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ontological commitment

Subject Philosophy

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405106795.2004.x


M etaphysics, logic, philosophy of language The use of language commits us to the existence of objects. A person's ontology comprises the set of objects that he takes to exist and thereby to make up the furniture of the world. Theories differ according to the objects they posit to exist. Ontology is the answer to the question “What is there?” Determining which answer is right amounts to determining what ontological commitments are acceptable. We are thus faced with the problem of finding a criterion for ontological commitment. The famous criterion put forward by Quine concerns the ontological commitments of a theory: a theory is committed to those objects that must exist if it is true and is committed to the existence of entities of a certain kind if and only if they must be counted among the values of its bound variables of quantification in order for the theory to be true. This criterion is a development of Russell 's theory of descriptions , which shows that the occurrence of a singular term in a true statement does not automatically warrant an assertion that the term refers to something real or existent, but that the analysis of the statement into its correct logical form reveals the objects that must exist if the statement is true. “If what we want is a standard for our own guidance in appraising the ontological commitments of one or another of ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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