Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Ontological grounding nihilism

Some people are attracted to nihilism about proper parthood: no entity has proper parts. I used to be rather attracted to that myself, but I am now finding that a different thesis fits better with my intuitions: no entity is (fully) grounded. Or to put it positively: only fundamental entities exist.

This has some of the same consequences that nihilism about proper parthood would. For instance, on nihilism about proper parthood, there are no artifacts, since if there were any, they'd have proper parts. But on nihilism about ontological grounding, we can also argue that there are no artifacts, since the existence of an artifact would be grounded in social and physical facts. Moreover, nihilism about ontological grounding implies nihilism about mereological sum: for the existence of a mereological sum would be grounded in the existence of its proper parts. However, nihilism about ontological grounding is compatible with some things having parts--but they have to be things that go beyond their parts, things whose existence is not grounded in the existence and relations of their parts.

8 comments:

Michael Gonzalez said...

This is very interesting. What would we be denying the existence of? Things which are composed of parts but fail to have properties beyond those of the parts and their relations?

Alexander R Pruss said...

Yes, as well as socially constituted entities, holes, shadows, etc.

Michael Gonzalez said...

I like it! It really could be a way of addressing this tendency that people have to say "if we are entirely physical, then we are entirely describable in terms of physics", which is manifestly false (even ridiculous, in my opinion). We are irreducibly human organisms and there are facts about us for which the vocabulary of physics is insufficient.

entirelyuseless said...

If there are no artifacts, then there are no desks and no computers, and I am not typing this comment on a computer on a desk. That seems just as absurd as the example of saying that I do not have hands.

I know many people who say that things like desks and computers are just collections, but you seem to be saying that there are no such things as collections either. So it looks like you are asserting that we are in a skeptical scenario.

Michael Gonzalez said...

I don't see how it follows that there are no artifacts, even if there is social and physical facts which ground them... they may not FULLY ground them. Any view which requires that there are no desks or computers is untenable, but I just thought this view would permit them as long as we don't think of them as full grounded in the physical facts about their parts....

Alexander R Pruss said...

Artifacts would, I think, be *fully* grounded by the social and physical facts.

I think ordinary language "there is" does not actually attribute existence. "There is a shadow on the wall" does not have serious ontological commitment to shadows or walls.

Michael Gonzalez said...

I completely agree that "there is" doesn't carry any heavy ontological weight, but I still think there is (pun intended) a huge problem with denying that chairs exist. So, on your view, it would have to be the case that chairs exist beyond their full grounding. I don't fully understand how "social grounding" is on a par with "physical grounding" in this sort of discussion, but that just may be beyond me.....

entirelyuseless said...

Attributing existence seems to be proportional to the thing you're saying exists. In other words, we would certainly normally say both "there are such things as chairs," and "chairs exist." Likewise that there are such things as shadows and walls, and that shadows and walls exist. But presumably each thing would exist in the way proper to it, so that, e.g., substances exist by subsisting, while things like shapes exist by being present in some thing.

Given that qualification, "in the way proper to it," it follows that you are right about the "heavy ontological weight," since a shadow exists mainly as an absence of light, which is the negative of a being rather than a being itself.

However, privations imply something that is deprived, and in any case surely "desk" does not signify a privation. But then "there are desks" implies, "something exists in the way that is needed in order for there to be a desk," and you seem to be denying that there can be anything that needs to exist in any way in order for there to be a desk, since if there is, something will be grounded.

So I still don't see how your argument does not imply skepticism.