A van Inwagean Defense of Constitutionalism

In: Quo Vadis, Metaphysics? – Essays in Honor of Peter van Inwagen, M. Szatkowski, ed., De Gruyter, pp. 79-93 (2019)

According to Peter van Inwagen, the claim that metaphysics is in the business of explaining the nature and existence of whatever inhabits mind-independent reality makes no sense. Likewise, according to van Inwagen, constitutionalism – the view that bundles of properties constitute charactered objects – is ‘not even false’ and concomitant notions like those of a ‘constituent’, an ‘immanent universal’, and a ‘trope’ are incomprehensible. In this paper, I investigate both of those claims. I argue that the first – that it makes no sense to understand metaphysics as in the business of explaining – makes sense (!) only if understood as a corollary to the claim that it makes no sense to say that the relations that (hierarchically) structure mind-independent reality are inherently explanatory. This latter claim is problematic, and could be what proponents of the explanatory approach have in mind when they claim that metaphysics is in the business of explaining (although it certainly doesn’t have to be). Suppose it is, and suppose the claim turns out to be unacceptable, perhaps even nonsensical. Then van Inwagen’s first claim is true. But this does not mean that we have to accept his second claim. For, constitutionalism can be formulated without the assumption that metaphysics – and hence the relations which structure reality – is explanatory. Nor does Quineanism, even in its distinctively van Inwagean variety, require that properties be understood as existing ‘apart’ from the objects they characterize. Therefore, it makes sense to say (although it may be false) that properties ‘make up’ objects, that properties exist ‘in’ the objects they constitute, and that properties are immanent universals or tropes.

Link to final draft here.