Why is There Something Rather than Nothing? The Substantivity of the Question for Quantifier Pluralists

Abstract

Many have argued that the question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” (henceforth: the Question) is defective in some way. While much of the literature on the Question rightly attends to questions about the nature and limits of explanation, little attention has been paid to how new work in metaontology might shed light on the matter. In this paper I discuss how best to understand the Question in light of the now common metaontological commitment to quantifiers that vary in metaphysical naturalness. I show that proponents of this view have arguments at their disposal that appear to challenge the metaphysical substantivity of the Question. Then I argue that, not only are there ways to resist these arguments, the arguments do not pose a challenge to the Question if it is construed in a way that makes reference to many quantifiers. Rendering the Question with multiple quantifiers not only allows one to grant the prima facie substantivity of the Question, but allows us to express it in a way that is mode-of-being-neutral and ontology-neutral—an independently desirable aim.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    See Brenner (2016), Grunbaum (2004), Heylen (2017), McDaniel (2013), and Maitzen (2012) for discussion.

  2. 2.

    See, for example, Cameron (2010), Dorr (2005), Finocchiaro (2017), McDaniel (2013, 2017), Sider (2009, 2011), and Turner (2010).

  3. 3.

    See, for example, Cameron (2010), McDaniel (2013, 2017), Sider (2009, 2011), and Turner (2010).

  4. 4.

    We might instead say set of quantifiers that are plausibly English quantifiers, if we doubt there’s one that best fits use.

  5. 5.

    For example, Cameron (2010), McDaniel (2013, 2017), Sider (2009, 2011), and Turner (2010).

  6. 6.

    This formulation seems to presuppose that there are abstract objects, since it quantifies over quantifiers. If we wanted to avoid that presupposition, we might go for something more unwieldy like this: why (∃1x∃1y(x = y) or ∃2x∃2y(x = y) or ∃3x∃3y(x = y)…) rather than (~ ∃1x∃1y(x = y) or ~ ∃2x∃2y(x = y) or ~ ∃3x∃3y(x = y)…)? This disjunctive formulation also circumvents the first horn of the dilemma raised for the non-disjunctive formulation of the Question in section V.

  7. 7.

    There is a question for the quantifier pluralist taking this approach as to which quantifiers are included. We may want to ensure that restricted domain quantifiers (such as when we say “everyone was at the party) are not included. Carefully excluding these quantifiers is already a challenge quantifier pluralists face in carefully explicating their view, but whatever approach they choose will give them the resources to make sure the right quantifiers are included.

  8. 8.

    See for example, Sider (2011).

  9. 9.

    See, for example, McDaniel (2013, p. 274).

  10. 10.

    I develop a view along these lines elsewhere.

  11. 11.

    The dispute may end up defective not only in light of deflationist arguments like that of Hirsch (2009), but also owing to the availability of commissive uses of the relevant vocabulary. See, for example, Parent (2015).

  12. 12.

    See, for example, van Inwagen (2009).

  13. 13.

    Sider (2011, p. 54).

  14. 14.

    Ibid. p. 55.

  15. 15.

    Thanks to an anonymous referee for raising this dilemma.

  16. 16.

    This might make the question partly naturalistically answerable in the sense of Maitzen (2012).

  17. 17.

    See Bennett (2009), Paul (2012, pp. 21–23), and McSweeney (2019).

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Phillips, C.K. Why is There Something Rather than Nothing? The Substantivity of the Question for Quantifier Pluralists. Erkenn (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10670-020-00366-6

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