Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Next MM: Chalmers

The next session of the Meta-Metaphysics e-Reading Group will be on David Chalmers’ ‘Ontological Anti-Realism.’ Posts on the paper are to be expected in one or two weeks, following the usual convention—i.e. with titles starting with ‘MM Chalmers.’ (There is already discussion of this paper in the blogosphere: check here, here, here, and here.)

Sunday, February 04, 2007

MM Hawthorne: more doubts

Like Marta, I have also had a very hard time trying to understand the paper, and I think I have not succeeded. What I found specially difficult to understand was the status of the views attributed to the Convention Lover and the Plenitude Lover. They are initially presented as two METAontological views, i.e. two second-order views about first-order ontological disputes. More specifically, the views are presented as alternative justifications for a dismissivist attitude (to employ here the term we have been using) about the first-order dispute. As Hawthorne says, “many of us are inclined toward reconciliation, unable to take very seriously the thought that one of the communities is ontologically more attuned than the other. But there are different ways of justifying such an attitude. [the Convention Lover’s and the Plenitude Lover’s]”

But what are the first-order disputes about which we should be dismissivists, according to both the Convention Lover and the Plenitude Lover? Hawthorne considers two disputes as a way of example: the dispute over how many clocks are involved in his opening story and the dispute between Gabriel and Michael about how many things there are in their world. Now, the problem I have is this: it seems to me that whereas the Plenitude Lover can justify a dismissivist attitude towards the first of these two disputes, it cannot justify such an attitude with respect to the second dispute. In the second case, according to the Plenitude Lover, Gabriel is just wrong. The Plenitude Lover’s view implies a substantive thesis about the first order dispute, namely that there actually are three things in Gabriel and Michael’s world. So Plenitude does not afford for any reconciliation between the first-order views. It may be suggested that reconciliation is achieved by the fact that, given Plenitude, Gabriel’s claims can be understood as about a restricted sub-domain of the plenitudeous universal domain (i.e. as Timid Gabriel). But then, Gabriel’s claims are not a good analogue of the ontologist claim’s, which cannot be understood as about a restricted domain. The context in which the ontologist’s claims are made (the ontology classroom) is such that there is no sensible restrictions in the quantifiers’ domain. So, for instance, when the nihilist says that there are no tables, his claim cannot be sensibly understood as being about the restricted sub-domain of simples. And the same happens with Gabriel’s claims, if this toy example is intended to illustrate the essentials of a real ontological dispute. (In other words, I do not see how Gabriel could be understood as Timid Gabriel, if the example is intended to illustrate a real ontological dispute).

So, I guess my doubt is this: can Hawthorne be understood as making the point that Plenitude is a particular substantive view about “fundamental ontology” (to use Sider’s term) that helps to justify a dismissivist attitude toward some other metaphysical debates (like those about the nature of clocks)? So understood, Hawthorne’s general position is more or less like Sider’s in the text we have discussed before.

Another related point that I found difficult to understand is this: Hawthorne presents Sider’s “argument from eligibility” as an argument for understanding Gabriel as quantifying unrestrictedly rather than restrictedly (from the perspective of the Plenitude Lover). The argument would be that the universal unrestricted domain gives “existence” a more eligible meaning than any restricted sub-domain. (Hawthorne thinks this argument is not completely satisfying and goes on to give an alternative justification for understanding Gabriel as quantifying unrestrictedly). But as I understood Sider, the argument from eligibility was intended to decide among candidate meanings for a quantifer that is univocaly unrestricted. The candidate meanings are such that each of them gives “existence” a domain that is somehow all-inclusive and therefore not a subdomain of the other. In other words, Sider’s original argument is not intended to make a point of the sort that Hawthorne makes here, namely that Gabriel should be understood as Bold rather than Timid. This relates with my previous doubt. I seems to me that in a real ontological debates (such as universalism vs nihilism), each party intends to be speaking unrestrictedly about everything. When the nihilist says that there are no tables, he cannot sensibly be understood as a Timid nihilist who is talking only about simples. And it seems to me that this (i.e. that the nihilist is not being Timid) is not the point that the argument from eligibility is intended to make.