During the balmy days when it was socially acceptable to entertain logical positivism as a coherent philosophical position, it was commonly thought that questions of metaphysics were senseless, nonsense, or not even wrong. There are, of course, no shortage of problems with positivism and it’s safe to say that positivism is one of the very few philosophical theses that attained the distinction of being rejected because it was, in fact, actually wrong. However, granting all of that, it is no less the case that contemporary ontology has been shaped largely by a debate which took place on positivist grounds: the debate between Carnap and Quine on metaontology. The simple version of their respective positions might be boiled down to two ideas: for Carnap, metaphysical or ontological questions don’t really have an answer, while for Quine they do, and for Carnap, there are two kinds of truth, while for Quine ‘truth is truth’ and comes in only one variety. The outcome of this debate would have far-reaching consequences for metaphysics and ontology. Continue reading
Quine is well known for his aversion to universals – his ontology of existential quantification rules out commitment to the existence of universls such as redness, tallness, etc. For Quine, first-order existential quantifier is ontologically committing, and it is this quantifer which quantifies over objects, of which properteis are predicated. Thus, to use a stock example, if we say ‘Socrates is mortal’, we can ‘quine’t it by translating it into a formal logic sentence – ∃x M(x), where M is mortal and x is Socrates – which tells us just what we are ontologically committed to. In this sentence, the domain of the existential quantifier includes x, therefore, we are ontologically committed to x. Thus, we can predicate properties of objects without being ontologically committed to universals.