Abstract Entities
Swoyer (Chris)
Source: Sider (Ted), Hawthorne (John) & Zimmerman (Dean), Eds. - Contemporary Debates in Metaphysics
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Abstract

  1. One of the most puzzling topics for newcomers to metaphysics is the debate about abstract entities, things like numbers (seven), sets (the set of even numbers), properties (triangularity), and so on. The major questions about abstract entities are whether there are any, if so which ones there are, and if any do exist, what they are like. My aim here is to provide a brief and accessible overview of the debates about abstract entities. I will try to explain what abstract entities are and to say why they are important, not only in contemporary metaphysics but also in other areas of philosophy. Like many significant philosophical debates, those involving abstract entities are especially interesting, and difficult, because there are strong motivations for the views on each side.
  2. In the first section, I discuss what abstract entities are and how they differ from concrete entities and in the second section, I consider the most compelling kinds of arguments for believing that abstract entities exist. In the third section, I consider two examples, focusing on numbers (which will be more familiar to newcomers than other types of abstract objects) and properties (to illustrate a less familiar sort of abstract entity). In the final section, I examine the costs and benefits of philosophical accounts that employ abstract entities.

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