Monday, November 18, 2013

New Paper: "One's a Crowd: Mereological Nihilism without Ordinary-Object Eliminativism"

Have you always wanted to be a mereological nihilist but were too afraid to try? Do you like your cats, apples, and tables too much to be an eliminativist about ordinary objects? Then non-eliminative nihilism might be the right philosophical position for you!!! 

Now forthcoming in Analytic Philosophy "One's a Crowd: Mereological Nihilism without Ordinary-Object Eliminativism"!!!

It used to be a small paper (and some of the ideas in it were discussed in an old post on this blog); it grew into a 12,000-word monster but I'm very happy with it. 

Abstract: Mereological nihilism is the thesis that there are no composite objects—i.e. objects with proper material parts. One of the main advantages of mereological nihilism is that it allows its supporters to avoid a number of notorious philosophical puzzles. However, it seems to offer this advantage only at the expense of certain widespread and deeply entrenched beliefs. In particular, it is usually assumed that mereological nihilism entails eliminativism about ordinary objects—i.e. the counterintuitive thesis that there are no such things as tables, apples, cats, and the like. In this paper, I argue that this assumption is false—mereological nihilists do not need to be eliminativists about tables, apples, or cats. Non-eliminativist nihilists claim that all it takes for there to be a cat is that there are simples arranged cat-wise. More specifically, non-eliminative nihilists argue that expressions such as ‘the cat’ in sentences such as ‘The cat is on the mat’ do not refer to composite objects but only to simples arranged cat-wise and compare this metaphysical discovery to the scientific discovery that ‘water’ refers to dihydrogen oxide. Non-eliminative nihilism, I argue, is not only a coherent position, but it is preferable to its more popular, eliminativist counterpart, as it enjoys the key benefits of nihilism without incurring the prohibitive costs of eliminativism. Moreover, unlike conciliatory strategies adopted by eliminative nihilists, non-eliminative nihilism allow its supporters to account not only for how we can assert something true by saying ‘The cat is on the mat’ but also for how we can believe something true by believing that the cat is on the mat.

Favourite sentence in the paper: "So, unless one takes metaphysics to be merely the shadow of grammar, one should not take the fact that certain constructions are grammatical while others are not to be evidence for or against a certain metaphysical view."

A special thank-you to Dan Korman and Trenton Merricks, who gave me precious feedback on a very early draft.