On What There Is - ON WHAT THERE I S A curious thing about...

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ON WHAT THERE IS A curious thing about the ontological problem is its aim- plicity. It can be put in three AnglcGSaxon monosyllables: 'What is there?' It can be answered, moreover, in a word-'Everything' --and everyone will accept this answer as true. However, this is merely to say that there is what there is. There remains room for disagreement over cases; and so the issue has stayed alive down the centuries. Suppose now that two philosophers, McX and I, differ over ontology. Suppose McX maintains there is something which I maintain there is not. McX can, quite consistently with his own point of view, describe our Merence of opinion by saying that I refuse to recognize certain entities. I should protest, of course, that he is wrong in his formulation of our disagreement, for I maintain that there are no entities, of the kind which he alleges, for me to recognize; but my bding him wrong in his formulation of our disagreement is unimportant, for I am com- mitted to considering him wrong in his ontology anyway. When I try to formulate our difference of opinion, on the other hand, I seem to be in a predicament. I cannot admit that ~ g ~ m e _ t @ n p ~ w h i c h _ M c X caw&_~ances - - - and - .- I - do - - -- notl - for in admitting that there are such things I should be contra- dicting my own rejection of them. It would appear, if this k o n i n g were sound, that in any ontological dispute the proponent of the negative side sullers the disadvantage of not being able to admit that his opponent disagrees with him. This is the old Platonic riddle of nonbeing. Nonbeing must 1
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2 FROM A LOGICAL POINT OF VIEW I in some sense be, otherwise what is it t,hat there is not? This tangled doctrine might be nicknamed Pluto's beard; historically it has proved tough, frequently dulling the edge of Occam's razor. It is some such line of thought that leads philosophers like McX to impute being where they might otherwise be quite content to recognize that there is nothing. Thus, take Pegasus. If Pegasus were not, McX argues, we should not be talking about anything when we use the word; therefore it would be nonsense to say even that Pegasus is not. Thinking to show thus that the denial of Pegasus cannot be coherently maintained, he concludes that Pegasus is. McX cannot, indeed, quite persuade himself that any region of space-time, near or remote, contains a flying horse of flesh and blood. Pressed for further details on Pegasus, then, he says that Pegasus is an idea in men's minds. Here, however, a con- fusion begins to be apparent. We may for the sake of argument concede that there is an entity, and even a unique entity (though this is rather implausible), which is the mental Pegasus-idea; but this mental entity is not what people are talking about when they deny Pegasus. McX never confuses the Parthenon with the Parthenon-idea.
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