Getting off the Inwagen: A Critique of Quinean Metaontology


  • Karl Egerton Birkbeck, University of London



Much contemporary ontological inquiry 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 reflect more closely Quine’s work, should drive Quineans to adopt a stronger metaontology incorporating more of Quine’s radical views. I conclude that while van Inwagen’s Quineanism is problematic there are prospects for a viable, more wholeheartedly Quinean, metaontology.

Author Biography

Karl Egerton, Birkbeck, University of London



Austin, J. L., 1962. Sense and Sensibilia. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Azzouni, Jody, 1998. ‘On “On What There Is”.’ Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 79: 1–18.

———, 2004. Deflating Existential Consequence: A Case for Nominalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Berto, Francesco and Matteo Plebani, 2015. Ontology and Metaontology: A Contemporary Guide. London: Bloomsbury.

Carnap, Rudolf, 1947. Meaning and Necessity. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Chalmers, David, David Manley, and Ryan Wasserman, eds., 2009. Metametaphysics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Dorr, Cian, 2005. ‘What We Disagree About When We Disagree About Ontology.’ In Fictionalism in Metaphysics, edited by Mark Eli Kalderon, pp. 234–86. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Eklund, Matti, 2006. ‘Neo-Fregean Ontology.’ Philosophical Perspectives 20: 95–121.

Fine, Kit, 2009. ‘The Question of Ontology.’ In Chalmers, Manley and Wasserman (2009), pp. 157–77.

Hale, Bob and Crispin Wright, 2001. The Reason’s Proper Study. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

———, 2009. ‘The Metaontology of Abstraction.’ In Chalmers, Manley and Wasserman (2009), pp. 178–212.

Heil, John, 2003. From an Ontological Point of View. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Hirsch, Eli, 2002. ‘Quantifier Variance and Realism.’ Philosophical Issues 12: 51–73.

———, 2005. ‘Physical-Object Ontology, Verbal Disputes, and Common Sense.’ Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 70: 67–97.

———, 2009. ‘Ontology and Alternative Languages.’ In Chalmers, Manley and Wasserman (2009), pp. 231–59.

———, 2013. ‘The Metaphysically Best Language.’ Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 87: 709–16.

Hofweber, Thomas, 1999. Ontology and Objectivity. Ph.D. thesis, Stanford University.

———, 2009. ‘Ambitious, Yet Modest, Metaphysics.’ In Chalmers, Manley and Wasserman (2009), pp. 260–89.

Horgan, Terry and Matja˘z Potr˘c, 2008. Austere Realism. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Jenkins, C. S., 2010. ‘What is Ontological Realism?’ Philosophy Compass 5: 880–90.

Ladyman, James and Don Ross, with David Spurrett and John Collier, 2007. Every Thing Must Go: Metaphysics Naturalized. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Lewis, David, 1991. Parts of Classes. Oxford: Blackwell.

Lowe, E. J., 1998. The Possibility of Metaphysics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Manley, David, 2009. ‘Introduction: A Guided Tour of Metametaphysics.’ In Chalmers, Manley and Wasserman (2009), pp. 1–37.

Meinong, Alexius, 1960/1904. ‘On the Theory of Objects.’ In Realism and the Background of Phenomenology, edited by Roderick Chisholm, pp. 76–117. Glencoe, IL: Free Press.

Merricks, Trenton, 2003. Objects and Persons. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Price, Huw, 2009. ‘Metaphysics After Carnap: The Ghost Who Walks?’ In Chalmers, Manley and Wasserman (2009), pp. 320–46.

Putnam, Hilary, 1987. The Many Faces of Realism. La Salle, IL: Open Court.

———, 1994. Words and Life. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

———, 2004. Ethics Without Ontology. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Quine, W. V., 1940. Mathematical Logic. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

———, 1948. ‘On What There Is.’ Review of Metaphysics 2: 21–38.

———, 1960. Word & Object. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

———, 1968. ‘Ontological Relativity.’ The Journal of Philosophy 65: 185–212.

———, 1981. Theories and Things. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

———, 1983. ‘Ontology and Ideology Revisited.’ The Journal of Philosophy 80: 499–502.

———, 1995. From Stimulus to Science. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Quine, W. V. and Rudolf Fara, 1994. ‘In Conversation: W. V. Quine’ (video series). Philosophy International, Centre for the Philosophy of the Natural and Social Sciences, London School of Economics.

Rorty, Richard, ed., 1967. The Linguistic Turn: Recent Essays in Philosophical Method. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Russell, Bertrand, 1912. The Problems of Philosophy. London: Home University Library.

Ryle, Gilbert, 1949. The Concept of Mind. London: Hutchinson.

Schaffer, Jonathan, 2009. ‘On What Grounds What.’ In Chalmers, Manley and Wasserman (2009), pp. 347–83.

Schiffer, Stephen, 2003. The Things We Mean. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Sider, Ted, 2011. Writing the Book of the World. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

———, 2014. ‘Hirsch’s Attack on Ontologese.’ Noûs 48: 565–72.

Thomasson, Amie, 2007. Ordinary Objects. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

———, 2014. Ontology Made Easy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

van Inwagen, Peter, 1990. Material Beings. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

———, 1998. ‘Meta-Ontology.’ Erkenntnis 48: 233–50.

———, 2009. ‘Being, Existence, and Ontological Commitment.’ In Chalmers, Manley and Wasserman (2009), pp. 472–506.

———, 2014. Existence: Essays in Ontology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wilson, Jessica, 2011. ‘Much Ado About “Something”.’ Analysis 71: 172–88.

Wilson, N. L., 1959. ‘Substances Without Substrata.’ The Review of Metaphysics 12: 521–39.

Xu, Fei, 1997. ‘From Lot’s Wife to a Pillar of Salt: Evidence that Physical Object is a Sortal Concept.’ Mind & Language 12: 365–92.

Yablo, Stephen, 1998. ‘Does Ontology Rest on a Mistake?’ Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 72: 229–83.