We are discussing Quine's On What There Is in a metaphysics class I am in. I felt like I understood what he meant, that if something has to be predicated for in a sentence, we are ontologically committed.

I ran into issues with the example my professor gave though. He told us to think about it over the weekend, and it has my head spinning, so I am here.

He says that in the following sentences, we are not ontologically committed to the property wrongness or blueness: "My feeling that a particular action is wrong" and "My experience of something as blue"


if we say, "My recognition that a particular object is wrong" and "My recognition of something as blue" contains ontological commitment to 'wrongness' and 'blueness'. Can someone explain this to me please? What is distinguishes recognition from feeling in Quine's theory?

I am also having a hard time with symbolizing these sentences if someone could help me with that. I think that might help reveal some of the nuance.

  • Is this useful? It seems like we are asking questions before establishing the definitions of the terms used in those questions ... It wouldn't make sense to ask whether there are infinitely many prime numbers without first defining what you mean by "infinitely many" and what you mean by "prime number". Likewise, your question doesn't make sense until you define what is meant by "recognition" and "feeling". Without the context of those definitions, the question is nonsense. Jan 18, 2020 at 14:39

1 Answer 1


Technically speaking, the Quinean criterion of ontological commitment to prevent philosophical "double-talk" is straight forward. He stated in On What There Is "we are convicted of a particular ontological presupposition if, and only if, the alleged presuppositum has to be reckoned among the entities over which our variables range in order to render one of our affirmations true." In essence, names are not good enough, and if we are given names we can paraphrase to create variables with domains. This is often expressed as "To be is to be the value of a variable". This is hardly shocking considering that Quine was a logician at heart. The phrase ∃xFx goes to the heart of the matter, as ∃ is interpreted as a declaration that one or more entities exist. It's this notion of qualification which presupposes quantification that leads us to commit to an entity. In natural language, phrases like something, everything, and nothing leads us towards ontological statuses. To recognize something is what might be considered an act of identification or performative, and is essentially a declaration, whereas a feeling is non-committal. A feeling or experience would be part of regular discourse in a statement such as a predicate, symbolically, 'Px' which be read 'x is (a) P'. Thus, "I feel a dog barks loudly" might be encoded "LoudlyBarks(dog)". But to say, "I affirm or recognize or, simply, there is a dog here barking loudly" would be encoded "∃!dog(LoudlyBarks(dog))" is a different statement because it commits to the existence of a single dog and then attempts to predicate.

Again from On What There Is:

We may say, for example, that some dogs are white and not thereby commit ourselves to recognizing either doghood or whiteness as entities. „Some dogs are white‟ says that some things that are dogs are white; and, in order that this statement be true, the things over which the bound variable „something‟ ranges must include some white dogs, but need not include doghood or whiteness. On the other hand, when we say that some zoological species are cross-fertile we are committing ourselves to recognizing as entities the several species themselves, abstract though they are. We remain so committed at least until we devise some way of so paraphrasing the statement as to show that the seeming reference to species on the part of our bound variable was an avoidable manner of speaking.

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