Abstract: Found Guilty by Association: In Defence of the Quinean Criterion

Much recent work in metaontology challenges the so-called ‘Quinean tradition’ in metaphysics. Especially prominently, Amie Thomasson argues for a highly permissive ontology over ontologies which eliminate many entities. I am concerned with disputing not her ontological claim, but the methodology behind her rejection of eliminativism – I focus on ordinary objects. Thomasson thinks that by endorsing the Quinean criterion of ontological commitment eliminativism goes wrong; a theory eschewing quantification over a kind may nonetheless be committed to its existence. I argue that, contrary to Thomasson’s claims, we should retain the Quinean criterion. Her arguments show that many eliminativist positions are flawed, but their flaws lie elsewhere: the Quinean criterion is innocent. Showing why reveals the importance of pragmatism in ontology.

In §1 I compare Thomasson’s account and the eliminativist views to which it stands in opposition. In §2 I re-construct Thomasson’s reasons for rejecting the Quinean criterion. In §3 I defend the Quinean criterion, showing that the eliminativists’ flaws are not consequences of applying the Quinean criterion, before explaining the criterion’s importance when properly understood. I conclude that Thomasson, though right to criticise the methodology of ordinary-object eliminativists, is wrong to identify the Quinean criterion as the source of their mistake.