Third Hamburg Summer School with Amie Thomasson

July 21, 2014 - July 25, 2014
Department of Philosophy, , Universität Hamburg



  • Phlox Research Group
  • Emmy Noether Research Group: Ontology nach Quine

Keynote speakers:

Amie L. Thomasson
University of Miami

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The Third Hamburg Summer School will take place between the 21st and 25th July

The Summer School will be taught by Prof. Amie Thomasson from the University of Miami.

Amie is one of the leading figures in contemporary analytic metaphysics, having made hugely important contributions to debates concerning the metaphysics of fictional characters (see her bookFiction and Metaphysics (Cambridge University Press, 1999)) and ordinary objects (see her book Ordinary Objects (Oxford University Press, 2007)). In addition to these books, Amie has co-edited (with David W. Smith) the volume Phemonenology and the Philosophy of Mind, and authored over 50 book chapters and articles on topics including metaphysics and metametaphysics, ontology and metaontology, aesthetics and the philosophy of art, the philosophy of mind, and social philosophy.

Throughout her career, Amie has emphasised the importance of issues concerning the methodology of metaphysical inquiry, a topic upon which her current research focuses and which is in turn the focus of her forthcoming book, entitled Ontology Made Easy. As its name suggests, the central argument of this book comprises a sustained development and defence of the view that ontological questions are not as hard to answer as many philosophers have thought.

Below is a brief abstract for Amie’s course for the summer school.

The Easy Approach to Ontology

In the decades following Quine, debates about existence have taken center stage in the metaphysics. But neo-Quinean ontology has reached a crisis point, given the endless proliferation of positions and lack of any clear idea of how to resolve debates. The most prominent challenge to mainstream ontological debates has come from the idea that disputants can be seen as using the quantifier with different meanings, leaving the dispute merely verbal. Nearly all of the work in defense of hard ontology has gone into arguing against quantifier variance.

In this course we will investigate and evaluate an entirely different challenge that hard ontology faces, which remains even if the threat of quantifier variance can be avoided. The challenge comes from the ‘easy approach to ontology’: the idea that many ontological questions can be answered by undertaking trivial inferences from uncontroversial premises, making prolonged disputes about the questions out of place. For example, it seems we can begin from the uncontroversial claim ‘grass is green’, and from there infer that grass has the property of greenness, and so that there are properties. Similar arguments have been undertaken for numbers, propositions, fictional characters, and ordinary objects. Such a view is arguably the heir to Carnap’s own position, and we will begin historically by tracing back the roots of this position to Carnap, and seeing how it survives the Quine-Carnap debate. We will go on to examine how to develop the easy approach to ontology, and to investigate its consequences: including both a first-order simple realism about the disputed entities and a form of meta-ontological deflationism that takes ontological disputes themselves to be misguided, since existence questions may be answered by straightforward conceptual and/or empirical work. We will also examine a range of objections that have been raised against the easy approach, including objections from fictionalism, from rejection of conceptual truths, and from accusations of ontological profligacy. Finally, we will look at attempts to avoid this threat and revive serious ontological debates by adopting a special language of Ontologese.

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May 30, 2014, 1:45am CET

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