Department of Philosophy



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The Department of Philosophy Colloquium Series presents

Henry Laycock
Queen's University

Against the Metaphysics of Modernity: metachemistry and Quine’s forbidden insights

Thursday, February 27, 2020

4:00 pm

Watson Hall, Room 517

The metaphysics of modernity is chiefly that of Newton, with John Locke as his explicitly philosophical handmaid. Its influence continues to be massive; its tendencies are to be nominalist, reductionist, empiricist, and atomistic. Furthermore qua Newtonian, its ontology is primarily one of material objects. During the past 70 years or thereabouts, its leading advocate and enforcer has been and continues to be Willard Quine. Quine’s criterion of ontological commitment, so we are told, “has dominated ontological discussion in analytic philosophy since the middle of the 20th century; it deserves to be called the orthodox view.”1 This, it seems to me, is right; and the canonical text of this orthodoxy is Quine’s book Word and Object. But the central lesson of this work, I’ll urge, is that the pursuit of a deeply misconceived program – even such an extremely influential one as this – can nevertheless lead to positive results. Thanks to the preceding work of logicians (Frege, Russell, Wittgenstein) and linguists (Otto Jerspersen), Quine’s reductionist, empiricist logico / ontological program leads directly to convincing arguments for a logic and ontology that is effectively the complete opposite of Quine’s. In this way, the metaphysics of modernity points towards its own destruction.


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