The Ontological Significance of Constitution
Thomasson (Amie L.)
Source: The Monist, Vol. 96, No. 1, Constitution and Composition (January, 2013), pp. 54-72
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction (Excerpted)

  1. There is much to admire in "Baker (Lynne Rudder) - The Metaphysics of Everyday Life: An Essay in Practical Realism" (2007), and much that I agree with: particularly the need to defend the existence of ordinary objects such as tables and chairs, sticks and stones against various forms of eliminativism and reductionism. Given this common orientation, we also fight many of the same battles - e.g., against arguments for denying the existence of ordinary objects on grounds of their alleged causal redundancy or violation of constraints of parsimony. Finally, we both agree that the distinction between those objects that are and are not 'mind-dependent' is, as Baker would put it, not 'ontologically significant': that mind-dependence is no grounds for denying the existence of entities like drivers' licenses, works of art, or college degrees, so that "what is in the ontology need not be wholly independent of us" (2007, 20). In fact, on most of the major first-order issues in metaphysics, Baker and I are in broad agreement.
  2. There is, however, a significant area in which we at least seem to disagree: in our metametaphysics, or perhaps more simply put, in how we each see what we are doing in making our first-order metaphysical claims. Throughout her new book, Baker often turns to defend what she calls a 'robust' approach to metaphysics, and rejects 'conceptual' or 'linguistic' approaches to metaphysical problems. Accordingly, she has expressed reservations about what she sees as my 'linguistic' approach, writing, e.g. (in her comments on Ordinary Objects): "Whereas Thomasson takes metaphysical problems to be dissolved by conceptual analysis and empirical discovery, I'll suggest that we still need good old-fashioned metaphysics." And, "linguistic considerations," she writes, "are not enough to vindicate our commonsense worldview of ordinary objects. We need a more robust metaphysics”.
  3. […]
  4. What I will suggest here is that Baker's way of presenting her constitution view as a robust metaphysical discovery of a relation that plays a theoretical-explanatory role opens her up to a line of awkward questions and objections about whether it really does explanatory work or just gives a name to the various problems. These, in fact, are some of the objections that have been most repeatedly raised against her account.
  5. My project here is to examine what happens if we pair Baker's first-order metaphysical story of constitution with a more deflationary metametaphysical picture. I will begin by reviewing what Baker's constitution view was supposed to do for us, and then will turn to survey some of the recurrent objections that have arisen to her approach - particularly to the idea that her account of constitution can explain various puzzling states of affairs. I will suggest that she unwittingly invites objections like these by characterizing her work in metametaphysically 'serious' terms. Can we instead reinterpret much of what Baker is doing in first-order metaphysics in more deflationary terms - as providing a way of systematizing and giving a common name to certain linguistic/conceptual rules, expressed in the object language? I will point towards how this might be done, and will argue that if we can do so, we can retain many of the attractions of the constitution view while avoiding many unwanted questions and objections.

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