Rules, Roles, and Ontological Commitment: An Examination of Sellars’ Analysis of Abstract Reference

  • Michael J. Loux
Part of the Philosophical Studies Series in Philosophy book series (PSSP, volume 12)


I want to discuss the theory of abstract reference that Sellars first outlined in ‘Abstract Entities’1 and has since refined and developed. I want to show, first, why I find the theory more powerful than other nominalisjtic accounts of abstract reference and, second, why I am nonetheless inclined to think that Sellars’ interpretation of abstract reference fails to represent a viable alternative to the Platonist’s interpretation of the phenomenon. In the first part of the paper, I show why the phenomenon of abstract reference presents problems for the nominalist, and I point to familiar difficulties in standard attempts by nominalists to deal with these problems. In the second and third parts, I outline Sellars’ theory of abstract reference and point to its resources for handling a variety of criticisms that might be raised against it. Finally, in the last two sections, I develop a line of criticism against the theory which I argue it cannot meet.


Singular Term Ontological Commitment Linguistic Expression Abstract Entity Common Noun 
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  1. 5.
    This view is defended by D.C. Williams in ‘On the Elements of Being, I,’ Review of Metaphysics, 1953, 3–18.Google Scholar

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© Reidel Publishing Company, Dordrecht, Holland 1978

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  • Michael J. Loux

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