Re: Yablo, Quine and Carnap on ontology

From: John Mikes <>
Date: Thu, 3 Sep 2009 12:12:34 -0400

Dear Peter,
the Yablo-Carnac-Gallois-Quine compendium is an interesting reading - except
for missing the crux:
You, as a person, with knowledge about the ideas of the bickering
philosophers, could do us the politesse of a brief summary about "who is
stating what" (very few lines) which may increase the understanding of the
innocent by-reader about the generalities mentioned back and forth. I for
one looked at the 02 URL-s, long as one of them may be, and found further
generalities as in a style of scientifically 'expert' discussions/arguments.

I did not read so far and did not study these versions, so reading your (and
their) papers was frustrating.
I am fundamentally opposed to 'ontology', because I consider it explaining
the partial knowledge we have about 'the world' as if it were the total. I
am for epistemology, the growing information-staple we absorb.
Most people stand on ontological grounds. I wanted to get a glimps.
Could you help?
John M
On Wed, Sep 2, 2009 at 1:35 PM, 1Z <> wrote:

> Yablo and Gallois's paper "Is ontology based on a mistake" is quite
> relevant to
> the question of Platonism, specificall whether true matehmatical
> assertions
> of existence have to be taken literally.
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> What is it?
> A paper criticising the Quinean view of ontology. Yablo does so by
> introduces a metaphorical/literal distinction as to when it is
> reasonable to posit the existence of entities. Thus in order to
> determine our ontological commitments we need to be able to extract
> all cases in which such entities are posited in a metaphorical way
> rather than a literal one. If there is no way to do this, then it is
> not possible to develop a Quinean ontology.
> Where does it fit in for me?
> For the thesis: if correct, it implies that Quine's fundamental
> approach to ontology is flawed and this may have negative implications
> for the Quine-Putnam indispensability argument.
> For the metaphysics paper: possibly details a way in which existence
> cannot be held to occur (which would be interesting to look at in
> terms of the relations proposed). At the very least it gives an
> example of particular existence claims which can then be analysed in a
> relational way.
> Reference
> Yablo, S., Does ontology rest on a mistake?, Proceedings of the
> Aristotelian Society, supp. vol. LXXII (1998), 229-261.
> The Argument
> Carnap on existence
> Carnap argued that the realist existence question/assertion was
> meaningless. He did this by means of his concept of linguistic
> framework. A linguistic framework lays down rules for the use and
> meaning of some object term X in a linguistic sense. Thus there are
> two ways in which one can question/assert the existence of X: internal
> or external to the linguistic framework.
> If one questions the existence of X internal to the framework, one is
> almost certainly guaranteed a yes answer (thus the statement "there is
> an X" can pretty much be viewed as tautological when assessed
> internally to a framework involving X). Hence the realist must be
> making an external existence assertion. However, in this case the term
> X has no meaning, as the framework within which it gains such is not
> present. Thus the realist existence question/assertion is either
> tautological or impossible to answer/assess.
> Quine on Carnap
> Quine objected to Carnap's position in three ways: firstly, he held
> that his internal/external distinction was reliant on an analytic/
> synthetic distinction (because the concept of a linguistic framework
> involves the rules inherent in that framework being viewed as
> indefeasible (i.e. analytic) within that particular linguistic
> practice). As Quine believed that the analytic/synthetic distinction
> could not be made, he held that Carnap's internal/external distinction
> breaks down: internal assessments are thus not just a matter of
> following inviolable linguistic rules, it is indeed possible for these
> rules to change in response to experience and thus for internal
> practice to change too.
> Secondly, Quine argues that the external choice between linguistic
> frameworks is much more influenced by observation than Carnap would
> have us believe. For Quine, the decision to adopt a rule governing the
> appropriate observational conditions under which one may assert the
> existence of X is itself in part an assertion that X exists (if such
> conditions obtain). He does not believe in making a distinction
> between the linguistic truth and the factual truth of a statement.
> Finally, Quine objects to the claim that the choice of linguistic
> framework existence rule is based on merely practical considerations
> to do with efficiency, simplicity, etc with no metaphysical
> implications. He does so on the basis that these are exactly the sorts
> of things that scientists use to favour one theory (and hence in
> Quine's opinion, a view of the world, complete with ontology) over
> another.
> Yablo on Quine
> Yablo argues that each aspect of Quine's critique is flawed. Firstly,
> one does not need to hold that rules making up a linguistic framework
> are analytic in order to be able to understand the need for a
> framework in order to understand the meaning of terms. Not really sure
> how this fits in and is related to Quine's second objection stage: One
> does not need to render external talk of the objects within a
> particular framework meaningless in order to save the internal, rule-
> bound meaning. One can just make clear how such external statements
> cannot be applied internally.;finally, Yablo points out that Quine
> himself accepts the fact that a statement can be asserted purely for
> practical advantage without the asserter actually holding that what it
> entails metaphysically is actually the case.
> Saving the Framework
> Yablo goes on to propose a linguistic framework modified in light of
> Quine's criticisms in which a framework is adopted as a kind of "game"
> where the players assess the truth and falsity of statements within
> the framework without any belief in implications for truth and/or
> falsity outside of the framework. Thus Yablo argues that there are two
> ways in which a statement may be interpreted: literally (external to a
> particular game or linguistic framework) or as a metaphor (internal).
> The Framework Strikes Back
> This distinction regarding the way in which a statement may be
> interpreted causes problems for the Quinean ontological regime. Given
> that Quine does accept that assertions may be made in a metaphorical
> sense, and that when one does so no ontological implications may be
> drawn from such assertions, Quine needs to provide a clear demarcation
> criterion to distinguish between metaphorical and literal statements.
> As this has been much discussed without progress, it seems unlikely
> that one will be able to distinguish between metaphorical and literal
> usage and thus it is impossible to construct a certain ontology under
> Quine's approach.
> Indeed, Yablo argues that for the most part when we make statements,
> we are unsure as to whether they are strictly literally true or if
> they are at least in part to be taken metaphorically. Thus the
> Quiniean must argue that in time these metaphorical parts of our
> statements will be eroded and eventually only the literal
> interpretation will remain. However, this reduces the Quinean position
> to the following: one should sympathise with the idea that Xs exist
> iff the literal part of theories involve their postulation and one
> should count the part of a theory that involves the postulation of Xs
> literal iff there turn out to be Xs. Thus there is a circularity.
> Argument Outline
> * Carnap proposes a conception of linguistic practice (involving
> an internal/external distinction) under which ontological
> investigations cannot meaningfully be undertaken.
> * Quine criticises this by linking it to the problems of the
> analytic/synthetic distinction.
> * Yablo modifies Carnap's position so that the distinction is made
> on metaphorical/literal grounds in instead.
> * This new position requires that the Quinean provide a principle
> of demarcation between metaphor and literal truth in order for their
> ontology to prevail.
> * No such principle has been provided and so the Quinean
> ontological project fails.
> >

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Received on Thu Sep 03 2009 - 12:12:34 PDT

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