Committing to an Individual: Ontological Commitment, Reference, and Epistemology

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

124 Downloads (Pure)


When we use a directly referential expression to denote an object, do we incur an ontological commitment to that object, as Russell and Barcan Marcus held? Not according to Quine, whose canonical language has only variables as denoting expressions, but no constants to model direct reference. I make a case for a more liberal conception of ontological commitment---more wide-ranging than Quine's---which allows for commitment to individuals, with an improved logical language of regimentation. The reason for Quine's prohibition on commitment to individuals, I argue, is that his choice of canonical language is heavily informed by his holist epistemology, in which objects are introduced via a description of their explanatory role. But non-holists can coherently attempt to commit to individuals using directly referential expressions, modelled in a formal language as constants. While holding on to the insight that a logical language is a helpful medium for ontology, I propose instead a more permissive language of regimentation, one expanded to permit the use of constants to record attempts to commit to individuals, which allows us to make sense of non-holist theories with alternative name-based or name-and-variable-based criteria of ontological commitment as well as Quinean theories.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)583-604
Number of pages21
Issue number2
Early online date15 May 2015
Publication statusPublished - 2016


Dive into the research topics of 'Committing to an Individual: Ontological Commitment, Reference, and Epistemology'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this