Conciliatory Metaontology and the Vindication of Common Sense
Metadata[+] Show full item record
Any self-respecting ontologist worries on occasion, “are the disputes I engage in and spend my career thinking about verbal?” Conciliatory metaontologists answer in the affirmative, at least for many of the ontological disputes filling philosophy journals. Conciliators have recently gained some traction against their “fractious” opponents (e.g., Sider 2001, van Inwagen 2002), mainly through the work of Hilary Putnam and Eli Hirsch. The verbalness of a dispute is certainly a reason to bring the dispute to a halt, and would seem, prima facie, to be a reason to take all the sides to be on equal footing as far as the facts are concerned. So, if we came to conclude that ontological disputes were one and all verbal, we might understandably conclude that ontology is silly, a waste of time. It therefore behooves ontologists to take a hard look at the best arguments for conciliatory conclusions. And that is the aim of this paper. My focus will be Hirsch's recent work. This work deserves scrutiny not only because it contains some of the most promising arguments to date for conciliatory conclusions but also because of an interesting further consequence drawn from them. One might expect that in a verbal dispute either all sides win or none do. Hirsch thinks otherwise: the winning side, if any, is the side that speaks the truth in English, and this will be the side that speaks “ordinary language.” Conciliatory metaontology, in other words, is used to vindicate common sense. This claim would have surprised Carnap, and it may surprise many of us.
This is a preprint of an article published in Noûs, Volume 42, Issue 3, pages 482-508, September 2008.