This post assumes prior knowledge of philosophical vocabulary and concepts.

I am a committed existence monist. In a nutshell, that means I believe there is exactly one object, and that this object is the cosmos.

In this article, I will show how the existence monist can create meaning in language, while motivating their theory by demonstrating exceptional parsimony.

What is existence monism?

Existence monism is the view that there is exactly one object. That object is the cosmos. The cosmos is highly varied on the inside, but no area of the cosmos is itself an object.

A slightly more technical way of putting this is that the cosmos is a mereologically simple structured whole. The cosmos can be said to have a highly varied internal structure, but no genuine proper parts. If it were to have proper parts, they would constitute objects.

Compare this with existence pluralism. If you say that tables and pens are (genuine) objects (or that mereological atoms are objects, for the mereological nihilists) then you're an existence pluralist. The base case for existence pluralism is just the view that there is more than one object.

From unintuitive to parsimonious

In a previous post, I argued that things like pens and people don't exist as unique objects, and that when we use a term like "pen", it's just a useful way of navigating the world.

Next I'm going to dig a little deeper into how we can do away with the ontological commitments attached to talking about objects and properties – in other words, why the fact we use words doesn't have to mean there is a corresponding object.

I'm going to argue that talk of "pens" can still be meaningful to the existence monist. I'll also argue that this makes existence monism highly parsimonious, and that this is a motivation for existence monism.

In this previous post I indicated that it is merely useful to talk about myself existing independently from my pen, and that it does not correspond to reality.

In what follows, I will:

  1. Show how we can increase our motivation for existence monism by showing that we can do away with the ontological commitments attached to both object–talk and any corresponding properties, qualitatively and quantitatively increasing the parsimony of our model.
  2. Show how talk of tables can still be meaningful to the existence monist. The same arguments work for priority views such as priority monism and priority pluralism.

As we have said, objects do not strictly exist.

To elucidate, let me borrow an argument from Jonathan Schaffer which features in the fascinating book Metametaphysics. The argument was originally proposed contra Mereological Nihilism as a motivation for existential permissivism — treating non–fundamental objects as an ‘ontological free lunch'. Schaffer endorses a different kind of monism called priority monism.

Premise 1 My body has proper parts (e.g. my hands)

Premise 2 There are things with proper parts

I'm going to use this argument as an illustrative resource to show how an existence monist can claim exceptional parsimony for their model at no cost.

Doing away with ontological commitments for objects

In a nutshell, I want to show that his premises are true in some sense, but notice that he begs the question in simply assuming his body has proper parts.

Let us see why.

Now, there are a number of ways philosophers have explained how we can do away with the ontological commitments of object–talk. For Horgan and Potrč, object–talk suffices to track "lumps" of the blobject in indirect correspondence with the world, whilst commonly the Existence Monist describes the world as ‘table–ish here'. I propose we accept a variation of Cameron's metaontological position which he advocates for ‘radically minimal' ontologies, which complements the other approaches.

According to Cameron's position, the ontological commitments of a sentence are the entities required to ground truth, not the (non–existent) hands and tables themselves. To preserve the meaningfulness of talk about Schaffer’s hands, Chalmers recommends we distinguish between ordinary and ontological assertions. These assertions differ with respect to the way we evaluate the sentences.

I recommend an interpretation whereby we say that ordinary claims about ontological matters (for example, casually noticing I have hands) can be correct but not true.

The statement "Schaffer's hands are parts of his body" can be evaluated as ordinarily correct, but both ontologically and ordinarily false.

This is the evaluation because the blobject, the only ontological commitment of the sentence, has a subregion S (self–perceived to be arranged Jonathan Schaffer–wise, which in turn has a subregion perceived by S to be arranged hand–wise.

The statement is not true because nobody exists, nor can their hands. The correctness of saying Jonathan Schaffer’s hands are part of him makes sense his intuition in P1, since the blobject is the ‘truthmaker' for the correctness of the intuition.

Doing away with ontological commitments for properties

Properties can be reduced to 'useful' linguistic items in a similar way. Under my interpretation, properties are simply used to demarcate qualitative differences between different subregions that conscious spacetime subregions perceive. Schaffer also offers an argument for the existence of properties:

P1 There are properties that you and I share

P2 There are properties

As before, assertions about properties can be ordinarily correct or incorrect, but they will always be ontologically false.

Our interpretation of 'x–is–red' would then be something like: there is a spacetime subregion R, and a [conscious] spacetime subregion P arranged person–wise, and P perceives R to be both arranged x–wise and be what the [conscious] spacetime subregion calls “red".

So the premises of Schaffer's argument are only ordinarily correct, they are not ordinarily true, because (ontologically) both premises are unsound.

Accepting these approaches vastly reduces our ontological commitments and demonstrates potential for outstanding quantitative and qualitative parsimony whilst still offering a fully explanatory account.

Rounding up

I have argued that existence monism:

  1. Is motivated by exceptional parsimony
  2. Provides a sufficient ontology which can preserve the usefulness of linguistic terms

I wrote my undergraduate dissertation on existence monism. If you'd like to read it, you can find it here.


Some nerdy technical definitions

If you're into your quantified logic, I've added the QL definitions that I am using for some terms here.

Where "C' denotes being a concretum:

Existence Monism ≜ ∃x(Cx ∧ ∀y(Cy → x=y))

Existence Pluralism ≜ ∃x∃y(Cx ∧ Cx ∧ ¬x=y)

Proper Parthood: For our purposes, x is a proper part of O iff it is part of O but not identical with O. Where ‘R' is a relation denoting being–a–proper–part–of:

Proper Parthood ≜ ∃x∃y(Rxy → ¬x=y)