Thursday, 30 April 2015

Basic Elements of Ted Sider's Metaphysics

The following is a commentary of various sections of the book Riddles of Existence: A Guided Tour of Metaphysics (2007), by Ted Sider and Earl Conee

i) Possibilities as Ghosts

ii) Natural Laws and Universals

iii) Absolute Necessity & Natural Necessity

iv) Why We Need Possible Worlds

v) Possible Clintons & De Re/De Dicto Necessity

vi) On Conventionalism

vii) Ted Sider the Platonic Essentialist

viii) Why is an Apple an Apple?

ix) On David Armstrong’s Sparse Theory of Universals

x) Universals as Sets

xi) Nominalist Reformulations

xii)The Conceptualist View of Universals

Possibilities as Ghosts

Ted Sider offers us an interesting argument against the existence (or being or non-obtaining) of possibilities in certain ontologies.

Certain philosophers believe that possibilities (such as unicorns or Tony Blair’s being a serial killer) have some kind of being even though they aren't actual. Are these possibilities ‘ghostly things’? Not really. Because, in a sense, ghosts exist. They just have a ghostly existence of, say, intangibility. Or, as Sider puts it:

Rather than making it the case that unicorns are possible, the existence of a ghostly unicorn would just mean that ghostly things are actual.”

Is Sider saying that a belief in the being of possibilities is also a commitment to their actuality – even if that actuality is a little ghostlike? Or is he saying that we shouldn’t see possibilities as ghostlike entities at all?

How should we see possibilities? In Sider’s words, “if possibilities are not ghostly entities, then what are they?” (183). If possibilities, such as Blair being a serial killer, are not ghostlike or anything else, what are we talking about when we talk about them? What is Tony Blair the serial killer or, for that matter, Pegasus or even the round square?

Natural Laws and Universals

We can make sense of natural laws and their necessary nature by bringing in universals.

Ted Sider says that according to the universals theory “laws of nature are from connections between universals” (188). Is there literally a connection-universal between universals as they are instantiated in individual particulars – whether objects or events?

We will find, in addition, that the universals theory of the laws of nature is essentially coached in terms of causality or the causal forces of natural chemicals. Sider gives us an example of a chemical law:

Methane and oxygen must react to produce carbon dioxide and water.

This means that methane, oxygen, carbon dioxide and water are treated as (or are) universals. More specifically,

these universals are related to one another in such a way that any instances of the first two [methane and oxygen] react to produce instances of the second two [carbon dioxide and water]. In short: the universals methane and oxygen necessitate the universals carbon dioxide and water”. (188)

It's clear that universals, on this account, are like (or simply are) natural kinds. Or, again, perhaps natural kinds are universals. More relevantly, it's said that certain universals, when found together, will necessitate other universals. Thus we have a necessary causal relation between universals as these universals are found in natural kinds.

All the above are examples of necessitation. However, they don't explain what necessitation actually is. This is like Quine's case of explaining analyticity by giving examples of analytic statements.

Sider asks:

What does it mean to say that methane and oxygen ‘necessitate’ carbon dioxide and water?”

We can now ask:

How do they necessitate? Why do they necessitate?

Absolute Necessity & Natural Necessity

There's a difference between natural necessity and what Ted Sider calls absolute necessity. Clearly, absolute necessity is stronger, as it were, than natural necessity.

Interestingly, we can say that “even violations of the laws of nature are absolutely possible, for example” (191). Here again we have a definition of necessity in terms of possibility. More accurately, we can say that natural necessity isn't absolute necessity because it's absolutely possible that natural necessity can be violated. In other words, our natural laws could have been different. And if they were different, perhaps a “dropped stone hovering in mid-air” is an absolute possibility. However, a married bachelor or “a person who is taller than himself” is an absolute impossibility.

Sider then defines absolute necessity, again, in terms of possibility:

The only things that are absolutely necessary are things whose falsity is not absolutely possible. It is absolutely necessary that all bachelors are unmarried, and that it is raining if it is raining.” (191)

(Wittgenstein’s tautologies.) It's not possible for necessary things to be otherwise or to be false. It's absolutely impossible for absolutely necessary things to be otherwise or to be false. If you deny an absolute necessity you get something that is logically contradictory; such as a married bachelor or a male who is also female or someone who is both 5ft 9 and 6ft 2.

Interestingly enough, Sider seems to accept and take for granted a de re or essentialist account of necessity. In other words, that bachelors are unmarried has nothing to do with the analyticity of the statement ‘All bachelors are unmarried’; or the fact that ‘bachelor’ and ‘unmarried man’ are synonymous terms. Instead a bachelor not being married man is necessarily a fact about the world and not a fact about our language. Its truth is de re, not de dicto. Surely if we say that “If it is raining it is raining” that isn't a de dicto or analytic necessary truth. It's a fact about the world. However, we would say that if someone says

If it is raining, it is not raining.”

we would simply say that he or she is misusing language; though not necessarily misunderstanding the true nature of the world. However, perhaps both misunderstandings can't be disconnected. We use language because of the way the world is. And we can also say that the way we understand the world (at least to some degree) is a product of our language. These two realities of understanding the world can't be disunited.

Why We Need Possible Worlds

Ted Sider talked earlier about possibilities being ‘ghostly entities’. It's because philosophers thought of possibilities (as well as necessities) this way that David Lewis took away the ghostly aspect of possibilities and made them real (or gave them being) at possible worlds. According to these possible worlds, our possibilities are sometimes their actualities:

The best thing about Lewis’s theory is that it thoroughly demystifies absolute necessity and possibility. Lewis has no use for ghostly possibilities. He firstly confines flying pigs and other possibilities to their own possible worlds; so that they don't infest ours. Then he removes their ghostly status by claiming that they are just as real as the objects in our world.

We certainly had a problem with defining and explaining possibility and necessity without possible worlds. Where are they? Now, in a sense, we can tell people where they are. Necessities and possibilities are at possible worlds. Necessities are the case (or true) at all possible worlds (or at least at the worlds to which they apply). And possibilities are the case (or are true) at at least one world. Thus necessities and possibilities are in some cases concrete and in others abstract. Thus it's acceptable according to quantificational logic, of which it can be seen as its extension. Perhaps we can now also see modal logic as fully extensionalist – at least in certain cases. What this means is that flying pigs and other possibilities are real according to the worlds which contain them. To our world, they are mere possibilities. According to the possible worlds in which they exist, they are actualities.

To reiterate. According to Sider's David Lewis,

we do have a reason to believe in his possible worlds: only by believing in them can we demystify necessity and possibility” (193).

In that case, Lewis might have argued that Hume and other empiricists were right to have rejected necessities (and possibilities) – after all, they didn't believe in (or know about) possible worlds. Without possible worlds, necessity and possibility wouldn't have made any sense.

Despite all that, Sider still has his own qualms about possible worlds. However, if they are seen as theoretical constructs or posits (as it were), then we can see where Lewis is coming from. That is, “it is sometimes reasonable to postulate things for theoretical reasons” (193). For example, “no one has ever directly perceived an electron”; though physicists “postulate electrons to explain the results of the experiments they perform” (194). Of course, to Lewis himself possible worlds aren't theoretical constructs – they are real. To Lewis, in order to work and explain things, possible worlds must have real existence; not just theoretical or even pragmatic existence.

Possible Clintons & De Re/De Dicto Necessity

The concept [essence] is then directly broached by Ted Sider by thinking in terms of possible Bill Clintons or of Bill Clinton’s counterparts.

We can change the nature of Clinton a lot. However, there are certain things which we can't do to him (as it were). That is, we can't take away what is essential to him. Sider writes:

He might have had electric blue hair. But now: could he have been a flower?” (194)

Why couldn’t Clinton have been a flower? I suppose it depends on what or who Clinton actually is. What, or who, is Clinton? He’s a politician. Surely Clinton would still be Clinton if he weren't a politician. In fact, at this moment in time, for all I know, he may not be a politician anymore. That wouldn’t mean that he has cased to exist as a man or, indeed, as Bill Clinton. Ah! As a man. Could Clinton be Clinton if he weren't a man? Possibly. Cut off his bollocks and drain out his testosterone and see what we get. Perhaps it’s what’s in his head that matters.

Must he be a human being in order to be Clinton? Could a flower or a stone be Clinton (or vice versa)? Clearly not. What about an elephant? Again, it depends on what or who Clinton is. Either that, or it depends on how we define Clinton (or that which Clintonizes). Sider, however, settles for Clinton’s being a human being:

In short, Clinton could not have been anything other than a human being. That is, it is an absolutely necessary truth that Bill Clinton is a human being.” (195)

Why couldn’t Clinton “have been anything other than a human being” (195)? Why is it “an absolutely necessary truth that Bill Clinton is a human being”?Sider gets his point across by rejecting the analytic or de dicto account of necessity. For example,

All bachelors are unmarried.”

is necessarily true because it is analytically true. This isn't the case with

Bill Clinton is necessarily (or essentially) a human being.”

The above isn't analytically true. As Sider explains:

“… the sentence ‘Bill Clinton is a human being’ does not seem to be true by definition, for unlike the word ‘bachelor’, which carried a definition (unmarried male), the name ‘Bill Clinton’ has no definition. It just stands for Bill Clinton. We all know that Bill Clinton is a human being, but this isn’t built into the meaning of the name ‘Bill Clinton’ by definition.” (195)

So if

Bill Clinton is a human being.”

is necessarily true, it's not true analytically. It's not true by definition. The definition ‘human being’ is not built into the proper name ‘Bill Clinton’. Indeed the name ‘Bill Clinton’, according to Sider, doesn't have any definition (or sense!). So either it's necessary that Clinton is a human being (non-analytically necessary); or it's not necessary that Clinton is a human being. It seems, intuitively, to be necessary in some way.

The questions is, then: What kind of necessity would this be?

It must be something about Clinton himself that makes it necessary that he is a human being. That is, it is part of his essence that he's a human being. He has the essential property: being a human being.

We can also conclude (or infer) from this that if the name ‘Bill Clinton’ has no definition (or sense), and thus can't be a part of a necessarily true analytic statement, then the name ‘Bill Clinton’ must refer, instead, to Clinton’s essence. It must directly refer to his essence; not indirectly via definitions, concepts, or Fregean senses. It “just stands for Bill Clinton” the physical and psychological being. It stands for a res, not a dicto.

On Conventionalism

Ted Sider then attacks conventionalism’s own attack on de re (as it were) modalities.

He argues that if we accept conventionalism, at least on this issue, then we “demystify philosophy itself” (196), not just modality:

If conventionalism is true, philosophy turns into nothing more than an inquiry into the definitions we humans give to words. By mystifying necessity, the conventionalist demystifies philosophy itself. Conventionalists are typically up front about this: they want to reduce the significance of philosophy.” (196)

This is strong stuff! Is conventionalism really that extreme? Is Sider’s account of conventionalism fully correct? At first blast, this does seem like a certain kind of conventionalism – viz., logical positivism!

Do conventionalists say that philosophy is “nothing more than any inquiry into the definitions we humans give to words” (196)? Or do they simply stress the importance of our words when it comes to philosophy? In any case, surely to the conventionalist it's not just a question of word-definition; but one also of our concepts. That is, how do our concepts determine how we see or interpret the nature of the world? If it were all just a question of word-definition, then conventionalists would be nothing more than linguists or even lexicographers.

Perhaps conventionalists don’t give up on the world at all. They simply say that our words and concepts, and indeed our definitions, are important when it comes to our classifications, etc. of the world.

When Sider writes that by “demystifying necessity, the conventionalist demystifies philosophy itself” (196) he implies that philosophy is nothing more than the study of necessity! In that case, it's no wonder that the conventionalist “wants to reduce the significance of philosophy” (196) if that's really the case. This seems to be a thoroughly Platonic (or perhaps also partly Aristotelian) account of philosophy in its obsession with necessity, and according to Sider again (on the previous page), with essence. Is that really all that philosophy is concerned with – essence and necessity? Again, this was true of Plato, and to a lesser degree of Aristotle; but what about 20th century philosophy? Indeed what about Hume and many other pre-20th century philosophers?

Ted Sider the Platonic Essentialist?

I've just mentioned Ted Sider’s Platonic notion of philosophy’s role, and now we can see yet more evidence of this.

What is philosophy? Sider answers this question thus:

  1. it ‘investigates the essences of concepts’.
  2. It ‘seek[s] the essence of right and wrong’.
  3. It ‘seek[s] the essence of beauty’.
  4. It seek[s] the essence of knowledge’.
  5. It ‘seek[s] the essences of personal identity, free will, time, and so on’. (195)
However, according to conventionalism, “these investigations ultimately concern definitions” (195). Not only that: Sider claims that according to the conventionalist, it “seems to follow that one could settle any philosophical dispute just by consulting a dictionary!” I would like to know if there is such a conventionalist animal who really believes this. As I said earlier, Sider’s account of conventionalism really seems like an account of 1920s and 30s logical positivism. And no philosopher is an old-fashioned logical positivist today.

Again, Sider’s take on conventionalism seems thoroughly old-fashioned in nature. However, his Platonist account of philosophy (or its role) seems even more old-fashioned in nature. In fact it seems antiquated and ancient.

Take his view of aesthetics as just one example.

Sider claims that aestheticians “seek the essence of beauty” (195). Plato, his friend, searched for the essence of beauty; but I doubt that many contemporary aestheticians would do so (except, perhaps, philosophers like Roger Scruton).

Why is an Apple an Apple?

We may say that three red apples have nothing absolutely in common; although they may well be similar. Thus, the nominalist concludes, universals in this and all instances do not exist. These apples, however, must have at least one thing in common. Not only that: the nominalist, surely, must agree that they have one thing in common: they are all apples. Even dissimilar apples would still be dissimilar apples.

Now we can also conclude “that they have in common the property being an apple” (156). However, who says that they are all apples? The nominalist will argue that all they actually share is the name ‘apple’ – nothing more. In addition, if they're all apples, they must be so in virtue of properties other than the property being an apple. The property being an apple is surely not enough to share. They must be apples in virtue of other properties which determine the fact that they are apples.

Perhaps being an apple is a higher-order property under which fall lower-order properties such as being red, having chemical/molecular constitution X, being sweet, etc. In other words, an apple wouldn’t be an apple if it weren’t for these lower-order properties. Being an apple isn't enough. Thus if we accept the property being an apple (indeed perhaps even if the nominalist accepts this property), we must also accept other lower-level properties and thus, perhaps, other universals.

In terms of shared properties between entities of the same kind, Sider gives us the electron as an example.

Again, what do all electrons share in virtue of which they are all electrons and thus all instantiate the universal electron or the property being an electron? According to Sider:

Physics tells us that all electrons have exactly the same charge. So according to physics the electrons have this property in common.” (156)

There is more to it than that. Because “all electrons have exactly the same charge” (156), physics concludes that it “plays a basic role in extremely well confirmed physical explanations of much of what happens in the world” (156).

So universals seem to come to the aid of elementary physics. More than that: physics actually studies universals.

And if an electron (or being an electron) is a universal, perhaps the electric charge of each electron is also a universal – after all, electrons must be more than their electric charge. In that case, perhaps many universals constitute an electron! Alternatively, the electrical charge of an electron may be its only essential property. Thus even if electrons have other properties, these properties will only be contingent in nature. If the electric charge of an electron is its only essential property, then we can say:

electron = electric charge X

That is, an electron just is [an] electric charge (or charge X).

David Armstrong’s Sparse Theory of Universals

It can easily be seen that universals seem to proliferate indefinitely in number. Especially if it's the case that there is a “different universal every time there is some apparent difference in the way of things” (169). So, according to David Armstrong, we need to cut down the inhabitants in the world of universals. How does he do this? –

There are no negative universals, such as not being an apple and non-self-instantiation… David Armstrong, a leading contemporary proponent of the sparse universals idea, holds that only properties used in scientific explanations are genuine universals.” (169)

For a start, if there were negative universals, we would have one for every (positive) universal. For example, not red(ness), not happy, not being a book, etc. Clearly, predicates for some of these negative properties already exist.

That may mean that their universals already exist. Thus

not happy = sad

not tall = small

not heavy = light

This isn't the case for the negative properties not red or not being an apple. Clearly there's no word for not being an apple, etc.

If negations can have universals, what about the negation of a negation, such as not not being an apple or not not being a book? However, perhaps we can say that

not not being a book = being a book

not not being an apple = being an apple

Are double negations identical to positives in the world of universals? Is

not not being an apple = being an apple

the same as

true = not false?

Now for another aspect of Armstrong’s sparse universals theory. He argues “that only properties used in scientific explanations are genuine universals” (169). So what about these questions? -

1) What if science hasn't discovered certain properties yet?

2) What if science has discovered a property which is a genuine universal; though which it doesn’t accept as a genuine scientific property?

3) What if certain non-scientific properties are genuine universals even if science doesn't accept them as genuine?

For example, the properties/universals beauty, wisdom, sexiness and even truth are certainly not scientific predicates or properties. More to the point, hardly any, if any at all, of Plato’s much-loved and discussed universals would be seen as genuine scientific properties today. Yet it was Plato who discovered (as it were) universals and past them down to Western philosophy as a whole, including to David Armstrong.

Ted Sider goes on to say that the notion of negative universals is problematic as well; not just their existence. Some negative predicates seem thoroughly acceptable. Other simply don't use the negative particle ‘non’ or ‘not’. He writes:

For instance, the predicate ‘unoccupied space’ sounds very negative. But what about ‘empty space’? That seems to mean the same thing, without being at all clearly negative. And what about ‘pure space’? That seems to mean the same thing again, while sounding positively positive.” (169/70)

I don’t think that these predicates are analogous or the same as not being an apple and the rest. In the former case, we would get

space’ – ‘non-space’


space’ – ‘not being space’


space’ – ‘unoccupied space’

or Sider’s

space’ – ‘empty space’

They don’t seem the same at all (not just because of the omission of the particles ‘not’ and ‘non’); though we can indeed say that ‘unoccupied space’ and ‘empty space’ are negative in a certain sense. They are negative without being negations. That is, ‘empty space’ is not a negation of ‘space’ and neither is ‘unoccupied space’. And ‘pure space’ certainly isn’t a negation of ‘space’.

Sider then makes a point similar to one already made. What if “there is a fully legitimate science that turns out to be mistaken?” (170) In that case we should ask if “predicates in a mistaken scientific theory identify genuine universals” (170).

There are more problems.

We can argue that

maybe no current scientific predicate identifies a universal, because we may not have any scientific theory that is entirely correct” (170).

The problem for Armstrong is that it is only through science (or physics) that he (or we) can identify the genuine universals. However, science is always in a state of change. So perhaps we shouldn’t accept any universals. Not because universals don’t exist; but because we don’t know which are the genuine universals – at least not yet.

Universals as Sets

Some philosophers claim that universals are simply sets. That is, “each universal is identical to a set of things” (172). More precisely, the universal being red “is the set of things that are red” (172).

Firstly, in the case of certain universals, this would mean, effectively, that universals are concrete or even extensional in nature. That is, if the universal horse is the set of horses, and horses are concrete, then the universal horse is itself concrete because it's nothing more than the members which make up the set of horses. This wouldn't work for abstract entities like numbers or properties like being blue.

For example, the set of numbers, if there is such a set, can't be concrete and therefore the universal number (or numbers) can't be concrete or even extensional.

What about being red?

We've already talked about the set of things that are red. We can say that the things that are red may well be concrete. Is the property itself, red, concrete or is it abstract? Perhaps if the universal being red is the set of red things, and if red things are both concrete and with the abstract property (i.e. red), then the universal being red must be both concrete and abstract if it's determined by the set of red things.

There may be a problem with identifying universals with sets.

If sets are all about membership, then what if a set has no members? It becomes a member of the null set. That is, the set of Devil-dealing Salem witches and the set phlogiston contain no members. Thus both are actually members of the null set; despite the different predicates ‘phlogiston’ and ‘Devil-dealing Salem witches’.

If we believe that universals aren't identical to sets, we can keep the universals being a Devil-dealing Salem witch and being phlogiston and maintain their differences even though there are no Salem witches and there is no such thing as phlogiston. In the case of sets, however, they were both null sets (or members of the null set) and thus were indistinguishable.

Surely they are distinguishable? As Sider asks: “how could there be just one universal here?” (173). Even if there were no witches of Salem, surely we can say that witches are very different from phlogiston! And yet according to set theory, they both constitute the very same class – the null class.

Nominalist Reformulations

When we say

Blue is a colour.”

we appear to be referring to a thing or a property as it is in itself. It's the subject-term of the sentence. ‘Blue’ is a noun – if an abstract noun or an abstract singular term. Or, as the universalist would put it: the sentence “seems to be about the universal being blue” (175). Nominalists don’t like this sentence precisely because it implies, or even entails, the existence of the universal being blue. What do they prefer? This:

Each blue thing is a coloured thing.”

Here the subject-term is not ‘blue’ but ‘blue thing’ (or ‘blue things’). So the colour blue isn't as it were separated from all blue things or itself the subject of the sentence. Instead we're talking about things (say, cats or cups) that just happen to be blue. Thus in terms of grammar, ‘blue’ is now an adjective; not a noun.

How does this solve the problem of the reference to a universal? After all, the words ‘blue’ and ‘coloured’ are still used, even if only as adjectives. How does giving a word adjectival status stop it from referring to a universal? Don’t adjectives like ‘blue’ and ‘coloured’ also refer to universals? Indeed aren’t the properties being blue and being coloured both instantiations of the universal blue and the universal colour or coloured?

No universalist ever said that universals can’t belong to other objects which are themselves universals. The blue of a cat isn’t any less of a universal because it's a property of a cat. Indeed property-universals must belong to things – they are the properties of other things.

So, again, how does the reformulation get rid of reference to universals?

Sider spots a similar problem with another nominalist reformulation. Take this:

Sloth is a vice.”

Clearly the subject-term could refer to the universal sloth or to being slothful. Not only that: isn’t the word ‘vice’ also a reference to a universal? So what does the nominalist offer us? This:

Every slothful thing is a vicious thing.”

How can this be a reformulation if it doesn't refer to a thing or to things at all? Its subject is sloth, not the slothfulness of things. It's telling us that every slothful thing is a vicious thing. There's no reference to things that are slothful at all in the original. Even if it is not taken as a universal, the word ‘sloth’ in the former sentence is a reference to a property; it's not a reference to things which have that property. What if every thing died, would the property or universal sloth (or being slothful) immediately cease to exist? Perhaps only God still exists. Couldn’t He still say, to Himself, that ‘Sloth is a vice’ even though there would be no persons to actually be slothful?

Sider spots his own problem with

Every slothful thing is a vicious thing.”

He writes that this sentence “is not true”. It's not true because

[s]omeone who has the relatively minor vice of sloth may be otherwise so virtuous that he or she is in no sense vicious” (176).

In other words, sloth is a vice; though not every slothful thing is a vicious thing. That is, sloth is just sloth; though a slothful thing is more than being merely slothful – he may be otherwise virtuous. Sloth must be a vice. Though even a slothful person is not, as it were, a vice (or a ‘vicious thing’). Another way of putting this is that vice, or even the predicate ‘vice’, can be attributed to – or predicated of – sloth or the predicate ‘sloth’. However, vice, or the predicate ‘vice’, cannot be attributed to – or predicated of – every slothful thing because some slothful things aren't vicious.

Sider does offer another ‘paraphrase’:

Every slothful thing has at least one vice.”

Isn’t that analytically true or true by definition? If something is slothful, and sloth is a vice, then that slothful thing must have at least one vice – namely, sloth. And that vice is sloth or being slothful! We are back to the property being slothful and therefore the universal sloth!

The Conceptualist View of Universals

Ted Sider now considers conceptualism as an alternative to nominalism about universals. He says that a concept “is a means by which we can think of things” (177). This sounds like a Fregean take on concepts. On this account, concepts are the 'senses' of words and of truth-valued sentences. The sense determines the reference. It is the way in ‘which we can think’ of the reference. It is a ‘mode of presentation’ of a thing or a reference. Thus a Fregean concept helps us to get at (as it were) a thing (or a reference of a name or word).

Thus, on this Fregean account, the word ‘boat’ does not refer to a boat or to boats generally. According to Sider, “the word 'boat' [stands] for this concept” (177). Instead of

boat’ → a boat (or all boats)

we have

boat’ → [boat]

More specifically, if we allow the word ‘boat’ to stand for the concept [boat], rather than a boat or all boats generally, Sider says that “we give the general application to boats that the concept has built into it” (177). In other words, the word ‘boat’ becomes general because it stands for the concept [boat].

However, what exactly has [boat] built into it in order for the word ‘boat’ to have a general application to boats? How does this work? Perhaps it's a basic or brute phenomenon; or it may require a theory of reference for general terms like ‘boat’ or for concepts such as the concept [boat]. Again, why does the concept [boat] - or any other concept - have “the desired generality” of which Sider speaks?

What the conceptualist means is that what all boats share is the simple fact that the concept [boat] has a ‘general application’. This means that the conceptualist can “deny that any one entity is shared by all of the boats” (177). This seems like a simple reworking of nominalism. Instead of saying that the word ‘boat’ has a general application (as the nominalist does), the conceptualist simply says that the concept [boat] has a general application. What’s the real difference between nominalism and conceptualism besides the substitution of concepts for words? They both believe that there's no single entity shared by all boats themselves. They only share (if that’s a suitable word) either the word ‘boat’ or the concept [boat]. Isn’t conceptualism a kind of nominalism (or vice versa)? Indeed, what is the point of the word ‘boat’ or the concept [boat] having a general application if what they refer to (that is, all boats) don't share any properties? What purpose does such a general applicability serve?

This is like the predicate ‘blurg’ referred to later by Sider. That is, the only thing at the end of each act of ostension shares with other things ostended with the word ‘blurg’ is that they have been given the same name – namely, ‘blurg’. That’s it. Literally the only thing they share is the name ‘blurg’ and the fact they've all been pointed at and then named ‘blurg’. Is that the case with boats as well? Do all boats only share the word or name ‘boat’ or the fact that they all fall under the concept [boat] and that’s it? If that's the case, why are they called ‘boat’? Why do they all fall under the concept [boat]? There must be more to this than the name ‘boat’ or the concept [boat] (as well as the pointings and stipulations required in the first place).

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