Endurance, perdurance, and metaontology

SATS (2):159-177 (2011)
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The recent debate in metaontology gave rise to several types of (more or less classical) answers to questions about "equivalences" between metaphysical theories and to the question whether metaphysical disputes are substantive or merely verbal (i.e. various versions of realism, strong anti-realism, moderate anti-realism, or epistemicism). In this paper, I want to do two things. First, I shall have a close look at one metaphysical debate that has been the target and center of interest of many meta-metaphysicians, namely the problem of how material objects persist through time : the endurantism vs. perdurantism controversy. It has been argued that this debate is a good example of a merely verbal one, where two allegedly competing views are in fact translatable one into each other – they end up, contrary to appearances, to be equivalent. In my closer look at this debate, I will conclude that this is correct, but only to some extent, and that there does remain room for substantive disagreement. The second thing that I wish to achieve in this paper, and that I hope will stem from my considerations about the persistence debate, is to defend a metaontological view that emphasizes that when asking the question "Are metaphysical debates substantive or verbal?" the correct answer is "It depends." Some debates are substantive, some debates are merely verbal, sometimes it is true that a problem or a question can be formulated in equally good frameworks where there is no fact of the matter as to which one is correct or where we just cannot know it. Furthermore, importantly, as my examination of the persistence debate will show, there is room for the view that a debate is largely merely verbal but not entirely and that some parts of it are substantive, and decidable by philosophical methods. It is possible, and it is the case with respect to the persistence debate, that inside a debate some points are merely verbal while other are places of substantive disagreement. A moral of this is that, at the end of the day, the best way to do meta-metaphysics is to do first-level metaphysics

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Jiri Benovsky
University of Fribourg


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