The Easy Approach to Ontology

Central among those facts metaphysicians have aimed to ‘discover’ are facts about whether various sorts of entity (numbers, properties, ordinary objects, mereological sums, etc.) exist. Such disputes have proliferated in recent decades, and have led to epistemological and methodological puzzles about how we could come to know the answers to these questions, and what could resolve these debates.

But although existence questions are typically treated as ‘deep’ topics for ontological dispute, I argue here that this conception is misguided. Instead, I argue, questions about the existence of entities of various types can be answered straightforwardly by conceptual and empirical work. Often, they can even be answered by trivial inferences from uncontroversial premises, making prolonged ontological disputes out of place. This ‘easy’ approach to ontology leads to both a first-order simple realism about the disputed entities and a form of meta-ontological deflationism that takes ontological disputes themselves to be misguided, since existence questions—interpreted in the spirit of what Carnap would have called ‘internal questions’—may be answered so straightforwardly.

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Wedberg Lecture series 2017 by Amie Thomasson

Wedberg Lectures 2017: Lecture 2

Wedberg Lectures 2017: Lecture 3