Committing to an individual: ontological commitment, reference and epistemology

Synthese 193 (2):583-604 (2016)
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When we use a directly referential expression to denote an object, do we incur an ontological commitment to that object, as Russell and Barcan Marcus held? Not according to Quine, whose regimented language has only variables as denoting expressions, but no constants to model direct reference. I make a case for a more liberal conception of ontological commitment—more wide-ranging than Quine’s—which allows for commitment to individuals, with an improved logical language of regimentation. The reason for Quine’s prohibition on commitment to individuals, I argue, is that his choice of regimented language is heavily informed by his holist epistemology, in which objects are introduced via a description of their explanatory role. But non-holists can coherently attempt to commit to individuals using directly referential expressions, modelled in a formal language as constants. While holding on to the insight that a logical language is a helpful medium for ontology, I propose instead a more permissive language of regimentation, one expanded to permit the use of constants to record attempts to commit to individuals, which allows us to make sense of non-holist theories with alternative name-based or name-and-variable-based criteria of ontological commitment as well as Quinean theories.



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Frederique Janssen-Lauret
University of Manchester

References found in this work

Word and Object.Willard Van Orman Quine - 1960 - Cambridge, MA, USA: MIT Press.
Naming and Necessity: Lectures Given to the Princeton University Philosophy Colloquium.Saul A. Kripke - 1980 - Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Edited by Darragh Byrne & Max Kölbel.
Naming and necessity.Saul A. Kripke - 2010 - In Darragh Byrne & Max Kölbel (eds.), Arguing about language. New York: Routledge. pp. 431-433.
Philosophy of logic.Willard Van Orman Quine - 1970 - Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Edited by Simon Blackburn & Keith Simmons.
Naming and Necessity.S. Kripke - 1972 - Tijdschrift Voor Filosofie 45 (4):665-666.

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