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Maynooth Philosophical Papers

Volume 8, 2016

Alan Forde
Pages 14-29

A Response to Yablo’s Ontological Fictionalism

In a series of recent articles Stephen Yablo argues the case for mathematical fictionalism on the basis that a Quinean approach to ontology is undermined by an indeterminacy about which objects we should be committed to. Yablo has developed a series of semantic models purporting to show that there is no principled way to separate out genuine from apparent ontological commitments. In this paper I focus on his argument that mathematical discourse is metaphorical. I argue that Yablo’s criticism relies on a misunderstanding of the status of Quine’s naturalised ontology. In particular, the indeterminacy Yablo identifies in ontology is common place in all scientific theories, and just as it is not a sufficient reason for abandoning any other scientific theory so is it not sufficient to abandon ontology. I conclude by arguing that Yablo’s presentation of fictionalism as a return to a Carnap style ‘quizzical’ attitude to ontology is equally problematic.

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