I'm kind of struggling with this. My prof gave an example of the problem of whether or not holes exist.

In the case of a colander, a realist about holes could say that a colander is metal that has holes in it. An anti-realist, however, would have to paraphrase and say that a colander is metal which is perforated. Due to Quine's theory, he is not ontologically committed to holes existing, just perforation.

But if perforation means to have holes, then what is the difference? I see the distinction, but how can that hold up under anything. Why is saying those two sentences not just saying the exact same thing? All my prof said was that because one says perforation exists, and one says holes exist. But I do not understand why this is acceptable, if for perforation to exist holes must also exist (correct?) due to the fact that for something to be perforated means for it to have holes in it.

  • 1
    Quine's criterion relies on translation into first order language with quantifiers. Then a thing exists if it can be the value of a variable bound by an existential quantifier after doing all the due paraphrasing. Paraphrasing sentences about holes into predications of a metal ("perforated") eliminates holes as possible values. Therefore, they do not exist. There is some flexibility in what to paraphrase, but Quine is permissive on that as long as it is not too artificial, his ontology is explicitly pragmatic.
    – Conifold
    Feb 3, 2018 at 4:31
  • @freigz Prof. Spencer did not take kindly to my objection of these arguments in metaphysics as being essentially "word games." The distinction is only one of terminology. To use the term "perforated" one must accept the existence of "perforations" which are just holes of a certain type and arrangement. The idea that existence hinges on the ability of someone to translate it into the symbolic language of first order logic seems tenuous to me, especially since one must a priori accept the language rules of first order logic as immutable, which seems to be unfounded. Mar 7, 2018 at 20:36

2 Answers 2


Very briefly, Quine's doctrine of ontological commitment is the thesis that ontologically, or metaphysically, logic is not neutral because the existential quantifier, '∃', commits logic to the existence of an entity, or things, of some kind.

Whether the existential quantifier does carry this commitment in fact, I am not sure. In 'S believes that (∃x)(Fx & Gx)' - S believes that something with F has G - the existential quantifier does not presuppose or entail the existence of either A or B. It simply reports S's propositional belief.

  • @freigz. You have an answer to your question.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Feb 4, 2018 at 12:53

'Holes' are naming them as their own thing. Perforation is a property of the metal.

This difference is not trivial, as can be seen in the Sorites Paradox, or indeed the Ship of Theseus. We have different types of language, and different types of discourse, and when we try to program computers to speak in natural language this is sharply highlighted.

We can aim to reformulate language, which results in formal logics and mathematical languages. But there are costs there, Gödel and various others have shown such formulation can't force all propositions to be decidable. But also, natural language allows us to do complex things we take for granted, like sponteneous metaphor, and onomatapeia, and to express different kinds of identity, mood, priorities, and motivations. Language games like that, may in fact be more fundamental to meaning than logic.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .