Belief and Practice
Merricks (Trenton)
Source: Merricks - Objects and Persons, 2001, Chapter 7
Paper - Abstract

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Argues that - because eliminativism is true - folk beliefs about statues1 and chairs are indeed false. But I make the case that, insofar as practical matters and justification are concerned, such beliefs are 'nearly as good as true.' And I argue that whether a claim of (e.g.) statue2 identity over time is 'nearly as good as true' can be, to some extent, a matter of convention. But, I argue, nothing similar can be said about claims of personal identity over time. Thus, my ontology yields a principled defence of the intuitively plausible claim that personal identity over time can never be a matter of convention, whereas the 'identity of artifacts' can be.

  1. False Folk Beliefs
  2. False Folk Beliefs are Nearly as Good as True: Justification
  3. False Folk Beliefs are Nearly as Good as True: Practice
  4. And Yet I Often Say ‘There are Statues’3
  5. Conclusion:
    • Eliminativism is true. And when the folk say ‘there are statues’4, they ordinarily mean that there are statues5. Thus the folk often say, and often believe, falsehoods. But false folk beliefs are nearly as good as true. Their being nearly as good as true makes them better, with respect to a number of epistemic norms, than beliefs like ‘there are unicorns’.
    • Moreover, nearly as good as true folk beliefs are practically as good as true and, sometimes, even practically better than true. For eliminativism does better than standard folk ontology at accommodating our practice of treating certain cases of identity as somewhat conventional. Relatedly, my ontology does better than that of the folk at making sense of the intuitive asymmetry between artefacts and persons with respect to whether identity can be, for practical purposes, a matter of convention.
    • Folk concepts such as that of statue6, although empty, are indispensable. That is, there are important truths about the world – practically important to us – that we could not grasp without them. Perhaps we could make do without grasping those truths. Perhaps we could make do without thinking in terms of statues7 or even in terms of things arranged statuewise8. Perhaps we could abandon the folk-ontological framework, along with any other framework that is parasitic upon it, altogether. But to do so would be to abandon our way of life.
    • Eliminativism is true. But false folk-ontological beliefs are commendable in a variety of ways. And – even though eliminativism is true – empty folk-ontological concepts are indispensable, given our actual practical concerns. All of this speaks in favour of the ontology defended in these atoms arranged bookwise.

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