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Ontological Trivialism?

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How to Meinong a Carnap-Quine

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How hard is it to answer an ontological question? Ontological trivialism, (OT), inspired by Carnap’s internal-external distinction among “questions of existence”, replies “very easy.” According to (OT), almost every ontologically disputed entity trivially exists. (OT) has been defended by many, including Schiffer (1996; 2003; 2006) and Schaffer (2009). In this paper, I will take issue with (OT). After introducing the view in the context of Carnap-Quine dispute and presenting two arguments for it, I will discuss Hofweber’s (2005a; 2007) argument against (OT) and explain why it fails. Next, I will introduce a modified version of ontological trivialism, i.e. negative ontological trivialism, (NOT), defended by Hofweber (2005a), according to which some ontologically disputed entities, e.g. properties, (almost) trivially do not exist. I will show that (NOT) fails too. Then I will outline a Meinongian answer to the original question, namely, ‘How hard is it to answer an ontological question?’ The Carnapian intuition of the triviality of internal questions can be saved by the Meinongian proposal that quantification and reference are not ontologically committing and the Quinean intuition of the legitimacy of interesting ontological questions can be respected by the Meinongian distinction between being and so-being.

Affiliations: 1: University of Gothenburg Institute for Research in Fundamental Sciences (IPM),


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