Abstract: Quine’s Legacy in Metaontology

Answering ontological questions is a difficult and controversial task in itself, made harder still by disagreement about the right way to approach such questions and about the significance of the answers. Philosophers working in metaontology – that is, the study of the methodology of ontology – have in recent years attempted to articulate these disagreements clearly, resolving them into distinct approaches that can then be evaluated against one another. This dissertation develops that literature by defending the thesis that a Quinean metaontology provides a more fruitful and robust methodology for ontology than the competing views currently on offer, provided it is strengthened beyond the exegetically problematic form of Quineanism that is now commonplace.

In order to establish the thesis, two tasks are required. It must be demonstrated that my account is more faithful to Quine’s influential writings on the methodology of ontology than are the accounts of Quineanism to be found in the current metaontological literature: this forms Part I of the dissertation. The theoretical and interpretative flaws in ‘weak’ Quineanism are demonstrated, and a historical assessment culminates in the articulation of ‘strong’ Quineanism, which is encompassed by four broad principles: naturalism, formalism, charity, and ontological relativity. This done, it must also be shown that the account is preferable to non-Quinean approaches propounded in the recent literature. This is particularly pressing because many competitors express their views as direct challenges to Quineanism; it is demonstrated in Part II that my account can respond to those challenges. Key positions are chosen, their criticisms explained, and these are shown to be answerable for the strong Quinean. In this way I deal in turn with ‘fundamentalism’, quantifier variance-based deflationism, and neo-Fregeanism. I conclude that by carefully examining Quine’s philosophical project we can provide a methodology for ontology that promises useful, well-justified answers and avoids intractable disputes.