Understanding 'existence' and 'being' in debates about ordinary objects


Quine has brought forward his definition of existence: 'To be is to be the value of a bound variable.' But has also taught us that the sciences ultimately determine what actually exists contrary to what possibly exists. This resulted in a naturalistic turn in ontology.

In debates about ordinary objects, we find eliminativists saying that ordinary objects like chairs and tables don't exits (Unger, Merricks, van Inwagen), universalists saying that any object composition exists and intermediate views taking a position in between. I wonder what kinds of notions of 'existence' do these different philosophers rely on. I mean, most philosophers who believe that tables and chairs exist would not disagree that they are ultimately made up of some physical entities. But are these debates still along the lines of Quine's notion of existence? And why are these actually conflicting views; don't the views simply depend on what notion of existence one wants to use? If I only accept that the most fundamental entities of an ideal physics truly exist then obviously chairs and tables won't exist (or at least will not be prior).

I would be thankful for any literature recommendations in the analytic tradition that reviews such different notions of existence, ideally in the context of ordinary objects.


Posted 2019-04-20T14:07:22.390

Reputation: 31


Quine's criterion of ontological commitment, as well as the idea of purified "scientific language" it came from, are largely seen as too simplistic now. Just as one can have indispensable representational aids (mathematics) without committing to the existence of abstract objects, one can have higher order ontology with non-fundamental objects, or different grades of existence more broadly. See Wallace's Everett and Structure for a structural realist take on it.

– Conifold – 2019-04-22T21:43:19.707

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