A Compatibilist Approach in Ontology: Steps Towards a Formalization

In Formal Ontology in Information Systems. IOS Press. pp. 182-194 (2023)
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Commonsense ontology often conflicts with the ontology of our best scientific and philosophical theories. However, commonsense ontology, and commonsense belief systems in general, seems to be remarkably efficient and cognitively fundamental. In cases of contrast, it is better to find a way to reconcile commonsense and ”theoretical” ontologies. Given that commonsense ontologies are typically expressed within natural language, a classical procedure of reconciliation is semantical. The strategy is that of individuating the ”ontologically problematic” expressions of natural language and paraphrasing the sentences in which they appear in a (formal) language whose commitments are compatible with those of our best theories. We believe that this strategy of reconciliation, though quite standard, especially in the philosophical literature, is problematic: for a start, it forces us to conclude that the ”real content” of our commonsense expressions and beliefs is different from what it appears. Commonsense ontology becomes just an illusion. We will thus propose an alternative approach: according to our view, a commonsense ontology is reconciled with a theoretical ontology in case it is shown that the explanation of why we believe in the existence of a problematic entity is compatible with our best theories. We will call this kind of reconciliation ”epistemic”. The advantage of an epistemic reconciliation is that commonsense ontology is treated in its own right and could be taken prima facie. Another advantage of the view is that epistemic reconciliation can be analysed through the notion of explaining away: a commonsense ontology is epistemically reconciled with a theoretical ontology if and only if the problematic entities of the commonsense ontology are explained away by ”respectable” entities of the theoretical ontology. In the final part of the paper, we sketch a formal analysis of explaining away.

Author Profiles

Vittorio Morato
University of Padua
Massimiliano Carrara
University of Padua


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