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Title: Ontological pragmatism
Author: Mitchell, Kyle
ISNI:       0000 0004 7426 4711
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2018
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Ontology is the study of what exists. Metaontology is the study of ontology. This dissertation is a work in metaontology. In particular, its goal is to develop, motivate, defend, and explore a distinctively pragmatist metaontology --- a pragmatist account of how to answer existence questions. To do this, I'll argue that pragmatists are entitled to a popular `deflationary' metaontology: one which claims that existence questions are so easy to answer that many recent ontological debates are misguided. I call the resulting position `ontological pragmatism' and argue for it over a variety of views in ontology and metaontology alike. In chapter 1, I characterise two opposing metaontological camps: the dominate metaontology --- what I call `mainstream ontology' --- and a deflationary alternative called `easy ontology'. I then present some motivations for exploring a central thesis of the dissertation: that pragmatism and easy ontology might be usefully put together. In chapter 2, I put these two views together by arguing that Amie Thomasson's (2015) easy ontology may be used to construct a pragmatist metaontology, resulting in the view I call `ontological pragmatism'. I then argue that mainstream ontology is misguided, from a distinctively pragmatist point of view. In chapter 3, I argue that ontological pragmatism is a plausible position for pragmatists and others to endorse by motiving the view and defending it from objections. In chapter 4, I compare ontological pragmatism to Stephen Yablo's (2005) fictionalist account of mathematics. I argue that pragmatism is more plausible than Yablo's account, establishing pragmatist approaches to mathematics as a new live option in these debates. Finally, in chapter 5, I use ontological pragmatism to respond to Sider's (2011) idea that there is a privileged meaning of `exists' said to `carve nature at the joints'. I focus on Sider's indispensability argument for this claim and argue that the pragmatist can diffuse his argument by showing that existential quantification is merely pragmatically indispensable for us, given our limitations. I conclude by highlighting some further lines of inquiry. By the end of the dissertation, I'll have (1) developed a pragmatist metaontology, (2) motivated and defended it, (3) applied it to the philosophy of mathematics, and (5) shown how it can defuse the idea that there is a metaphysically privileged meaning of `exists'. By doing this, I hope I'll have given pragmatists their own metaontology which may be fruitfully deployed in future debates.
Supervisor: Price, Huw Sponsor: University of Cambridge
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Ontology ; Pragmatism ; Metametaphysics