Abstract: Getting off the Inwagen: a Critique of Quinean Metaontology

Much contemporary ontological enquiry takes place within the so-called ‘Quinean tradition’ but, given that some aspects of Quine’s project have been widely abandoned even by those who consider themselves Quineans, it is unclear what this amounts to. Fortunately recent work in metaontology has produced two relevant results here – a clearer characterisation of the metaontology uniting the aforementioned Quineans, most notably undertaken by Peter van Inwagen, and a raft of criticisms of that metaontology. In this paper I critique van Inwagen’s Quinean metaontology, finding that certain challenges, supplemented by pressure to more closely reflect Quine’s work, should drive Quineans to adopt a stronger metaontology incorporating more of Quine’s radical views.

I begin in §1 by introducing metaontology, the central subject of the enquiry. In §2 I explain the Quinean metaontology as van Inwagen presents it, exploring each of its five theses. §3 outlines the ‘easy ontology’ argument and the ‘grounding’ challenge – both notable recent challenges to Quineanism – and diagnoses the tension that exposes van Inwagen’s Quineanism to these attacks. §4 uses elements of Quine’s thought to formulate a stronger Quinean metaontology, based on a revised set of five theses, which can respond to the problems under discussion. I conclude that while van Inwagen’s Quineanism is problematic there are prospects for a viable, more wholeheartedly Quinean, metaontology.