Archive for February 6th, 2013

February 6, 2013

The trouble with metaphysics

by Neil Rickert

When people are talking about metaphysics, they are usually talking about ontology, or the question of what exists.  This post is mostly about ontology as part of metaphysics.  However, I used “metaphysics” rather than “ontology” in the title, because I think that there is a role for ontology.  But, I see that role as calling for a different conception of ontology, such that it should not be part of metaphysics.

Metaphysical ontology

The trouble with ontology as metaphysics (or with metaphysical ontology, as I shall term it), is that it doesn’t actually matter what exists.  Maybe elves exist, but we have no access to them or to whatever it is that they do.  And in that case, having elves in our ontology (our list of what exists) serves no purpose.  On the other hand, maybe electrons don’t exist and gravitational fields don’t exist (as the anti-realists have been arguing).  But even if those don’t exist, we want to have them on our list of things because our science has a lot to say about them.

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