‘Deep’ Metaphysics as Conceptual Negotiation

Taking metaphysical debates at face value—as deep disputes about what exists or about the modal features of the world—runs into formidable and familiar epistemological problems, along with the threat of a rivalry with science, and of a despairing skepticism. In the first two lectures, I developed an alternative ‘easy’ approach to addressing existence questions and modal questions in metaphysics. But such deflationary views are often accused of being unable to make sense of what disputants are up to, or to account for the apparent depth, difficulty and importance of classic metaphysical debates.

I close this lecture series by laying out an alternative positive conception of metaphysics. I argue that there is room for the deflationist to make more interesting and robust sense of what disputants (at least in many classic debates) have been up to, and of what we can legitimately be up to when we do metaphysics, without giving up epistemological and methodological clarity. For many disputes (taken in what Carnap would have considered an ‘external’ sense) can be seen as implicitly engaged in a form of conceptual negotiation—where that in turn does not rely on ‘discoveries’ of ‘metaphysical facts’. Thinking of ‘deep’ metaphysics as tacitly engaged in conceptual negotiation still enables us to demystify the epistemology of metaphysics, while avoiding both rivalry with science and skeptical despair. Yet it also preserves a sense of the difficulty, depth, and importance of work that we can do, when we do metaphysics. 

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Wedberg Lecture series 2017 by Amie Thomasson

Wedberg Lectures 2017: Lecture 1

Wedberg Lectures 2017: Lecture 2