We all take for granted in our everyday lives that things like cups and tables and doors and annoying neighbors and the Eiffel Tower are the sorts of objects we encounter in the world. The question is, when we quantify over these things are we quantifying over the sorts of things there actually are. Are we carving the world at its joints?
The question what sort of stuff is in the world is not unimportant, and in this case I'd like to discuss the mereological view of unrestricted composition
. Unrestricted compositions asserts that any collection of parts of things constitutes a further thing, no matter how disperate or spatiotemporally discontinuous they are. According to this view, there are infinitely many more things in platonic heaven and they physical world than are dreamt of in our finite minds. The cup on my table and the cup on yours? An object. Ben Franklin's glasses and the Hiroshima detonation? An object.
We don't normally talk about the weirder (to us) objects that unrestricted composition countenances. And why should we? There's not much use in it. Further, our brains are adapted to an ancestral environment in which perceiving the world as made up of the sorts of objects we—by default—perceive it to be made of is a plus for not being eaten by a hyena; similarly they are adapted to not perceiving the air we breathe as an object, even though the space around is isn't empty.
Nevertheless it is possible to talk about such things, to quantify over them. When we do this, are we failing to quantify over the things the world is really made up of? To imagine carving at the joints, imagine a universe made entirely of jello; in specific there is lime jello in one half, and orange jello in the other half, exclusively, and the universe is divided along a plane. To carve at the joints in such a universe is to correctly quantify over its two halves, and the joint is the plane between them. Other possible divisions of the universe by our language could come up with its being composed of two objects one of which is 4/5 lime jello, the other of which is 1/5 lime jello. This is less convenient. On similar grounds of awkwardness, our
universe oughtn't to have grue
objects in it.
But since we can account for all events equally well using awkward (to us) predicates, talking about awkward (to us) objects as we can by using our familiar predicates to talk about familiar objects, how do we choose between them? Convenience and awkwardness aren't particularly strong grounds in this case, since they don't constitute applications of Ockham's razor. Of course, people who don't subscribe to unrestricted composition don't need such an appeal: the fact that we quantify over what we do is the best grounding for an argument that other, weirder ways of quantifying over what there is aren't really "about" [note to self: post on this thin word] what there really is.
There's been some debate lately about so-called quantifyer variation, according to which different ontologies employ the quantifiers with different meanings. I'm not sure what to make of this, since they are logical operators with no meaning beyond their function. Evidently the idea is similar to certain debates about "existence", according to which different "kinds" of existence are thought to obtain between certain classes of objects. Similarly it's like debates over "reality", where certain classes of objects are said to be "more real" than others.
Can you made heads or tails of this?