Questions of Ontology
Koslicki (Kathrin)
Source: Ontology After Carnap, edited by Stephan Blatti and Sandra Lapointe, Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK, 2016, pp. 220-241
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Conclusion

  1. In this chapter, I have focused on a central disagreement between the pure and the impure trope theorist over trope individuation, in an attempt to motivate a conception of the study of being which goes beyond the boundaries of what is permissible or sensible from a Quinean or Carnapian perspective. In my view, we fail to do justice to the disagreement between the pure and the impure trope theorist, as long as we confine ourselves to a purely existential understanding of what is at issue between them, as concerning the questions, “Are there tropes?” and “Are there concrete particulars objects?”. For whether we read these questions in the Carnapian internal or external style, we will find that both philosophers answer them affirmatively. Both accept a framework which commits them to the existence of tropes as well as concrete particular objects; and both accept that, in ordinary experience, e.g., when faced with a particular red rose, we encounter tropes as well as concrete particular objects in which these tropes are present. The pure and impure trope theorist furthermore largely agree on how to justify the expedience, fruitfulness, and conduciveness of a trope-theoretic framework with respect to the explanatory purposes at hand, since both invoke tropes in their account of the objective similarities between concrete particular objects, events and change, perception, causation, spatiotemporal location, and the truth of propositions.
  2. Nevertheless, on my reading, the pure and impure trope theorist occupy opposing positions when it comes to the question of whether tropes qualify as relatively or absolutely fundamental entities within their respective ontologies or whether instead it is the concrete particular objects that are the bearers of these tropes which are assigned this role. According to the construal I have offered in this chapter, the disagreement between the pure and the impure trope theorist can be adequately captured by focusing on whether or not they take tropes or their bearers to be essentially identity dependent on any other entity numerically distinct from themselves. Since, for the pure trope theorist, tropes are primitively self-individuating, their numerical identity1 is not parasitic on that of their bearers or any other entity numerically distinct from themselves. The impure trope theorist, in contrast, accepts the numerical identity2 of concrete particular objects as a basic non-derivative fact about them and instead views the numerical identity3 of tropes as parasitic on that of their bearers. As a direct consequence of this central difference between them, the pure trope theorist has the option of allowing for the possibility of migrating or free-floating tropes, while the impure trope theorist is required to analyze any scenario which allegedly illustrates such possibilities in a way that is compatible with his commitment to the metaphysical impossibility of migrating or free-floating tropes.
  3. The pure and impure trope theorist’s reactions to these alleged possibilities, when followed to their natural conclusion, reveal a further chasm between them: their respective Humeanism or anti-Humeanism concerning modality and the laws of nature. Although I did not try to argue for this further claim here, this additional crucial difference in their outlook also strikes me as a particularly clear and interesting example of a substantive non-existential disagreement over a particular question of fundamentality which deserves to be addressed on its own merits. If the study of being is not exhausted by the study of existence, then we also should not expect any single piece of apparatus which is designed specifically to deal with existential disputes (e.g., a certain treatment of the existential quantifier) to show in one fell swoop that all metaphysical disputes are merely verbal. While some metaphysical disputes may of course turn out to be non-substantive, which of them do and why must be established individually by carefully examining what exactly is at stake between two particular disputants. In the meantime, though, our discussion has brought out that essentialist construals of ontological dependence prove to be a helpful device in approaching particular instances in which we encounter apparently substantive non-existential disagreements in ontology over questions of relative or absolute fundamentality.


See Koslicki - Questions of Ontology.

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