It might be a surprise to non-metaphysicians to discover the extent to which it is questionable whether the familiar objects we see and interact with – the dogs, trees, iPods, and so on – really exist. And yet, these familiar objects are actually very strange. For example, we take for granted that very same object can change all of its properties, and all of its matter, and yet somehow remain the same object. but how can that be? By analogy, if I swap all the ingredients in a recipe with a bunch of other ingredients, and then change all the steps, would it make sense to say that I’ve followed the recipe? But if it doesn’t make sense, then what should we say about the nature of ordinary objects?
Crawford (Tim) Elder, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Connecticut, critically discusses and replies to the alternatives in his new book Familiar Objects and Their Shadows (Cambridge University Press, 2011). There’s the ontological relativist, who denies that ordinary objects exist independently of human minds, and the explosivist, who readily agrees there are ordinary objects, but who also thinks there are many extraordinary objects – for example, trout-turkeys, which start out as a trout and then at a later stage in life are turkeys. There’s also the exdurantist, who thinks objects are just chains of temporal stages; the causal exclusionist, who claims that ordinary objects don’t in fact satisfy our best criteria for existence; the composition skeptic, who says there are (for example) no dogs, just a bunch of atoms arranged dogwise, and, finally the universal mereologist, who thinks any parts compose a sum – including the sum of your dog, your bed and the Eiffel Tower. In his tightly argued book, Professor Elder takes on these opponents of the view that ordinary objects exist much as we think they do and that they, along with their parts, are pretty much all that does exist.