On Doing Ontology Without Metaphysics

Varzi, Achille C.

According to a certain, familiar way of dividing up the business of philosophy, made popular by Quine, ontology is concerned with the question of what entities exist (a task that is often identified with that of drafting a “complete inventory” of the universe) whereas metaphysics seeks to explain, of those entities, what they are (i.e., to specify the “ultimate nature” of the items included in the inventory). For instance, a thesis to the effect that there are such things as colors or virtues would strictly speaking belong to ontology, whereas it would pertain to metaphysics proper to establish whether such entities are Platonic forms, immanent universals, tropes, moments, or what have you. Likewise, it would fall within the scope of ontology to determine whether, when we speak of Sherlock Holmes, of the natural numbers, or of Sebastian’s walks in Bologna, we are truly speaking of things that belong to the furniture of the universe, but it would be a further metaphysical
task to say something precise in regard to the ultimate make-up of those things, if such there be—for instance, that Sherlock Holmes is a theoretical artifact, that numbers are abstract individuals, that walks are property exemplifications, and so on.



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December 2, 2014