Towards Ontological Nihilism
O'Leary-Hawthorne (John) & Cortens (Andrew)
Source: Philosophical Studies, Vol. 79, No. 2 (Aug., 1995), pp. 143-165
Paper - Abstract

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Authors’ Abstract

  1. In this paper, we wish to motivate a radical cluster of metaphysical pictures that have tempted philosophers from a variety of traditions. These pictures share one important theme - they refuse to accord countable entities any place in the fundamental scheme of things. Put another way, they all suggest that the concept of an object has no place in a perspicuous characterization of reality. Such pictures suffer from a number of fairly obvious prima facie difficulties. They seem to fly in the face of common sense. They seem to suggest that just about everything we say is false. They seem to gesture at a noumenal reality that human language is unable to describe. And so on. Our aim is to meet such difficulties head on and, by doing so, vindicate this sort of radical picture as one that deserves to be taken seriously.
  2. This paper is organised into four sections.
    • In section one, we examine various forms of this radical metaphysic and discuss their historical precedents, both in this century and in previous ones.
    • In section two, we consider how the most radical of these metaphysical pictures - what we call 'ontological nihilism1' - might be fleshed out into a rich, articulate, theory.
    • In section three, we consider what the proponent of such a picture should say concerning the truth or falsity of ordinary discourse.
    • In section four, we consider what the motivations for this apparently perverse metaphysic might be.
  3. One notable feature of our account will be that it at no time appeals to irrealist views about meaning and/or truth, which either deny that our thoughts have evidence-transcendent truth conditions or which deny that truth is a radically non-epistemic notion. In this way, our paper provides a useful addition to Michael Devitt's discussion of the relation between realism about truth and realism about objects. Devitt argues, fairly persuasively, that the latter does not entail the former. We also wish to tease these realisms apart; but we do so by severing the link in the other direction. Full-blooded realism about truth, properly understood, does not directly entail full-blooded realism about objects.

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