Jonathan Payton


Nihilism without a Hierarchy


According to non-eliminative nihilism there are no composite objects, but there are, say, dogs: a dog isn’t a composite object, but a plurality of atoms arranged dog-wise. The nihilist says that apparently singular reference to composite objects is actually plural reference to atoms. But how can she understand apparently plural reference to composite objects? She might adopt higher-level plural logic. According to higher-levellists, just as we can plurally refer to individuals, we can plurally refer to pluralities. Thus, the nihilist may say, in addition to pluralities of atoms, we can refer to pluralities of pluralities of atoms (e.g., pluralities of dogs). However, this approach has undesirable metaphysical consequences. If aa and bb are two pluralities of atoms arranged dog-wise, the higher-levellist is forced to claim that the ‘higher-level’ plurality which includes only aa and bb is distinct from the ‘lower-level’ plurality which includes all the individual atoms which make up aa and bb. This is odd: if a dog is just the atoms which make ‘it’ up, then surely some dogs just are the atoms that make ‘them’ up; the dogs just are those atoms. Moreover, since higher-levellists typically think we can refer to ever-higher levels of pluralities, they’re committed to a potentially infinite hierarchy of distinct entities. I offer the nihilist an alternative. I formulate a plural language which does justice to the notion of plural reference to pluralities but which doesn’t distinguish pluralities of different ‘levels’. Thus, non-eliminative nihilists can avoid the hierarchy of pluralities.

Date / Time / Place

June 22nd / 17:15 / Aula Magna