In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Ordinary Objects

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Vagueness: Are Ordinary Objects Vague?

Philosophy Ordinary Objects
Dana Goswick
  • LAST REVIEWED: 01 December 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 July 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0312


Nothing is more familiar to us than the ordinary objects—such as dogs, computers, tables, and trees—that we interact with daily. Yet contemplation of ordinary objects has provided much fodder for philosophical elucidation. Many of the central questions of metaphysics either directly concern ordinary objects or are best illustrated by examples involving ordinary objects. Issues that directly concern ordinary objects include constitution, coincidence, the ontological status of ordinary objects, and persistence. The central constitution questions are (1) What are ordinary objects made of (mereological simples, mereological complexes, matter, properties, matter and form)? and (2) Is an ordinary object identical to, or distinct from, that which constitutes it? The central coincidence question is Do ordinary objects coincide? This question can be made more specific by focusing on a particular type of coincidence (mereological, material, or spatio-temporal) and by asking what the purported coincident is (another ordinary object, an extraordinary object, some stuff). There are four standard ways of answering the question concerning the ontological status of ordinary objects: eliminativist (there are none), permissivist (there are ordinary objects, but there are a lot of other objects too), conventionalist (ordinary objects are conventional), and privileging (ordinary objects exist, no or few other objects do). Persistence concerns how an object exists over time. The standard answers are endurance (objects persist by being wholly located at different moments), perdurance (objects persist by being sums of instantaneous temporal parts), and exdurance (objects persist via standing in counterpart relations to other objects that exist at other times). Issues that are best illustrated by examples involving ordinary objects include mereology, properties, and vagueness. Mereology concerns the relation between part and whole. Mereological issues can be illustrated by focusing on exactly how an ordinary object is related to its parts. With regard to properties, focusing on the properties of ordinary objects sheds light on the nature of properties, as well as on that of objects. Vagueness arises when something—an ordinary object, an event, some stuff—has imprecise boundaries. There are three prominent accounts of vagueness: semantic (our words are vague), ontic (objects are vague), and epistemic (words and objects are precise; we’re just ignorant of the facts). Two final issues of importance in the philosophical study of ordinary objects are puzzles involving ordinary objects and metaontology, both of which are discussed in this article.

General Overviews

Few general overviews focusing on ordinary objects have been written. Many books on ordinary objects exist, but these books all focus on defending the author’s particular view of ordinary objects, rather than on providing a general canvassing of available views. The best general overview of ordinary objects is Korman 2015. See Margolis and Laurence 2007 for an anthology dealing specifically with ordinary objects that are artifacts.

  • Korman, Daniel. “Ordinary Objects.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward Zalta, 1–28. Stanford, CA: Stanford University, 2015.

    An overview of philosophical issues concerning ordinary objects, with particular emphasis on (1) eliminativism about ordinary objects, (2) permissivism about objects, (3) vagueness and sorites paradoxes, (4) the problem of the many, and (5) defending the existence of ordinary objects from debunking, strange kinds, and causal overdetermination arguments.

  • Margolis, Eric, and Stephen Laurence, eds. Creations of the Mind: Theories of Artifacts and Their Representation. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

    This anthology provides an interdisciplinary discussion of the ontology of artifacts and their role in our lives. In includes articles by philosophers such as Crawford Elder, Amie Thomasson, and John Searle, as well as articles by cognitive scientists and psychologists.

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