zaterdag 4 april 2020

Kris McDaniel’s ‘The Fragmentation of Being’

What follows is a minimally modified literal rearranged excerpt from Kris McDaniel’s The Fragmentation of Being (Oxford University Press 2017) that has been slightly augmented with some connecting phrases.

"There are many kinds of beings – stones, persons, artifacts, and perhaps numbers, abstract propositions, and maybe even God – but are there also many kinds of being? That is to say, is being unitary or does being fragment? Do some beings exist in different ways? And if so, are there different ways of believing in ways of being?

The view that there are ways or modes of being is called ontological pluralism. Some contemporary philosophers mistakenly believe that the idea that different kinds of beings can enjoy different ways of being is metaphysically bankrupt, and probably even meaningless. Being indeed fragments. There are various ways of being. And quantifiers are the apt linguistic home for ways or modes of being rather than predicates, which are the apt linguistic homes for properties. More specifically, ways of being or kinds of being can be represented by restricted semantically primitive existential quantifiers. These quantifiers are prior in meaning to or more natural or more fundamental than the unrestricted existential quantifier. They don’t “break up” into an unrestricted quantifier and a restricting predicate.

There are different kinds of existence if there are meanings for semantically primitive restricted quantifiers such that (i) each restricted quantifier has a non-empty domain that is properly included in the domain of the unrestricted quantifier, (ii) none of these domains overlap, and (iii) each meaning is at least as natural as the meaning of the unrestricted quantifier. On the Heideggerian view, there are restricted quantifiers that are even more natural than the unrestricted quantifier.

Another view worth considering holds that the domains of the fundamental quantifiers overlap. There is an x such that x exists in more than one way. So offered is the following more general sufficient condition for believing in ways of being: one believes in ways of being if one believes that there is more than one relatively fundamental meaning for an existential quantifier. An existential quantifier meaning is relatively fundamental just in case no other quantifier meaning is more fundamental than it.

Strictly, what is offered here is only a criterion of what it is to believe in modes of being rather than a criterion of what it is to be a mode of being. But it is obvious that the criterion trades on the idea that perfectly natural quantifiers and modes of being go hand in hand, and the criterion is unmotivated unless this is true.

There is only one way for being to be unitary, but being might fragment in many different ways, some of which are more extreme than others. One of the milder ways in which being might fragment is one in which, although there are different modes of being enjoyed by different objects, there is a maximally general mode of being that everything enjoys as well. A more radical way in which being might fragment is one in which there is no most general mode of being. This is a historically popular view: the various ways of being are related only analogically. Here being is unified only analogically. That is to say, being is analogous.

Ontological categories are modes of being. So they are not kinds or classes of beings. The concept of ontological category doesn’t appeal to the notion of an essence. Individuals of different ontological categories can be alike with respect to every property. The fact that an object belongs to a particular ontological category is a deeper fact than any fact concerning the properties had by that object. The category that an object belongs to is not just another property among many had by the object, but rather is ontologically prior to any property had by the object. Properties partition the beings in the world. Ontological categories partition being itself.

It’s the job of first-order ontology to tell us what ontological categories there are, and how these relate to another. It’s the job of meta-ontology to tell us what we should mean by “ontological category”, and what it is to fall under an ontological category.

Three different conceptions of ontological superiority should be carefully distinguished. Consider the following examples. Substances enjoy a higher order of being than modifications, existing objects enjoy a higher level of being than non-existent objects, and presences enjoy a greater degree of being than absences.

What about degrees of being? Given plausible assumptions, we can define the notion of degree of being in terms of the notion of naturalness. Object x exists to degree n just in case the most natural quantifier that ranges over x is natural to degree n. In slogan form: an object’s degree of being is proportionate to the naturalness of its most natural mode of being.

Can one vice versa understand the notion of naturalness in terms of the notion of degrees of being? Here is a possibility for relating degree of naturalness and degree of being: hold that the degrees of being of properties are proportionate to their degrees of naturalness. If this is correct, then a straightforward account of naturalness in terms of degrees of being is apparent: “property P is more natural than property Q” is defined as “P is more real than Q”; “Property P is natural to degree n” is defined as “the degree to which P exists is n”. In short, we can define what it is for a property to be natural in terms of the notion of degree of being. The most natural properties are the most real properties. A property is natural to the extent that it exists. The hierarchy of naturalness is determined by the relative reality of properties.

So, given the plausible assumption that the naturalness of a property or relation is proportionate to the degree of being of that property or relation, we can also define the notion of naturalness in terms of degree of being. Since arguments against this purported reduction of naturalness to degrees of being can be rebutted, we see a way to define naturalness in terms of degree of being.

We now face a puzzling question. Is making use of the notion of naturalness merely a notational variant of making us of the notion of a degree of being? Are naturalness and degrees of being two different phenomena or are they really the same phenomenon appearing under two different guises? And in case of the former, should one of these notions be defined in terms of the other?

Is perhaps naturalness the metaphysically prior notion? Should naturalness take priority over degrees of being? If naturalness is metaphysically prior to degrees of being, it ought to be prior in definition as well. Yet, there are no good arguments for taking naturalness to be more basic than the notion of a degree of being. Arguments that try to establish that naturalness is the prior notion fail.

Is then perhaps degree of being the more basic notion? One plausible argument for this claim is the argument from ideological parsimony. The ideology of a theory consists in the notions taken as primitive or undefined by the theory. By comparing pairs of theories, we can precisely isolate the question of which ideology is simpler. Theories making use of degrees of being are ideologically simpler than those making use of naturalness and quantification. So, the fundamental notion of naturalness is an existentially loaded notion. One ought to conclude that those who speak of naturalness speak of gradations of being, albeit under a different guise. So, either both notions are mere notational variants of each other (which seems not to be the case) or they aren’t because naturalness ought to be understood in terms of degrees of being.

If the above is sound, contemporary metaphysicians have much more in common with their historical predecessors than they initially thought, and accordingly ought to treat the historical doctrine that there are gradations of being with the respect it is due rather than with the derision it is commonly met with. For those who truck with naturalness either truck with gradations of being under a different guise, or are taking as primitive a notion that demands analysis in terms of gradations of being. Either way, the self-conception of these metaphysicians must change. Grades of being are to be embraced."

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