Nominalist Constituent Ontologies: A Development and Critique

Dissertation, University of Notre Dame (2009)
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In this dissertation I consider the merits of certain nominalist accounts of phenomena related to the character of ordinary objects. What these accounts have in common is the fact that none of them is an error theory about standard cases of predication and none of them deploys God or uniquely theistic resources in its explanatory framework. The aim of the dissertation is to answer the following questions: • What is the best nominalist account on offer? • How might it be improved? • Does it ultimately succeed? I will argue that while so-called trope theory is the best account on offer, it can be significantly improved—or replaced—by a novel version of nominalism that is modeled after trope theory. Ultimately, however, I will argue that even the novel version fails. The dissertation unfolds as follows. In Chapter 1, I introduce Austere Nominalism (AN), which is perhaps the most extreme version of nominalism that falls within the scope of the dissertation. AN is often described as the view that there exist only concrete particulars. According to AN, it is unnecessary to posit any entities other than ordinary objects—turkeys, tables, and the like—in order to account for explananda related to the character of those objects. (Such explananda include the phenomenon of attribute agreement, of attribute possession, of true subject-predicate sentences, etc.) In this chapter I argue that AN fails to provide an adequate account of these explananda. In addition, introducing and criticizing AN serves an important heuristic role for the rest of the dissertation. To understand this role, we must distinguish between the basic explanatory strategy deployed by the austere nominalist and the type of explananda for which she deploys that strategy. The austere nominalist deploys the strategy to account for the character of ordinary objects. As I argue in Chapter 1, this deployment is a failure. As I go on to show in Chapter 2, the widespread rejection AN has led to a variety of rival accounts of the character of ordinary objects. In rejecting AN, however, these accounts also tacitly reject its basic explanatory strategy. Thus goes the baby with the bathwater, since, arguably, there are some attractive features of AN’s basic explanatory strategy. Indeed, those who defend the most prominent version of nominalism—trope theory—seem to overlook the advantages of AN’s basic strategy, and by so doing, make an unnecessary concession to the realist. Or so I argue in Chapter 3. And, as I will argue in Chapter 4, the strongest version of nominalism is a novel account, modeled after trope theory, that deploys AN’s basic strategy at a more fundamental level than that of ordinary objects. This novel account—troper theory—is closer in spirit to AN than is traditional trope theory. (Thus, AN serves as a foil for the discussion of other nominalist views.) Finally, in the Afterword I indicate how troper theory is equally vulnerable to some of the traditional objections that plague trope theory. Thus, if you are not convinced that traditional objections to trope theory are conclusive and you want to be a nominalist, then you should abandon trope theory and adopt troper theory. If you take traditional objections against trope theory to have significant force, then you should reject both theories.

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Robert K. Garcia
Baylor University


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