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The Foundations of Ontology

The Foundations of Ontology was a three-year research project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and directed by David Liggins and Chris Daly (2011-2014).

The final decades of the twentieth century saw a revival of metaphysics. Among the metaphysical questions which are now intensively debated are questions about what exists ('Do numbers/properties/propositions/material objects/supernatural entities, etc., exist?'). We call these ‘ontological questions’.


Many philosophers remain sceptical of substantive philosophical attempts to answer ontological questions. This scepticism takes a number of different forms: some critics regard the questions as unintelligible; others claim that, whilst the questions are intelligible, attempts to answer them are futile; still others claim that the questions can be answered trivially. But all of the critics agree that philosophers should not spend their time trying to answer ontological questions.

The critics offer a range of arguments to justify their scepticism. Some old objections to ontology have been re-posed. In particular, Carnap's objection to ontology has been revived by Eli Hirsch and Hilary Putnam. And some ingenious new objections have been framed. Some of these draw on recent developments in metaphysics.

Defending ontology

For example, there is now a growing interest in the idea of grounding (also known as 'non-causal dependence' or 'ontological priority'). Using this notion, Jonathan Schaffer and Kit Fine have recently argued that metaphysicians should abandon ontology in favour of grounding studies: they should not try to establish what exists, but what grounds what. In this project, we defend ontological inquiry through arguing for a new account of the nature of ontology. We show that ontology can be defended from all of these objections provided that its nature is correctly understood.


  • September 2013; the speakers were John Divers, Thomas Hofweber, Alyssa Ney, Chris Daly, and David Liggins.
  • September 2012; the speakers were Bob Hale, Fraser MacBride, Chris Daly, David Liggins, and Matti Eklund.


  • Chris Daly and David Liggins ‘Dorr on the language of ontology’, Philosophical Studies, forthcoming
  • Chris Daly and David Liggins ‘Is ontological revisionism uncharitable?’, Canadian Journal of Philosophy 46 (2016), 405–425.
  • Chris Daly and David Liggins ‘Agnosticism about ontology’, in Chris Daly (ed.) The Palgrave Handbook of Philosophical Methods. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015, 158–175.
  • Chris Daly and David Liggins ‘In defence of existence questions’, Monist, 97.4 (2014), 460–478.

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