Relational and Substantival Ontologies, and the Nature and the Role of Primitives in Ontological Theories

Erkenntnis 73 (1):101-121 (2010)
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Abstract

Several metaphysical debates have typically been modeled as oppositions between a relationist approach and a substantivalist approach. Such debates include the Bundle Theory and the Substratum Theory about ordinary material objects, the Bundle (Humean) Theory and the Substance (Cartesian) Theory of the Self, and Relationism and Substantivalism about time. In all three debates, the substantivalist side typically insists that in order to provide a good treatment of the subject-matter of the theory (time, Self, material objects), it is necessary to postulate the existence of a certain kind of substance, while the other side, the relationist one, characteristically feels that this is an unnecessary expense and that one can get the job done in an ontologically cheaper way just with inter-related properties or events. In this paper I shall defend the view that there is much less of a disagreement between relational ontologies and substantival ontologies than it is usually thought. I believe that, when carefully examined, the two sides of the debate are not that different from each other, in all three cases of pairs of views mentioned above. As we will see, both the relational side and the substantival side work in the same way, suffer from and answer the same objections, and are structurally extremely similar. It will be an important question – one that I shall discuss in detail, and that is indeed the main point of interest for me in this paper – whether this means that the two sides of the debate are somehow 'equivalent' or not, and what 'equivalent' could mean.

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Jiri Benovsky
University of Fribourg

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