Engineering Existence?

Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy (forthcoming)
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This paper investigates the connection between two recent trends in philosophy: higher-orderism and conceptual engineering. Higher-orderists use higher-order quantifiers (in particular quantifiers binding variables that occupy the syntactic positions of predicates) to express certain key metaphysical doctrines, such as the claim that there are properties. I argue that, on a natural construal, the higher-orderist approach involves an engineering project concerning, among others, the concept of existence. I distinguish between a modest construal of this project, on which it aims at engineering higher-order analogues of the familiar notion of first-order existence, and an ambitious construal, on which it additionally aims at engineering a broadened notion of existence that subsumes first-order and higher-order existence. After identifying a substantial problem for the ambitious project, I investigate a possible response which is based on adopting a cumulative type theory as the background higher-order logic. While effective against the problem at hand, this strategy turns out to undermine a major reason to embrace higher-orderism in the first place, namely the idea that higher-orderism dissolves a range of otherwise intractable debates in metaphysics. Higher-orderists are therefore best advised to pursue their engineering project on the modest variant and against the background of standard type theory.

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Lukas Skiba
University of Bergen


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