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Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

Philosophy

Year Degree Awarded

2018

Month Degree Awarded

September

First Advisor

Phillip Bricker

Subject Categories

Metaphysics | Philosophy of Language

Abstract

My dissertation is divided into three self-contained chapters, each of which explores some facet of nominalism. The overall aim is to explicate and defend a nominalist approach that recognizes the utility of talking about, or presupposing the existence of, abstract objects even if no such objects exist.

The first chapter begins with a question: why is talk about abstract mathematical entities so useful in describing and explaining the physical world? Here is an answer: talk about such entities is useful for describing and explaining the physical world insofar as there is some appropriate structural similarity between them and the target physical system. But this account leads to a problem: there is no guarantee that the world contains a sufficiently rich ontology for the requisite structures to be instantiated. The primary focus of the first chapter is on exploring ways to resolve this problem as it relates to the metaphysics of quantitative properties.

In the second chapter I present easy road nominalism, a variant of nominalist that accepts that purported reference to abstract objects is an indispensible part of our best scientific theories. The crucial insight of the easy road strategy is that referential discourse can be useful for reasons that have nothing to do with the existence of the entities purportedly being referred to. While I spend some time explaining the core of the easy road strategy, my focus is on applying the easy road strategy to theories of language. I propose that the presupposition that there are abstract linguistic objects plays a crucial role in explaining linguistic behavior, and provides the basis for a nominalistically acceptable account of content.

In the third chapter I characterize fictionalism, and examine some of the wide variety of fictionalist theories in the literature. Many fictionalist theories depend crucially on the idea that non-literal utterances of a sentence have different content from literal utterances of that sentence. But I argue that the core fictionalist strategy requires no such thing, and that the prevalence of such views has been driven by assumptions about the role of content and truth that are misplaced.

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