Oh! Did I find a kindred spirit (who is smart and can put things into words?)
Dissertation: December 2020
On the Plurality of Existences
Isaiah Lin, Syracuse University
Many philosophers aim to develop a theory of reality—to answer the question, what does reality consist in? Roughly, this is the challenge of ontology. For the last half-century, perhaps most philosophers in the analytic tradition have approached this so-called ontological question arguing that it should be understood as a question about what there is. Call this the Neo-Quinean approach. In recent years, however, serious competitors to this approach have emerged. Neo-Aristotelians, for example, take the ontological question to be best understood as a question about what is fundamental. The Neo-Sellarsians take it to be about the relations between what they call the manifest and scientific images. And the Neo-Carnapian approach is aimed at showing the triviality or meaninglessness of ontology. Since the disagreement at hand is about how we ought to understand the very challenge of ontology, the debate is, as it were, a “meta-ontological” one. In this project, I defend the claim that Neo-Meinongianism deserves a seat at the table. To this end, I take up two general tasks. First, I motivate the kind of Neo-Meinongianism I am interested in (§1). Second, I further demonstrate its utility by exploring its connection to truth (§2), mereology (§3), and time (§4).
In §1, I consider the merits of jointly endorsing Meinongianism and Ontological Pluralism. With the aim of showing that the two views complement one another, I argue that such a meta-ontology can have tremendous utility, since it inherits the resources of both its constituent meta-ontologies, but avoids some objections that plague each constituent meta-ontology held independently.
In §2, I explore the connection between a sort of Meinongianism and Truth. Some find it deeply intuitive that a true proposition is true in virtue of some relation that obtains between the proposition and reality. Some find it deeply intuitive that there are straightforwardly true propositions about nonexistent entities. A puzzle therein arises for those who have both intuitions. In this chapter, I develop this puzzle and explore the prospects of responding to it by appeal to the seemingly unprincipled response that some truths depend on being, and others do not. Ultimately, I argue that Meinongians have the machinery to offer a satisfying solution to the puzzle by way of a specific version of alethic pluralism. I conclude by preemptively responding to a number of objections.
In §3, I explore the connection between ontological pluralism and mereological pluralism. I argue that ontological pluralism is well-positioned to motivate mereological pluralism and that mereological pluralism carries tremendous theoretical utility. The two views therein make an attractive package. Insofar as the ontological pluralist decides to embrace mereological pluralism, she will inherit the resources to resolve some perennial metaphysical puzzles. I conclude, among other things, that the ontological pluralist has strong reason to be a mereological pluralist, and that everyone has strong reason to take ontological pluralism even more seriously.
In §4, I develop and defend a theory of time I call Meinongian Growing Block Theory, which deploys the metaontological resources of both Meinongianism and Ontological Pluralism. Initially, I articulate the view by juxtaposing it against two neighboring views, Meinongian Presentism and Presentist Existential Pluralism. I argue that Meinongian Growing Block Theory is preferable to these views and suggest reasons for thinking it will also fair well against new competitors from the Moving Spotlight and Fragmentalism camps as well.
Existence, Mereology, Time, Truth