, one might object, that eliminativism is a more plausible response to the cases presented in this chapter than are any of its rivals.
    • In partial response to this objection, I could note that if one rejects substance dualism and perdurance6, but thinks persons persist for any appreciable duration, then presumably one must reject mereological essentialism. And if one thinks metaphysical vagueness solves nothing because all the original problems reappear in the form of higher-order vagueness, one won't see in it a response to the Sorites7 Game. And I could argue that eliminativism handles all of the above cases, which no other single view does, at least no other view that doesn't have problems eliminativism avoids. And so on. And on. And on.
    • I have, of course, noted non-eliminativist ways to respond to the puzzles considered above. And I have raised some concerns with some of these other responses. But I shall not attempt to say everything that can be said for and against every possible ontology, even when such ontologies bear on the considerations raised in this chapter. For my primary aim has not been to demonstrate that eliminativism is far superior to any possible rival. It has rather been to show what eliminativism can do, emphasizing that its ability to do these things is a mark in its favour.
    • Moreover, its ability to do these things shows that eliminativism makes sense. Thus this chapter should have banished completely any residue of suspicion, not purged in the first chapter, that eliminativism is contradictory or incoherent or trivially false. For in so far as we understand the eliminativist's solutions to the puzzles suggested above – solutions requiring, for example, atoms arranged statuewise8 but no statues9 and atoms arranged brainwise but no brains – we understand eliminativism.
    • Eliminativism's coherence is established. Now the most significant threat to arguments for eliminativism is the reaction that, because eliminativism is so counter-intuitive, any such argument (if valid) should be taken to show that one of its premises – even if they are all initially compelling – must be false. This threat stems from the overwhelming feeling of obviousness attached to the claim that statues10 and brains exist.
    • I hope that the arguments in this chapter have changed how you feel about eliminativism. I hope the arguments of this chapter have made the claim that statues11 exist – in addition to atoms arranged statuewise12 – seem somewhat less overwhelmingly obvious than it might have initially seemed. I hope I have, at the very least, weakened the conviction that eliminativism is false.
    • With this in mind, just try to imagine a world like ours except that, while there are atoms arranged statuewise13 in that world, there are no statues14. Just try to imagine a world in which the correct responses to the puzzles I have considered in this chapter are the responses I have defended, responses predicated on eliminating the problematic objects. Such a world would seem to us just like the actual world. No amount of looking around could distinguish that imagined world from ours. But in that world the truth dissolves many philosophical puzzles: the puzzles are shown to have rested on a mistake.
    • Now ask yourself: is it overwhelmingly obvious that this imagined world isn't the actual one? Is it so obvious that no argument could convince you otherwise? The last two chapters have been successful if, though you still deny eliminativism, you grant that its denial is not overwhelmingly obvious, not so far beyond the pale as to invert automatically arguments for eliminativism into arguments for the falsity of some of their own premisses.

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