Realism in the Desert

In Massimo Dell’Utri, Fabio Bacchini & Stefano Caputo (eds.), Realism and Ontology without Myths. Cambridge Scholars Press. pp. 16–31 (2014)
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Quine’s desert is generally contrasted with Meinong’s jungle, as a sober ontological alternative to the exuberant luxuriance that comes with the latter. Here I focus instead on the desert as a sober metaphysical alternative to the Aristotelian garden, with its tidily organized varieties of flora and fauna neatly governed by fundamental laws that reflect the essence of things and the way they can be, or the way they must be. In the desert there are no “natural joints”; all the boundaries we find are lines we have drawn, artificial fencings that merely reflect of our own demarcations, our classifications, our desperate need to ward off the flux and meet an excusable but ungrounded demand for order and stability. The desert returns a picture of reality that is radically anti-realist. And yet the picture does not amount to a form of irrealism. The desert is out there and is what it is regardless of how we feel. And it is not completely structureless. It’s just that the structure it has is very thin and does not correspond to the sort of structure that so-called metaphysical realists—and scientific realists alike—tend to attribute to it.

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Achille C. Varzi
Columbia University


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