SOPhiA 2019

Salzburgiense Concilium Omnibus Philosophis Analyticis

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Programme - Talk

From Paraphrase to Tolerance
(Metaphysics and Ontology, English)

At least since Quine's seminal "On What There Is," paraphrase has become a tool in metaphysics. The general idea is to replace sentences apparently ontologically committing us to certain entities with sentences which "do the same work" or "fulfill the same purpose", but without the apparent ontological commitment. Ontological commitment is to be understood along the Quinean lines, i.e., we are ontologically committed to those entities necessary to make assertions true. For example, if we assert the sentence 'There are chairs', we are committed to the existence of chairs (whatever they might turn out to be). To make this paraphrase strategy work, we need a suitable set of adequate criteria for successful paraphrase. Without any such criteria, we'd be allowed to paraphrase a sentence apparently committing us to abstract entities with just any sentence which doesn't likewise commit us to such entities. For example, we'd be allowed to paraphrase 'There are numbers' with 'There are chairs' (a paraphrase presumably preserving at least truth) or 'There are unicorns'. Furthermore, we need to circumvent Alston's well-known problem of symmetry. Moreover, even if we stick to Quine's dictum to provide paraphrase in what he calls canonical notation, the availability of many proper representations of (natural language) sentences in canonical notation which do conflict with one another forces us to decide between these. I argue that there is no such set of criteria so that we are forced to consider several paraphrases -- if we do not want to give up on paraphrase. To resolve the direct conflict among them, we need to understand them as given in different languages. This, then, means that we have to endorse a version of Carnap's so-called Principle of Tolerance. As these languages are prone to ontologically commit us to conflicting entities -- where we still construe ontological commitment along the Quinean lines --, this also leads us to revisit the topic of ontological commitment.

Chair: Frenzis Herbert Scheffels
Time: 14:40-15:10, 18 September 2019 (Wednesday)
Location: SR 1.003

Jonas Raab 
(University of Manchester, Great Britain)

I am a second year PhD student at the University of Manchester. My main focus of research is metametaphysics; at the moment, I am thinking mostly about how paraphrase strategies work.

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