The Heavy Burden of Proof for Ontological Naturalism

Georg Gasser


If one accepts scientific realism and the thesis that explanatory concepts in science imply ontological commitments, then naturalism contains an ontological program as well. The task of a naturalistic ontologist is to draw out the metaphysical implications of contemporary science. Gasser and Stefan attend to this task. First of all, it has to be made clear on which sciences a naturalistic ontologist should rely on. This, however, is all but clear. There is no generally accepted concept of science on the basis of which we can distinguish between acceptable and non-acceptable sciences. The dilemma of naturalism can be subsumed as follows: If almost everything is considered to belong to the scope of science, naturalism becomes so liberal that it runs risk of turning into triviality. If, on the contrary, naturalism becomes more restrictive it leans towards reductive physicalism or eliminativism, a price many philosophers are not willing to pay. An attractive alternative seems to be non-reductive physicalism. Referring to Jaegwon Kim’s work Gasser and Stefan argue that this is no viable way either. A consequent form of naturalism seems to lead towards reductive or eliminative forms of physicalism. Philosophers who are unwilling to bite this bullet do better abandon naturalism.


20th century philosophy; ontology; philosophy; Wittgenstein Ludwig; naturalism and reduction; naturalism and science; ontological commitment; ontological physicalism; unity of science

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