Too Many Cats: The Problem of the Many and the Metaphysics of Vagueness

Dissertation, Birkbeck, University of London (2010)
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Abstract

Unger’s Problem of the Many seems to show that the familiar macroscopic world is much stranger than it appears. From plausible theses about the boundaries of or- dinary objects, Unger drew the conclusion that wherever there seems to be just one cat, cloud, table, human, or thinker, really there are many millions; and likewise for any other familiar kind of individual. In Lewis’s hands, this puzzle was subtly altered by an appeal to vagueness or indeterminacy about the the boundaries of ordinary objects. This thesis examines the relation between these puzzles, and also to the phenomenon of vagueness. Chapter 1 begins by distinguishing Unger’s puzzle of too many candidates from Lewis’s puzzle of borderline, or vague, candidates. We show that, contra Unger, the question of whether this is a genuine, as opposed to merely apparent, distinction cannot be settled without investigation into the nature of vagueness. Chapter 2 begins this investigation by developing a broadly supervaluationist account of vague- ness that is immune to the standard objections. This account is applied to Unger’s and Lewis’s puzzles in chapters 3 and 4. Chapter 3 shows that, despite its popularity, Lewis’s own approach to the puzzles is unsatisfactory: it does not so much solve the puzzle, as prevent us from expressing them; it cannot be extended to objects that self-refer; it is committed to objectionable theses about temporal and modal metaphysics and semantics. Chapter 4 develops a conception of ordinary objects that emphasises the role of identity conditions and change, and uses it to resolve both Problems of the Many. This allows us to diagnose the source of the puzzles: an overemphasis on mereology in contemporary material ontology.

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Nicholas K. Jones
University of Oxford

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