Dorr on the language of ontology

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In the ‘ordinary business of life’, everyone makes claims about what there is. For instance, we say things like: ‘There are some beautiful chairs in my favourite furniture shop’. Within the context of philosophical debate, some philosophers also make claims about what there is. For instance, some ontologists claim that there are chairs; other ontologists claim that there are no chairs. What is the relation between ontologists’ philosophical claims about what there is and ordinary claims about what there is? According to Cian Dorr, ontologists’ claims and denials of existence belong to ‘a sort of professional jargon’. Dorr claims, for example, that (1) ‘There are prime numbers between 20 and 30’ can be used superficially or used fundamentally. Ordinary uses of (1) are superficial: we use the sentence to assert a boring, well-known truth. (Perhaps this truth is so well-known that only primary school teachers ever actually assert it.) But in the ontology room, (1) is used fundamentally, to assert that numbers are (as Dorr puts it) ‘part of the ultimate furniture of reality’: and this is a substantial metaphysical doctrine, not a boring truth. In this paper, we will show that none of Dorr’s arguments for these claims succeeds.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3301–3315
JournalPhilosophical Studies
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2016


  • Dorr, Metaontology, Charity


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