Daniel Z. Korman

Objects: Nothing out of the Ordinary (Oxford University Press 2015)

Table of Contents and chapters 1-2 (other chapters available by request)

I defend a conservative view, according to which our ordinary, natural judgments about which highly visible objects there are are more or less correct. The book begins with a guided tour of the main arguments that have led people away from the conservative view, into revisionary views according to which there are far more such objects than we ordinarily take there to be (permissivism) or far fewer (eliminativism). I criticize a variety of compatibilist strategies, according to which these revisionary views are actually compatible with the intuitions that seem to tell against them. I respond to debunking arguments, according to which these intuitions should not be taken seriously, since they are the products of arbitrary biological and cultural influences. I respond to objections that the conservative's verdicts about which objects that are and aren't are objectionably arbitrary. And I respond to the argument from vagueness, the overdetermination argument, the problem of material constitution, and the problem of the many.

Debunking Arguments in Metaethics and Metaphysics (Metaphysics and Cognitive Science forthcoming)
Evolutionary debunking arguments abound, but it is widely assumed that they do not arise for our perceptual beliefs about midsized objects, insofar as the adaptive value of our object beliefs cannot be explained without reference to the objects themselves. I argue that this is a mistake. Just as with moral beliefs, the adaptive value of our object beliefs can be explained without assuming that the beliefs are accurate. I then explore the prospects for other sorts of vindications of our object beliefs—which involve “bootstrapping” from our experiences as of midsized objects—and I defend bootstrapping maneuvers against a variety of objections. Finally, I argue for an explanatory constraint on legitimate bootstrapping and show how some attempts to respond to debunking arguments run afoul of the constraint.

Easy Ontology Without Deflationary Metaontology
(Philosophy and Phenomenological Research forthcoming)

This is a contribution to a symposium on Amie Thomasson's Ontology Made Easy (2015). Thomasson defends two deflationary theses: that philosophical questions about the existence of numbers, tables, properties, and other disputed entities can all easily be answered, and that there is something wrong with prolonged debates about whether such objects exist. I argue that the first thesis (properly understood) does not by itself entail the second. Rather, the case for deflationary metaontology rests largely on a controversial doctrine about the possible meanings of ‘object’. I challenge Thomasson's argument for that doctrine, and I make a positive case for the availability of the contested, unrestricted use of 'object'.

What Do the Folk Think about Composition and Does it Matter? with Chad Carmichael (in Experimental Metaphysics 2017)

Rose and Schaffer have argued that teleological thinking has a substantial influence on folk intuitions about composition. They take this to show (i) that we should not rely on folk intuitions about composition and (ii) that we therefore should not reject theories of composition on the basis of intuitions about composition. We cast doubt on the teleological interpretation of folk judgments about composition; we show how their debunking argument can be resisted, even on the assumption that folk intuitions have a teleological source; and we argue that, even if folk intuitions about composition carry no weight, theories of composition can still be rejected on the basis of the intuitions of metaphysicians.

Composition with Chad Carmichael (Oxford Handbooks Online 2016)

This article is intended as an introduction to the central questions about composition. In §1, we review some formal features of parthood, with special attention to putative counterexamples to the transitivity of parthood. In §2, we examine some answers to the special composition question. In §§3-4, we examine the argument from vagueness against restricted composition. In §5, we turn to the question of whether composition is unique: is it sometimes the case that some things compose more than one thing? Finally, in §6, we turn from the question of which composites exist to the question of which composites exist fundamentally.

The Double Lives of Objects (Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 2015)

A review of Thomas Sattig's book. He presents a metaphysical-cum-semantic framework, "perspectival hylomorphism", which is meant to solve a variety of problems in material-object metaphysics (e.g., problems of coincidence, fission problems, and the problem of the many). I challenge his arguments for perspectival hylomorphism, which include an argument from charity and an argument from empirical psychology.

Fundamental Quantification and the Language of the Ontology Room (Noûs 2015)

Nihilism is the thesis that no composite objects exist. Some ontologists have advocated abandoning nihilism in favor of deep nihilism, the thesis that composites do not existO, where to existO is to be in the domain of the most fundamental quantifier. By shifting from an existential to an existentialO thesis, the deep nihilist seems to secure all the benefits of a composite-free ontology without running afoul of ordinary belief in the existence of composites. I argue that, while there are well-known reasons for accepting nihilism, there appears to be no reason at all to accept deep nihilism. In particular, deep nihilism draws no support either from the usual arguments for nihilism or from considerations of parsimony.

Debunking Perceptual Beliefs about Ordinary Objects (Philosophers' Imprint 2014)

Debunking arguments are arguments that purport to undermine a range of beliefs by showing that there is no appropriate explanatory connection between those beliefs and their subject matter. Arguments of this sort rear their heads in a wide variety of domains, threatening beliefs about morality, mathematics, logic, color, and the existence of God. Perceptual beliefs about ordinary objects, however, are widely thought to be invulnerable to such arguments. I will show that this is a mistake. I articulate a debunking argument that purports to undermine our most basic perceptual beliefs (developing some remarks in Heller, Sider, Merricks, Hawthorne, and others). I challenge a number of natural responses to the argument, including the “permissivist” response that there are a plenitude of objects before us, virtually guaranteeing the accuracy of our object beliefs.

The Vagueness Argument Against Abstract Artifacts (Philosophical Studies 2014)

Words, languages, symphonies, fictional characters, games, and recipes are plausibly abstract artifacts— entities that have no spatial location and that are deliberately brought into existence as a result of creative acts. Many accept that composition is unrestricted: for every plurality of material objects, there is a material object that is the sum of those objects. These two views may seem entirely unrelated. I will argue that the most influential argument against restricted composition—the vagueness argument—doubles as an argument that there can be no abstract artifacts. There is no way to resist the vagueness argument against abstract artifacts that does not also undermine the vagueness argument against restricted composition.

Ordinary Objects (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy 2011)

An encyclopedia entry which covers various revisionary conceptions of which macroscopic objects there are, and the puzzles and arguments that motivate these conceptions: sorites arguments, the argument from vagueness, the puzzles of material constitution, arguments against indeterminate identity, arguments from arbitrariness, debunking arguments, the overdetermination argument, and the problem of the many. Comments, questions, and criticism welcome!

Metaphysics: An Anthology with Jaegwon Kim and Ernest Sosa (Blackwell 2011)

Familiar Objects and Their Shadows (Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 2011)

A review of Crawford Elder’s book. I examine his argument against diachronic universalism, his responses to the argument from vagueness and the causal overdetermination argument, and his reservations about talk of “atoms arranged baseballwise”.

A New Framework for Conceptualism with John Bengson and Enrico Grube (Noûs 2011)

Conceptualism is the thesis that, for any perceptual experience E, (i) E has a Fregean proposition as its content and (ii) a subject of E must possess a concept for each item represented by E. We advance a framework within which conceptualism may be defended against its most serious objections (e.g., Richard Heck's argument from nonveridical experience). The framework is of independent interest for the philosophy of mind and epistemology given its implications for debates regarding transparency, relationalism and representationalism, demonstrative thought, phenomenal character, and the speckled hen objection to modest foundationalism.
Locke on Substratum: A Deflationary Reading (Locke Studies 2010)
I defend an interpretation of Locke’s remarks on substratum according to which substrata not only have sensible qualities, but are just familiar things and stuffs: horses, stones, gold, wax, and snow. The supporting relation that holds between substrata and sensible qualities is simply the familiar relation of having, or instantiating, which holds between a particular substance and its qualities. I show that there is a wealth of textual evidence supporting this deflationary reading, that it illuminates certain of Locke’s remarks about the acquisition of the idea substratum, and that it can be reconciled with Locke’s claim that the idea substratum is an obscure, confused idea of we know not what. I then address some isolated passages in which Locke seems to suggest that the relation that holds between a substratum and the qualities that it supports is a causal relation, and I attempt to explain the allure of the standard, “bare particular” interpretation of Locke’s remarks on substratum.
The Argument from Vagueness (Philosophy Compass 2010).

A presentation of the Lewis-Sider argument from vagueness for unrestricted composition and possible responses.   

The Contingent A Priori and the Publicity of A Priori Knowledge (Philosophical Studies 2010)

Kripke maintains that one who stipulatively introduces the term ‘one meter’ as a rigid designator for the length of a certain stick s at time t is in a position to know a priori that if s exists at t then the length of s at t is one meter. Scott Soames has objected to this alleged instance of the contingent a priori on the grounds that the stipulator’s  knowledge would have to be based in part on substantive metalinguistic knowledge. I examine Soames’s argument for the a posteriority of the relevant metalinguistic knowledge, and I argue that its main premise is false.
Strange Kinds, Familiar Kinds, and the Charge of Arbitrariness (Oxford Studies in Metaphysics 2010)
Particularists in material-object metaphysics hold that our intuitive judgments about which kinds of things there are and are not are largely correct. One common argument against particularism is the argument from arbitrariness, which turns on the claim that there is no ontologically significant difference between certain of the familiar kinds that we intuitively judge to exist (snowballs, islands, statues, solar systems) and certain of the strange kinds that we intuitively judge not to exist (snowdiscalls, incars, gollyswoggles, the fusion of my nose and the Eiffel Tower). Particularists frequently respond by conceding that there is no ontologically significant difference and embracing some sort of deflationary metaonology (relativism, constructivism, quantifier variantism). I show -- by identifying ontologically significant differences -- that the argument can be resisted without retreating to any sort of deflationary metaontology.

Eliminativism and the Challenge from Folk Belief (Noûs 2009)
Virtually everyone agrees that, even after having presented the arguments for their positions, proponents of revisionary philosophical theories are required to provide some sort of account of the conflict between their theories and what the folk believe. I assess various strategies for answering the challenge from folk belief. I try to illuminate the general constraints on an adequate response to the challenge. The examination proceeds as a case study, the focus of which is the eliminativist thesis that there are no statues: although there are “statuewise” arrangements of atoms, atoms so arranged do not together compose a statue. I critically assess eliminativist attempts to explain folk belief by appeal to paraphrase, appearances, and intuition. 

Austere Realism (Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 2008)

A review of Horgan and Potrč’s book. The main focus of the review is their strategy for reconciling austere ontologies -- like their own, which includes exactly one concrete particular: “the blobject” -- with ordinary discourse about tables and the like. I try to show that, once we accept their ontological conclusions, there is no reason to prefer their conciliatory ontological-cum-semantic package to a more straightforward error-theoretic package on which we simply say lots of false things in ordinary discourse about tables and the like.

Unrestricted Composition and Restricted Quantification (Philosophical Studies 2008)
Many of those who accept the universalist thesis that mereological composition is unrestricted also maintain that the folk typically restrict their quantifiers in such a way as to exclude strange fusions when they say things that appear to conflict with universalism. Despite its prima facie implausibility, there are powerful arguments for universalism. By contrast, there is remarkably little evidence for the thesis that strange fusions are excluded from the ordinary domain of quantification. There is no linguistic, psychological, or behavioral evidence, nor (I will argue) can the truth of universalism itself serve as evidence for this thesis. Furthermore, this reconciliatory strategy seems hopeless when applied to the more fundamental conflict between universalism and the intuitions that tell against it. Universalists are better advised to accept that the apparent conflict with folk belief is genuine and to try to explain the folk’s mistake rather than explain it away.
What Externalists Should Say About Dry Earth (The Journal of Philosophy 2006)
Dry earth seems to its inhabitants (our intrinsic duplicates) just as earth seems to us, that is, it seems to them as though there are rivers and lakes and a clear, odorless liquid flowing from their faucets. But, in fact, this is an illusion; there is no such liquid anywhere on the planet. I address two objections to externalism concerning the nature of the concept that is expressed by the word ‘water’ in the mouths of the inhabitants of dry earth. Gabriel Segal presents a dilemma for the externalist concerning the application conditions of the concept, and Paul Boghossian presents a dilemma for the externalist concerning the complexity of the concept. I show that, in both cases, the externalist may occupy the horn of his choice without departing from either the letter or spirit of externalism.
Law Necessitarianism and the Importance of Being Intuitive (Philosophical Quarterly 2005)
The counterintuitive implications of law necessitarianism pose a far more serious threat than its proponents recognize. Law necessitarians are committed to scientific essentialism, the thesis that there are metaphysically necessary truths that can be known only a posteriori. The most frequently cited arguments for scientific essentialism rely crucially on modal intuitions. Rejection of intuition thus threatens to undermine it. I consider ways in which law necessitarians might try to defend scientific essentialism without invoking intuition. I then consider ways in which law necessitarians who accept the general reliability of intuition might try to explain away the intuitions which conflict with their theory.
The Failure of Trust-Based Retributivism (Law and Philosophy 2003)
Punishment stands in need of justification because it involves intentionally harming offenders. Trust-based retributivists attempt to justify punishment by appeal to the offender’s violation of the victim’s trust, maintaining that the state is entitled to punish offenders as a means of restoring conditions of trust to their pre-offense levels. I argue that trust-based retributivism fails on two counts. First, it entails the permissibility of punishing the legally innocent and fails to justify the punishment of some offenders. Second, it cannot satisfactorily explain why it is morally permissible for the government to intentionally harm offenders.

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