Collective Abstraction

Philosophical Review (forthcoming)
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This paper develops a novel theory of abstraction—what we call collective abstraction. The theory solves a notorious problem for non-eliminative structuralism. The non-eliminative structuralist holds that in addition to various isomorphic systems there is a pure structure that can be abstracted from each of these systems; but existing accounts of abstraction fail for non- rigid systems like the complex numbers. The problem with the existing accounts is that they attempt to define a unique abstraction operation. The theory of collective abstraction instead simultaneously defines a collection of distinct abstraction operations, each of which maps a system to its corresponding pure structure. The theory is precisely formulated in an essentialist language. This allows us to throw new light on the question to what extent structuralists are committed to symmetric dependence. Finally, we apply the theory of collective abstraction to solve a problem about converse relations.

Author's Profile

Jon Litland
University of Texas at Austin


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