Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
being, existence, neo-Quinean thesis, non-qualitative properties, ontological pluralism, quantificational pluralism
Arts and Humanities
There would seem to be differences which lie not in the natures of certain entities, but in their being. Take, for example, the difference between an actual and a merely possible dollar. This difference is utterly unlike the difference between a cat and a canary, a mountain and a molehill, or a table and a tablet. For these things differ in their nature. But an actual and a merely possible dollar need not differ in their nature. They might have exactly the same size, shape, weight, and chemical composition; they might well be perfect—perhaps even indiscernible—duplicates. Yet, for all their similarities, there still seems to be an important and peculiarly ontological difference between them: one is actual, the other is merely possible. Or take, for another example, the difference between a number and a nightingale. A nightingale has a determinate size, shape, and weight. These properties help to make up its nature. But while a number appears to determinately lack any of the properties that help make up the nature of a nightingale, the true extent of the difference between them does not seem to be captured solely by a difference in their natures. There is a further and, it seems, peculiarly ontological difference between them: one is abstract, the other is concrete.
This dissertation is an examination of the nature of being. I argue that being is fragmentary: that is, that there are different ways of being. I also argue that these ways of being are best understood as sufficiently general, non-qualitative properties which do not admit of real definition. In chapter 1, I argue against the view—recently defended by Kris McDaniel and Jason Turner—that these different ways of being are best understood not as properties, but rather as perfectly natural quantifiers ranging over distinct domains. In chapters 2-4, I develop an account of the distinction between qualitative and non-qualitative properties. I first argue, in chapter 2, that this distinction should not be understood in linguistic terms; the qualitative properties should not be taken to be those properties that can be designated descriptively without the aid of directly referential devices (such as demonstratives, indexicals, or proper names). I next defend, in chapter 3, a causal account of the natue of the qualitative properties, according to which a property is qualitative if and only if it plays—or is grounded in properties that play—a fundamental causal role at some world. I combine this positive account of the nature of the qualitative properties with a positive account of the nature of the fundamental non-qualitative properties, according to which a fundamental property is non-qualitative if and only if it is not subject to various principles of recombination. I then attempt to undermine an alternative, ontological account of the fundamental non-qualitative properties, according to which a fundamental property is non-qualitative if and only if it is the property of enjoying a fundamental way of being. For this account will only be plausible if haecceities such as being Socrates and being Plato are individualistic ways of being: that is, ways of being that can only be enjoyed by a single individual. But, as I argue in chapter 4, we should not take haecceities to be individualistic ways of being. In chapter 5, I argue that what makes a property peculiarly ontological—what makes it a way of being—is its emptiness. I defend the claim that a way of being is empty, and thus does not contribute to the nature of the entities that enjoy it, if and only if it is sufficiently general, it is non-qualitative, and it does not admit of real definition. I start by assuming that there is a generic way of being that absolutely everything enjoys, and that this way of being is itself empty. I then show that other intuitively empty ways of being are importantly analogous to this generic way of being. I am left, then, with a version of pluralism about being which accepts a generic way of being. In chapter 6, I take up some recent objections—due to Trenton Merricks—to combining pluralism with a generic way of being.
Simmons, Byron, "The Nature of Being" (2019). Dissertations - ALL. 1137.
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