SOPhiA 2018

Salzburgiense Concilium Omnibus Philosophis Analyticis

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Programme - Talk

Easy, But Not That Much: How Easy Ontology Can Get Complicated
(Metaphysics and Ontology, English)

In "Ontology Made Easy" (2014), Amie Thomasson claims that recalcitrant ontological problems can be solved through trivial and straightforward inferences from uncontroversial premises. In her approach, answers for existence questions take the form of so-called easy-arguments, which rely heavily on the rules of use of the terms involved in asking and answering these questions, fixed by ordinary language usage. In this talk, I argue that, even if we fully adhere to Thomasson's methodology, we cannot expect to answer disputed existence questions by easy-arguments. The problem is that putative easy-arguments leave room for contentious issues for which there are no trivial answers, even if metaphysical concerns are put aside. To illustrate this, I discuss some aspects of debates about the existence of two quite different ontological categories with regard to ordinary language usage: human races and numbers. Racial terms do not have stable and fixed rules of use, neither in ordinary language nor in science. Therefore, even if metaphysical concerns are put aside, there is no hope of establishing whether races exist or not trivially. When it comes to numerical expressions, though, their rules of use are stable and fixed, both in ordinary language and in mathematics. The problem, however, is in establishing what are these rules. The assumption that expressions of the form "the number of xs" are singular terms that refer to numbers is not trivial, as Thomasson claims. The work of linguists such as Heike Wiese suggests that in ordinary language some numerical expressions may not refer to numbers. Again, even if metaphysical concerns are put aside, there is no hope of establishing whether numbers exist or not without establishing in advance whether numerical expressions refer or not, and what they refer to. And these latter questions do not have trivial answers. To sum up, the controversies I raise about the existence of races and numbers, which would be accepted as legitimate by the easy-ontologist, show that existential questions are more difficult and contentious than Thomasson would like them to be. Easy-arguments can be straightforward answers for existence questions only when everything else -- the side issues that may legitimately arise from them -- has already been settled.

Chair: Alexander Gebharter
Time: 10:00-10:30, 13 September 2018 (Thursday)
Location: SR 1.006

César Frederico dos Santos 
(University of Groningen, Netherlands)

César F. dos Santos is a Ph.D. student in the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Groningen. His research interests focus on the question of the existence of mathematical entities, and he believes that an approach to this issue can benefit from a combination of cognitive science and conceptual analysis. He is also an assistant professor in the Department of Philosophy at the Federal University of Maranhão, Brazil, where he teaches Logic and Epistemology.

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