Introductory Notes

written decades after the essay


The shape of this essay is as follows:
Relative Ontology
para1 through para6
A general distinction is drawn between two kinds of ontological question exemplified respectively by the questions "Do numbers exist?" and "Are there infinitely many prime numbers?". Questions of the former kind lack real content, those of the latter kind are both substantive and answerable (in the context of more or less arbitrary answers to some questions of the former kind). This point is slightly elaborated by talk of a heirarchy.
Ordinary Language
para7 through para10
It is next considered how ontological criteria may be judged in relation to ordinary language, ultimately concluding that by manipulation of criteria and consequences of ontological commitment a wide range of ontologies can be construed as compatible with ordinary language.
Dual Standards?
para11 through para12
Finally the question of fit with ordinary language is revisited, particularly in relation to a possible dual standard for ontological vocabulary between philosophical and ordinary discourse. The question whether this might be resolved through separation of the predicative and existential uses of the relevant verbs is touched upon.

and NOW

My present inclination on this topic is:
Separate Abstract and Concrete
I would wish to draw the distinction between abstract and concrete ontology, the former being a part of logic and the latter of metaphysics. Important philosophical problems remain (to this day) in both areas, of which those in abstract ontology are the more difficult both philosophically and technically.
Ordinary Language
I should not now feel it important to worry about compatibility with ordinary discourse. If I wrote an essay on this topic tommorrow I should mention ordinary language, if at all, only to explain why it does not feature in the discussion.
I should feel it desirable to emphasise the degree of discretion that we are free to exercise in matters of ontology. This is my present twist on my then view (para6) that "Our ultimate criteria of existence must always stand defenceless, like the axioms of a logical system..". We are free, within the broad constraints imposed only by the need for logical coherence, to adopt whatever ontology best suits our purposes.

up home © RBJ written late 1974, edited into HTML 1997/4/28 last edited 1997/4/29