Kit Fine has been interviewed, again! I don’t think I’ve linked to the previous interviews either though, so I might as well give you both of the recent ones:
The 3:AM interview also has a hotlink (without my permission) to the video I shot of Kit last year at the INPC conference on Aristotelian Themes in Contemporary Metaphysics. I’ve been meaning to make a smaller version of that 1.6GB video, but it hasn’t happened yet…
Anyway, here’s a nice section from that interview, which pretty much sums up Kit’s 2009 paper ‘The Question of Ontology’, in the Metametaphysics anthology:
Even ‘ordinary folk’ may wonder whether there really are numbers or chairs or atoms or the like. Perhaps the world is entirely concrete or consists entirely of microscopic particles or is merely a construction of our minds. But what are we asking when we ask such questions? For surely we can all agree that there is an even prime (viz., 2) and an odd prime (say, 3) and so there are numbers. Or we can all agree that we are sitting on some chairs and so there are chairs. Or we can all agree that there are water molecules, each of which is made up of two hydrogen atoms, and so there are atoms. The answer to all of these questions appears to be obviously ‘yes’ and so do we even bother to ask them?
Quine thought that in asking such questions we were indeed asking ‘quantificational’ questions. For the case of each kind of object in question, we were asking whether there was an object of this kind. However, he thought that the answer to this question was not as obvious as one might have thought and that subtle philosophical considerations might be involved in attempting to answer it. In the case of chairs, for example, we might establish that there were no chairs by showing that every statement apparently about chairs could be paraphrased into one that was about particles.
I think that this is a mistake. In asking these ontological questions, we are not asking about what there is but about what is real. Are numbers real? Or chairs? Or atoms? The quantificational questions are relatively straightforward – they are to be answered by common sense or by science. Philosophy does not come into it. But the questions about reality are deeply philosophical and it is only through having a conception of reality, a philosophical Weltanschauung, that they can be answered.