Inside Cover Blurb
- The problem of the nature of being was central to ancient and medieval philosophy, and continues to be relevant today.
- In this collection of thirteen recent essays, Peter van Inwagen applies the techniques of analytical philosophy to a wide variety of problems in ontology and meta-ontology.
- Topics discussed include
→ the nature of being,
→ the meaning of the existential quantifier,
→ ontological commitment,
→ recent attacks on metaphysics and ontology,
→ the concept of ontological structure,
→ fictional entities,
→ mereological sums, and
→ the ontology of mental states.
- Van Inwagen adopts a generally “Quinean” position in meta-ontology, yet reaches ontological conclusions very different from Quine’s.
- The volume includes two previously unpublished essays, one of which is an introductory essay where van Inwagen explains his conception of the relation between the language of “the ordinary business of life” and that of “the ontology room”.
- The volume will be an important collection for students and scholars of metaphysics.
- Peter Van Inwagen is the John Cardinal O’Hara Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame. His most recent publications include
→ "Van Inwagen (Peter) - Ontology, Identity and Modality: Essays in metaphysics" (Cambridge,2001) and
→ The Problem of Evil (2006).
Inside Cover Blurb
- This book contains some of the work I have done in ontology and meta-ontology since the publication of my earlier collection Ontology, Identity, and Modality in 2001 All but one of the twelve essays collected in this book have been previously published.
- The unpublished essay, "Van Inwagen (Peter) - Alston on ontological commitment" (Chapter 7), is a revised version of my contribution to a memorial symposium for W. P. Alston at the 2011 meeting of the Central Division of the American Philosophical Association.
- In attempting to write an ordinary sort of introduction to this collection, I discovered that I was merely reproducing material that could be found in the introductory portions of the individual chapters. I have decided not to present the same material twice and instead to write for this volume a small introductory essay called "Van Inwagen (Peter) - Inside and outside the ontology room". This essay is the latest of several attempts I have made to explain my conception of the relation between the language of “the ordinary business of life” and the language of “the ontology room.” My views on the nature of this relation have, I believe, been consistently misunderstood, and I have not yet despaired of their ever being understood. There is, moreover, some justification for allowing this essay to serve as an Introduction to the present volume, for the ontology room is not only the place in which these essays were written, but is also the place in which they must be read. That, at any rate, is the position I have attempted to defend in “Inside and Outside the Ontology Room.”
- This book does not have a dedication of the usual kind (“For Mary”; “To my students”). I offer in its place the following dedicatory paragraph.
- When I attend a conference on metaphysics, I am almost always at least twenty years older than the second-oldest person in attendance. (I am grateful to Kit Fine for the fact that this is occasionally not the case.) And this is because of the great flowering of analytical metaphysics that began in the early eighties and which happily shows no sign of abating. This resurgence of metaphysics among analytical philosophers was largely due to the fact that many young philosophers (of both sexes, I am happy to say) began to do work in metaphysics in those years – despite the fact that most of their elders and mentors believed that metaphysics was a thing of the past, and that the few prominent philosophers who were writing on metaphysical topics (Roderick Chisholm, Richard Taylor, Alvin Plantinga, David Lewis – and of course Kit Fine) were wasting their time and talents on a subject that no longer had a place in philosophy. It is to this generation of metaphysicians – but perhaps now, in the second decade of the new century, it is more accurate to say, “these generations” – that this book is dedicated. I should like to name them, but there are too many: I could list thirty philosophers under the age of 50 who are doing metaphysical work of the very highest quality and not have anything like a complete list. I owe to these metaphysicians the blessed assurance that the chapter in the history of metaphysics to which my work is a footnote is not its closing chapter. And for this assurance I am grateful beyond measure.
- CUP, 2014
- Downloaded from Cambridge Core
"Van Inwagen (Peter) - A theory of properties"
Source: Van Inwagen (Peter) - Existence: Essays In Ontology, Chapter 8
"Van Inwagen (Peter) - Alston on ontological commitment"
Source: Van Inwagen (Peter) - Existence: Essays In Ontology, Chapter 7
"Van Inwagen (Peter) - Being, Existence, and Ontological Commitment"
Source: Chalmers (David), Manley (David) & Wasserman (Ryan) - Metametaphysics: New Essays on the Foundations of Ontology
- Thesis 1. Being is not an activity
- Thesis 2. Being is the same as existence
- Thesis 3. Existence is univocal
- Thesis 4. The single sense of being or existence is adequately captured by the existential quantifier of formal logic
- Thesis 5.
COMMENT: Also in "Van Inwagen (Peter) - Existence: Essays In Ontology".
"Van Inwagen (Peter) - Can Mereological Sums Change their Parts"
Source: Van Inwagen (Peter) - Existence: Essays In Ontology, Chapter 2
- I will defend the following thesis: for every object x (or at least for every object x that has parts) there are objects such that x is a mereological sum of those objects. I will in fact defend the thesis that this statement is true by definition, a consequence of a correct understanding of mereological summation. And (if ‘a mereological sum’ is indeed no more than an abbreviation of ‘an object that is, for certain objects, a mereological sum of those objects’) it follows immediately that every object (that has parts) is a mereological sum. The phrase ‘mereological sum’ does not, therefore, mark out a special kind of object – or, at any rate, it marks out no kind more special than “object that has parts.” (And, of course, if we so use ‘part’ that everything is by definition a part of itself, ‘object’ and ‘object that has parts’ coincide.) An immediate consequence of the correct conception of mereological summation is that ‘mereological sum’ is not a useful stand-alone general term. In this respect, ‘mereological sum’ is like ‘part’. If everything is a part of itself, then the word ‘part’ does not mark out a special kind of object and ‘part’ is not a useful stand-alone general term – for ‘a part’ can be defined only as “an object that is a part of something,” and every object is thus a “part.” The case of arithmetical summation teaches the same lesson: it is possible to lift the word ‘sum’ out of the relational sentence ‘x is the sum of y and z’ and to use the word as a stand-alone general term – for example, ‘The number 17 is a sum’ – but no purpose is served by doing so.
- Now if every object (every object that has parts, that has even itself as a part) is a mereological sum, every object that can change its parts2 is a mereological sum that can change its parts. And, since the statement “Some objects can change their parts” involves no conceptual confusion, neither does the statement “Some mereological sums can change their parts.” I grant that if every object is a mereological sum, it may nevertheless be that no mereological sum can change its parts – because no object can change its parts. But what is not true (I shall contend) is this: to speak of amereological sum changing its parts is to misapply the concept “mereological sum3.” And, of course, if every object is a mereological sum, it is not true that although some objects can change their parts, no mereological sum can change its parts.
COMMENT: Originally published in Journal of Philosophy 103 (2006): 614–630.
In-Page Footnotes ("Van Inwagen (Peter) - Can Mereological Sums Change their Parts")
Footnote 2: Footnote 3:
- There is no “official” abstract – these are the final two paragraphs of the Introductory section.
- Suppose that the very idea of a thing’s changing its parts is conceptually incoherent, that “mereological essentialism” is an analytic or conceptual truth. Would that not entail that “to speak of a mereological sum’s changing its parts is to misapply the concept ‘mereological sum’”? Well, no doubt – but only in a very strict and pedantic sense of misapplying a concept. It would also be true, in this strict and pedantic sense, that to speak of a cat’s losing its tail was to misapply the concept “cat.” The person who said, “That cat has lost its tail” or “That cat is composed of different atoms from the atoms that composed it last week,” would not, in the case imagined, be making a conceptual mistake peculiar to the concept “cat.” That person’s conceptual mistake is better located in his or her application of the concepts “part” and “change.” And so for the person who said, “That object is this week a mereological sum of different atoms from the atoms of which it, that very object, was a mereological sum last week.” We shall consider this question – the question whether it is conceptually coherent to suppose that any object can change its parts – in section iv.
"Van Inwagen (Peter) - Can variables be explained away?"
Source: Van Inwagen (Peter) - Existence: Essays In Ontology, Chapter 5
"Van Inwagen (Peter) - Causation and the mental"
Source: Van Inwagen (Peter) - Existence: Essays In Ontology, Chapter 12
"Van Inwagen (Peter) - Existence, Ontological Commitment and Fictional Entities"
Source: M. J. Loux and D.W. Zimmerman, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Metaphysics (OUP, 2003)
- Meinong has famously (or notoriously) said, “There are objects of which it is true that there are no such objects.” What could have led him to make such an extraordinary statement? He was, or so he saw matters, driven to say that there were objects of which it was true that there were no such objects by data for which only the truth of this extraordinary statement could account. These data were of two sorts: linguistic and psychological. The linguistic data consisted of sentences like the following and what seemed to be obvious facts about them:
The Cheshire Cat spoke to Alice
The round square is an impossible object
Pegasus was the winged horse captured by Bellerophon.
- The obvious facts were these: ﬁrst, each of these sentences is or expresses a truth; secondly, the result of writing ‘There is no such thing as’ and then the subject of any of these sentences is, or expresses, a truth. (I so use ‘subject’ that the subject of ‘the Taj Mahal is white’ is ‘the Taj Mahal’ and not the Taj Mahal. I use ‘there is no such thing as’ to mean ‘there is no such thing as, and there never was or will be any such thing as’.) Thus, for example, it is true that the Cheshire Cat spoke to Alice, and it is also true that there is no such thing as the Cheshire Cat. We have, therefore, the following general truth:
There are true subject-predicate sentences (i.e. subject-predicate sentences that express truths when uttered in appropriate contexts) such that the result of writing ‘there is no such thing as’ and following this phrase with the subject of any of these sentences is true.
- These are the linguistic data. Reﬂection on these data suggests the following question. The proposition expressed by the offset sentence, the proposition that summarizes the linguistic data, is a semantical generalization, a proposition that asserts that there are linguistic items of a certain description (‘sentence’) that possess a certain semantical property (truth) – How can we express this same generalization in the “material mode”? How can we state it as a thesis not about the semantical properties of linguistic items but about the things those linguistic items purport to refer to? Well, strictly speaking, we can’t do this: ‘Rome is populous’ and ‘“Rome is populous” is true’ are not, strictly speaking, two ways of expressing the same proposition. Perhaps we should instead ask this: how can we express in a single sentence the general fact that is expressed collectively by the “whole” inﬁnite class of sentences of which the sentences
The Cheshire Cat spoke to Alice and there is no such thing as the Cheshire Cat are three representatives? (This “single sentence” would not be a semantical sentence, for sentences of the type illustrated by our three examples are not semantical sentences; they do not ascribe semantical properties like truth or reference to linguistic items.) The sentence ‘There are objects of which it is true that there are no such objects’ represents an attempt at an answer to this question, but Meinong obviously recognizes that there is something unsatisfactory about this attempt, since he does not baldly say that there are objects of which it is true that there are no such objects; rather, he says, “Those who were fond of a paradoxical mode of expression could very well say, ‘There are objects of which it is true that there are no such objects.’” Um...yes – but suppose one was not one of those who were fond of a paradoxical mode of expression; what non-paradoxical mode of expression would one use in its place?
The round square is an impossible object and there is no such thing as the round square
Pegasus was the winged horse captured by Bellerophon and there is no such thing as Pegasus
- One obvious suggestion is: ‘There are objects that do not exist’. But Meinong would object to this suggestion on grounds that are related to a peculiarity of his metaphysical terminology, for he holds that things that are not in space and time – the ideal ﬁgures the geometer studies, for example – do not “exist” (existieren) but rather “subsist” (bestehen), another thing entirely, or almost entirely, for subsistence is, like existence, a species of being. And this terminological red herring (in my view it is a terminological red herring) confuses matters. We had better leave the word ‘exists’ alone for the moment. But if we do not allow ourselves the use of the word ‘exists’, our question is unanswered: what shall we use in place of ‘There are objects of which it is true that there are no such objects’? Perhaps we should turn to the question, what, exactly, is wrong with this sentence? What grounds did I have for calling it an “extraordinary” sentence; why did Meinong suggest that this sentence was paradoxical? The answer to this question seems to me to be simple enough: there could not possibly be objects of which it was true that there were no such objects: if there were an object of which it was true that there was no such object (as it), that object would be; and if it were (if I may so phrase my point), it would not be true of it that there was no such object as it. This point is inescapable – unless, of course, ‘there are’ has (and ‘es gibt’ has and ‘il y a’ has) more than one sense. For suppose ‘there are’ has two senses; let the phrase itself represent one of these two senses, and let the same phrase in boldface represent the other: there will be no contradiction in saying that there are objects of which it is true that there are no such objects. Or, at any rate, no contradiction that can be displayed by the simple argument I have just set out.
COMMENT: Also in "Van Inwagen (Peter) - Existence: Essays In Ontology".
In-Page Footnotes ("Van Inwagen (Peter) - Existence, Ontological Commitment and Fictional Entities")
- Somewhat arbitrarily truncated, and
- Historical and exegetical footnotes on Meinong omitted.
"Van Inwagen (Peter) - Five questions"
Source: Van Inwagen (Peter) - Existence: Essays In Ontology, Chapter 1
"Van Inwagen (Peter) - Inside and outside the ontology room"
Source: Van Inwagen (Peter) - Existence: Essays In Ontology, Introduction
- . . . a good notation has a subtlety and suggestiveness which at times
make it seem almost like a live teacher.
→ Bertrand Russell, introduction to "Wittgenstein (Ludwig) - Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus"
- But ordinary language is all right.
→ Ludwig Wittgenstein, The Blue Book2
- David Lewis spoke of “the philosophy room,” and the term has gained some currency. But in philosophy’s house there are many rooms, and one of them, more austere in design and more sparsely furnished than perhaps any of the others, is the ontology room. (The ontology room is not the epistemology room or the philosophy-of-mind room, and it is separated by many rooms and many long corridors from the political-philosophy room.)
- Let ‘discussants’ abbreviate ‘participants in discussions in the ontology room’. Discussants converse in a language I will call Tarskian. The vocabulary of Tarskian consists of closed or open sentences and closed or open terms of English (or some natural language) and the sentential connectives, brackets, quantifiers, variables, and identity sign of the vocabulary of first-order logic (so-called) with identity – perhaps supplemented by items from the vocabulary of various well-defined extensions of first-order logic with identity.
- … ‘Chairs exist’ does not represent itself as metaphysically neutral. Nor does it represent itself as metaphysically partisan. It does not represent itself as having any metaphysical implications at all (or at least none more controversial than, e.g., ‘There is something, and not, rather, nothing’ and ‘There is a certain amount of organization in the material world’). Which is not to say that it has no metaphysical implications. Perhaps it has just the metaphysical implications that I have denied it has.
- Perhaps I have gone badly wrong and the proposition it expresses “outside” does entail such propositions as Chaireg and the proposition that composite inanimate material objects exist. After all, Trenton Merricks thinks so and Eli Hirsch thinks so (albeit they disagree about the truth-value of those propositions) – and, like Roy Sorensen, they are highly intelligent, serious, and extremely able philosophers. But, since ‘Chairs exist’ does not wear its logical structure on its sleeve (if it indeed has anything that can usefully be called a logical structure), it is possible for there to be an ongoing, substantive metaontological debate about what proposition it expresses and whether that proposition has metaphysical implications and, if it does, what they are. This Introduction has been a contribution to that debate.
In-Page Footnotes ("Van Inwagen (Peter) - Inside and outside the ontology room")
- there is no “official” introduction – or conclusion – but I’ve extracted the first few and last few paragraphs to give an indication of what the paper is about.
- I’ve ignored the footnotes.
"Van Inwagen (Peter) - Quine’s 1946 lecture on nominalism"
Source: Van Inwagen (Peter) - Existence: Essays In Ontology, Chapter 6
"Van Inwagen (Peter) - Relational vs. Constituent Ontologies"
Source: Van Inwagen (Peter) - Existence: Essays In Ontology, Chapter 10
"Van Inwagen (Peter) - The new antimetaphysicians"
Source: Van Inwagen (Peter) - Existence: Essays In Ontology, Chapter 2
"Van Inwagen (Peter) - What is an Ontological Category?"
Source: Van Inwagen (Peter) - Existence: Essays In Ontology, Chapter 9
Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
- Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2020
- Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)