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How far does the projected reality extend: what is our creation and what is given (Blackburn 1984, 212)?

`Objects' do not exist independently of conceptual schemes (Putnam 1981, 52).

[T]he raw material of the physical universe is stuff not things, and ... the organization of (some or all of) this stuff into things is done by us (Jubien 1993, 2).

There is no property of entitivity in the natural world, says the projectivist (Goldman 1987, 543).

[T]he claim that we made the stars is false if anything is (Sheffler 1980, 206).

The moon did not pop into existence when the first being armed with the moon-concept said `Lo, the moon' (Musgrave 1993, 265).

Our aim here is to describe and then refute a view it pleases us to call "magical antirealism." To be honest, we are not absolutely sure anyone has ever held this view. Certainly some talk as if they hold it. Anyway, it is a view which is easily confused with others, and deserves to be distinguished from them. It also deserves to be refuted, just in case.


It is said that we carve the world into objects.(1) The carving process is in some sense a mindful or conceptual matter. Conceptually, we carve the world into objects. The world that awaits our conceptual carvings consists only of unarticulated or formless stuff, whereas the world that results contains an incredibly rich and diversified tapestry of things of various kinds. This way of putting the matter suggests that the various objects--the individuals or particulars or entities--that populate our world somehow emerge from our conceptual activity. One argument for this is based upon modal antirealism. Arguably, there is no entity without identity, and there is no identity (there are no identity conditions) without modal constraints.(2) If, moreover, modal constraints are products of our conceptual activity, then a plausible case can be made for judging that objects are themselves such products. Such reasoning will encourage talk of objects being projected (spread) onto the world by the mind.

Unrelenting objectual projectivism gives some of us pause. It is said that projectivists assume only "a natural world, and our patterns of reaction to it" (Blackburn 1984, 182). But in truth, very little seems to be left of the natural world when objects cease to be part of it. Perhaps it will be said that the natural world consists only of stuff.(3) This is a decidedly unnatural naturalism. Many of us are sympathetic to the proposal that the natural world contains countlessly many "homeostatic units" such as [H.sub.2]O molecules, and that such units--objects, as they are--exist quite independently of our conceptual activity (Kornblith 1995, 46). Given that there is no entity without identity, we may (naturally!) believe that identity (some identity) is independent of our conceptual activity. The independence of (certain) modal constraints follows, assuming that identity conditions require (or just amount to) such constraints.

The argument need not focus on molecules. Macroscopic living things--bats, cats, and rats, say--have as much claim to being homeostatic units as do water molecules. Insofar as such `units' are natural objects, constituents of the natural world, it certainly seems that it is wrong to say that the natural world is innocent of objects. If the natural world is independent of our conceptualizations, and there is no entity without identity,(4) then once again it appears that there is natural identity.(5) And this makes it hard to see how modality (all modalities) can be something the mind spreads (projects) onto the world. Natural objects leave us with natural identity; and natural identity speaks for natural (real, if you will) modality.(6) Natural individuals, the bearers of real modalities, are not projected by our minds onto the world, are not, indeed, the products of our conceptualizations. Such objects are denizens of the natural world we inhabit. So at least many of us would judge.(7)


There is a surprising amount of resistance to this and it is upon the resistance movement that attention is focused in the discussion that follows. The general theme of resistance fighters is that what was said above gets things the wrong way round, and that in truth individuative and modal antirealism carries over to objectual antirealism. This raises many questions. Talk of `realism' and `antirealism' is, regrettably, treacherous, and can be interpreted in many ways. In what follows, we'll take a minimalist approach, assuming merely that professions of realism are in some way declarations of independence (Sober 1982, 369). There is much to be said about the sort of independence that is at issue. Realism vis-a-vis thoughts, emotions and sensations presumably will allow that such psychological entities (states, events?) are, in some sense, mind-dependent, which suggests that psychological realism need not amount to a declaration of mind-independence.(8) It is clear enough that various mind-dependent things exist.(9) The question that concerns us is: are there any mind-independent things?(10) Whatever the case may be with thoughts and emotions, a negative answer to this will be celebrated by friends of objectual antirealism.(11)

One general argument for an unwavering denial of mind-independent things involves the assumptions that concepts are somehow "located in the mind" and that dependence upon concepts thus entails or involves mind-dependence. The conviction that "all unity is concept-relative: nothing in the physical world is individual or a whole but thinking makes it so"(12) speaks for the eye-catching conclusion that there are no mind-independent physical objects. Individuative antirealism is a close relative of modal antirealism:
   To be an essentialist is not necessarily to be a realist with regard to
   essentiality. Neither is it necessarily to be a realist with regard to
   persistence conditions or sort. An object's essential properties, its
   persistence conditions, its sort, and its dominant sortal all are matters
   that can be viewed by an essentialist either as objective or relative to
   our conceptual scheme (Burke 1997, 256).

This suggests that the same object can be such that it has one set of persistence conditions relative to one conceptual scheme and another set of persistence conditions relative to another such scheme. We may wonder about this, wonder how it is that one object can have different persistence conditions when viewed (conceptualized) in different ways (Olson 1997, 159-162). Assuming that persistence conditions are identity conditions, the proposal is that an object's identity conditions are relative to conceptual schemes. It is charged that identity and persistence relativism conflicts with Leibniz's Law (Wiggins 1980). The standard if not the only promising reply is that this falsely supposes that contexts such as `x is necessarily (possibly) f' and 'x was (will be) existent at time t' express genuine properties. Some of us believe that relativists are then left with implausibly thin (scandalously underclothed, if not bare) individuals.(13) Genuine properties adhere to their bearers regardless of how the bearer is designated or conceived. If substitution fails for co-referential terms in the contexts just mentioned, then such open sentences do not represent or express genuine properties. Quine famously argues that:
   [N]ecessarily exceeding 7 is no trait of the neutral thing itself, the
   number, which is the number of planets as well as 9. And so it is nonsense
   to say neutrally that there is something, x, that necessarily exceeds 7
   (Quine 1966, 181-2).

This Quinean theme will be extended to commonplace things. The "neutral thing itself" that may be variously described as the oak tree that is in the quad and the collection of cellulose molecules that is so located has no essential properties. If persistence conditions are in effect modal constraints, and such constraints take the form of essential properties, it seems that the neutral thing outside the window has no persistence conditions. Since (or assuming that) persistence conditions are identity conditions, this neutral thing lacks identity conditions. The argument extends to any essence neutral thing whatever, suggesting prospects for identity antirealism without objectual eliminativism. Such eliminativism may not appear to be a corollary of a rejection of "talk about individuative or identity conditions for entities per se" (Wilson 1995, 23).


But are things as they appear? We may doubt that the story just outlined can plausibly be reconciled with a second Quinean theme saying that there is no entity without identity. It emerges that neutral objects fail to be genuine entities. When revealed as merely virtual objects (objects in name only), neutral things are denuded not just of essential properties but indeed of all properties. A relativization of essence leaves us with truly bare particulars, which is to say, with no particulars (objects) at all. We are left with an unrelenting objectual eliminativism that is, for many of us, hard to swallow.

It is true that eliminativism is not generally accepted as a corollary of the Quinean attack upon essence. The standard position is that denials of necessity attached to things in themselves make it "entirely reasonable to see the `essentialness' of one of a thing's properties as simply relative to a way of designating that thing" (Lycan 1994, 100). It is not that we are left with a world that is innocent of `things in themselves' but rather that the various things that populate the world are, when considered in themselves, innocent of modal properties. However, as noted already, it is not clear how this is to be reconciled with "No entity without identity" declarations. Identity conditions involve, or perhaps amount to, modal constraints.(14) If there are no such constraints for existing things, then it seems that existing things lack identity conditions. Entities without identity! But what sorts of entities are we are dealing with? Quine himself says things that suggest that there can be no answer to the question:
   A large part of learning `apple' or `river' was learning what counts as the
   same apple or river re-exposed and what counts as another. Similarly for
   `proposition': little sense has been made of the term until we have before
   us some standard of when to speak of propositions as identical and when as
   distinct (Quine 1960, 200).

If modally innocent entities lack identity conditions, then it seems that there are no standards for speaking of identity and diversity and, by Quine's own lights, no sense in speaking of such entities.(15) Persistence conditions carry modal baggage.(16) So objects (alleged objects) that are modally dispossessed have no persistence conditions. Assuming that persistence conditions are identity conditions, modally dispossessed objects lack identity conditions. But then how are we to go about the task of distinguishing one such object from another? It is widely agreed that "any concept which characterizes a sort or kind of thing must provide us with some basis for distinguishing and re-identifying different things belonging to that sort" (Hookway 1988, 122). If that is right, it seems that the concept of a modal innocent does not represent any kind or sort of thing. Objects "hover ambiguously between ... different kinds" (Nelson 1970, 257) and are themselves intrinsically kindless. Insofar as it is up to us to assign things to kinds, we are left with what has been called the ultimate form of conventionalism (Doepke 1996, 189).

We may well wonder whether all of this leaves us with a domain of genuine objects. Every object has the property of being identical with itself (a property only this object has, not to be confused with the property of being self-identical), and such properties appear to be intrinsic to their bearers.(17) If there is reason to judge that modal innocents lack intrinsic identity properties, there is accordingly reason to deny that modal innocents are genuine objects. Suppose for reductio that a is an innocent that is intrinsically identical with a. Can that be reconciled with the claim that a survives a certain event as an F though not as a G? We believe not. If it is really a that survives, then surely the survivor has the property of being a and there can be no basis for any sortal or kind relativity assessment of a's persistence. The outcome is the same in the event that the survivor isn't a (the survivor then lacking the property of being a). It just won't do to reply that there is no saying whether the survivor is a, for that conflicts (doesn't it?) with the claim that a survives as an F-thing. An outright denial that there is such a property as that of being a will suggest that a fails to be a genuine object (individual).


The "No entity without identity" slogan is widely taken to be a declaration of our obligation to provide identity conditions whenever we talk about a certain kind of thing (Jubien 1993, 351). Do different kinds of things generally or invariably have different identity conditions? Michael Jubien recently argues that they do not. There is reason in this if, as Jubien would have it, identity criteria for K-things serve to "analyze the concept of identity as it applies to object of kind K" (Jubien 1996, 347). Identity just is identity, regardless! Arguably, however, identity criteria for Ks (criteria which state identity conditions for Ks) serve not to clarify the concept of identity as it pertains to Ks but rather to specify the conditions under which we have (and have not) located a single K. This sounds plausible enough, and allows us to say that different kinds of things have different identity conditions.(18) This has a decidedly Lockean air. Alan Sidelle tells us that:
   Locke believes only in nominal, as opposed to real, kinds. And if we
   believe that individuals have essences that determine their boundaries--and
   so them themselves--then, if we believe these individual essences also to
   be but nominal, we will believe that (these) individuals are nominal
   existents, or in Locke's words, "the Workmanship of the Understanding"
   (Sidelle 1989, 19).(19)

Sidelle would endorse the following argument, which he attributes to Locke:
   (1) There are no real (or natural) kinds.(20)

   (2) If there are no real kinds, then there are no real (or natural)

   (3) So, there are no real objects.

If a real object were taken to be an existent object, many of us would resist the proposal that Locke approves of such an argument. Locke is not an eliminativist! This interpretation of the argument won't do, however, insofar as debates concerning "real objects" are debates concerning the independence of objects. Surprisingly, Sidelle comes close to suggesting that Locke is an objectual eliminativist:
   if species (individuals) are what they are in virtue of their essences, and
   their essences, as such, are not `out there', then Locke is pointing out
   that we must say that to that extent, the species (individuals) themselves
   are not, as such, `out there' (Sidelle 1989, 19).

A Quinean reading of Locke on modality supports this. As was suggested earlier, Quinean antirealism concerning essence leaves us with objectual eliminativism. Some interpreters have it (a claim that will not lack for critics) that Locke denies that objects have essences (Jolly 1986, 157), suggesting that Locke anticipates (and indeed endorses) a Quinean position on essence.(20) If there is anything to this, it might appear that Locke is indeed committed to objectual eliminativism. No entity without identity, and no identity without modality (essence); objects that have no essential properties are then merely virtual objects. It is (as some people would say) merely "as if" there are objects. Sidelle tells us that:
   The picture ... is not of a set of things that we denote by a name and then
   endow with individuating features. As [David] Wiggins stresses, to have the
   things is to have such features. Rather, in claiming that things with such
   features are not in the world per se, we are claiming that the things so
   individuated do not, as such, belong to the world itself (Sidelle 1989,

This is entirely at odds with Quine's commitment to neutral (modally innocent) objects. At the same time, it is very much in the spirit of the Quinean "No entity without identity" theme. Judging that Locke is not an eliminativist, we may naturally doubt that the "we" in Sidelle's "we are claiming" includes Locke. In response to this, it will be charged that Locke fails to appreciate the fact that his (as it is alleged) modal antirealism has an eliminativist corollary.(22)

There is a countercharge that says that while modal antirealism leaves us with objectual antirealism, objectual antirealism does not, or at any rate need not, amount to objectual eliminativism. Many of us believe that unqualified objectual eliminativism simply is not a credible position. In theory, one might go along with this and also endorse unrelenting objectual antirealism. A denial of natural (real or independent) objects need not amount to a proclamation of objectual eliminativism! Interestingly enough, Sidelle says things that suggest as much:
   If what it is to be an individual of a certain sort is to have certain
   features not only actually, but essentially, then the [modal]
   conventionalist has all the same reasons to think that if there are any
   such individuals, they must ... not be `fully independent', but should
   arise out of our individuative practices, which is our way of articulating
   the world (Sidelle 1989, 57).

   The world is capable of being cut up in so many ways, and whenever we
   consider such a cut (some principle of individuation), we are considering
   the world cut that way, i.e., so articulated. An articulation will specify
   both actual conditions which must be met for something to be (an) F, and
   identity conditions for tracing Fs through space, time, and possible
   worlds. If there are portions of the world which meet the actual
   conditions, then there are Fs. (Sidelle 1992, 286).

These hardly sound like the reflections of an eliminativist. We might conjecture that Sidelle and Locke are allied in their acceptance of a domain of (genuine) objects that somehow are dependent upon our cognitions. The thrust of much of what Sidelle says seems to speak, not for sweeping objectual eliminativism, but rather against independent objects--objects that do not "arise out of our individuative practices." It is not hard to appreciate why Sidelle should be interpreted as defending the position that:
   The flight from Aristotelian essentialism, metaphysical necessity, etc., is
   not the flight from e-objects [objects having essential properties]. It is
   the flight from e-objects whose principles of individuation are not given
   by the practices of language users (Blackson 1992, 71).


Quine would have us reject e-objects. Sidelle offers (on the present interpretation) a middle way between the Quinean position and Aristotelian modal realism. To pursue the middle line is to allow the reality of objects (`e-objects', if you will) whose essential properties arise from our linguistic practices and conventions. Such magical antirealism seems to be in the air when we consider Mark Johnston's recent touting of metaphysical "minimalism," which is said to embrace "ontology without metaphysics" (Johnston 1997, 57-58). Johnston rejects both eliminativism and the assumption that a credible distinction between an F (an object of a certain sort) and its F-configured constituting matter "has to be substantial and characterizable independently of our practice of making judgments which exhibit certain patterns and demarcations." We are assured that:
   what is bogus is the conception of justifying our practice which requires
   that, for the distinction to be justified, the difference between an F and
   its constituting matter must be a deep metaphysical difference secured by
   an extra ingredient of the F.

Arguably reservation about an appeal to extra ingredients as the justifier of the distinction in question are entirely unfounded in the event that such "ingredients" are understood, non-substantially, as identity conditions and modal constraints.(23) The magical antirealist allows this, but also dismisses, as Sidelle puts it, "a mind-independent modal reality" (Sidelle 1989, 123). There is a legitimate distinction between Fs and F-configured parcels of matter (stuff), although there isn't a real (mind-independent) justificatory basis for this distinction. Thus it is that magical antirealists reject both (objectual) eliminativism and objectual (and modal) realism.

Magical antirealists will not hesitate to endorse the claim that "modal differences must have a nonmodal basis."(24) It is the modal differences that provide the "ingredient" that explains the distinction between an F-thing and the F-ish matter that constitutes or composes this thing. What is denied is that the modal differences are real differences. As Mark Heller (1990, 32) puts it, such differences "are founded on our conventions." Heller is not a proponent of magical antirealism, though he does maintain that "our way of dividing ... reality into objects" is "a matter of conventions, not of the real structure of the world" (149). The actual structure of the world diverges quite dramatically from the structure we normally assume the world to have. The real structure of the world is heavy with convention-free modal facts. Heller is an eliminativist when it comes to the various objects postulated by folk ontology (hawks and handsaws, pots and pineapples, etc.). Folk objects are said to be coincident with certain parcels or hunks of matter. Heller would endorse the following argument:
   (1) If the modal properties of an object o are not fixed by o's physical
   structure, then o is a conventional object.(25)

   (2) Alleged coincident (matter-sharing but numerically distinct) objects
   have the same physical structure but not the same modal properties.

   (3) If (2), then the modal properties of coincident objects are not fixed
   by their physical structure.

   (4) Conventional objects are merely virtual (nominal) objects.

   (5) The modal properties of coincident objects are not fixed by their
   physical structure. [(2), (3)]

   (6) Coincident objects are conventional objects. [(1), (5)]

   (7) Coincident objects are merely virtual objects. [(4), (6)]

An argument for folk object eliminativism--eliminativism for folk objects--emerges, given the further assumption that folk objects are coincident with parcels or hunks of matter. Those of us who would resist folk object eliminativism must either deny that folk entities coincide with parcels of matter or find fault with the (1)-(7) argument. Friends of magical antirealism will celebrate this, maintaining both that the assumption of coincidence is irreproachable(26) and that the only promising dismissal of the argument rejects premise (4). The rejection of (4) is tantamount to an allowance that (genuine though not independent) objects emerge from our conventions. Hawkish politicians are in the habit of saying that vigilance is the price of freedom. Taking a cue from this, magical antirealists maintain that defense of folk ontology comes at a price, the price being the allowance that genuine (as opposed to merely nominal or virtual) objects emerge from our conceptualizations. The (1)-(7) argument is rejected and replaced by this reasoning:
   (1) If the modal properties of an object o are not fixed by o's physical
   structure, then o is a conventional object.(27)

   (2) Alleged coincident (matter-sharing but numerically distinct) objects
   have the same physical structure but not the same modal properties.

   (3*) Folk objects are both coincident objects and also genuine objects.

   (4*) The modal properties of folk objects are not fixed by their physical
   structure. [(2), (3*)]

   (5*) Folk objects are conventional objects but also genuine objects. [(1),
   (3*), and (4*)]

There are various problems with this. For openers, we might inquire whether a parcel of matter that composes a folk entity is itself an object. If the answer is negative, the folk entity in question seems not to be coincident with another object, which makes (3*) false. Suppose, on the other hand that the answer is affirmative (that parcels of matter qualify as objects). Whatever the case may be with folk entities, it then seems that a great many objects--various parcels of stuff--are such that they exist independently of (and so do not emerge from) our individuative conventions. If, as Sidelle allows, all objects have identity conditions and are subject to modal constraints, it then turns out (pace Sidelle) that there is real (mind-independent) necessity and possibility. It is hard to see a way out of this. Moreover, the assumption that parcels of matter qualify as genuine objects does not sit well with premise (1). Consider Ben, an ordinary housecat, and Jerry, the parcel of matter that is presently located where Ben is located. If it is granted that Jerry is an object, as it presumably must be if we are to allow that Ben is a coincident entity, doesn't Jerry then have modal properties that are not fixed by our individuative conventions? It is hard to believe that parcels of matter are dependent upon such conventions.(28)


The true ontology, by Heller's lights, postulates temporally extended hunks of matter each of which has convention-free modal attributes.(29) In opposition to magical antirealists, Heller argues that no genuine object is a product of our individuative conventions. We are assured that "there can be no object that really has its identity conditions solely in virtue of conventions" (42). Others agree:
   To begin with, if the identity over time of a putative compound physical
   thing, P, is conventional, then P is not a real thing. That which is
   conventional logically depends upon the beliefs or decisions of one or more
   psychological subjects. But the identity through time of any genuine
   physical thing must derive (in a strong sense) from the thing's intrinsic
   nature over time, and cannot logically depend on the beliefs or decisions
   of any psychological subject. Thus, the identity of a real compound thing
   through time is due to nature rather than convention (Hoffman and
   Rosenkrantz 1997, 166).

Although this denial of reality would be quite trivial if the operative "real" were understood as a matter of independence, there is no triviality when "real" is parsed as a matter of existence. Magical antirealists maintain that genuine (existing) objects do emerge from our individuative conventions, our conferrals of modal constraints being both necessary and sufficient for the existence of putatively commonplace natural objects (various natural kinds of objects). Some of us will find that this has its attractions when compared to Heller's folk eliminativism. But as we've already seen, we do not have to choose between Hellerian eliminativism and magical antirealism. There is a middle way.

Do arguments from supervenience speak against magical antirealism? Arguably statements of supervenience that presuppose the independent existence of microscopic entities beg the question. No such presupposition is involved in the following principle (SUPER):
   Necessarily: if stuff S and stuff S* are intrinsically indiscernible, and S
   composes a living being (object), then S* composes a living being.

The stuff that composes Ben composes a living individual; according to SUPER, any stuff that is indistinguishable from this stuff will also compose a living individual. Suppose that such stuff is to be found in a world lacking individuative conventions. If we subscribe to magical antirealism, presumably we will deny that this stuff composes an object, and so deny that it composes a living being. SUPER speaks against this, suggesting that living beings occupy possible worlds lacking individuative conventions. The argument extends to stuffs that are located at different times in a single world. If certain stuff presently composes a virus (say), then similar stuff existing millions of years ago composed a living individual. It is hard to see how such an individual can be dependent upon our individuative conventions. What is the reply to this? We are told that:
   Constructive nominalism is committed to the counterfactual claim that if
   there were no concept of a dinosaur, there would be no dinosaurs. It is not
   committed to the historical claim that when there was no concept of a
   dinosaur, there were no dinosaurs. For once it is introduced, the concept
   of a dinosaur applies to all things, be they past, present, or future, that
   satisfy its criteria (Elgin 1997, 168-169).

It is said that the concept "delineates criteria of identity for the beasts, specifying what it takes to be a dinosaur, what changes something can undergo and remain a dinosaur ... and so on." Concepts supply identity conditions for things, and without such conditions there are no things! Dinosaurs never would have existed had "thinkers never framed the concept of a dinosaur," though dinosaurs did exist long before we formulated the concept of dinosaurs. This cannot be reconciled with SUPER, as emerges when we consider a world whose history is indistinguishable from our own world through the Mesozoic era wherein no conceptualizers subsequently exist.

There is a second principle (ONLY) that speaks against magical antirealism (or `constructive nominalism'):
   whether o at [t.sub.1] and o* at [t.sub.2] are identical depends only on
   facts about o and o* and on properties and relations that are realized
   between [t.sub.1] and [t.sub.2] (Ehring 1997, 60).

All parties agree that various transtemporal identities bearing upon dinosaurs obtain in our world in the Mesozoic era, and ONLY assures that such identities also obtain in worlds whose histories do not include any conceptualizers after the Mesozoic era. Of course friends of magical antirealism may reject both SUPER and ONLY. But these rejections will strike many of us as problematic.


William Alston recently conjectures that a realist conception of truth (alethic realism) can be reconciled with the view that everything is "constitutively dependent on human cognition" (Alston 1996, 83 and 179). Alston tells us that:
   the kind of dependence that is incompatible with a realist status is what
   we may call constitutive dependence. If physical substances, space and
   time, universals, or whatever, depend on a relation to mind for being what
   they are, for their essential character, for their constitution, then they
   lack the kind of independence of mind that is required for realist status
   (Alston 1996, 73-74).

Antirealism for things does not conflict with alethic realism, which is, roughly to say, the view that true propositions correspond with facts (or "tell it like it is"). Alston assures us that truth "can still hang on whether what we are talking about is as we say it is, even if what we are talking about does not have the complete mind-independence that Putnam's `metaphysical realist' supposes it to have" (Alston 1996, 180). This is an important, if problematic, proposal, suggesting as it does that there is at least a qualified sense in which objects emerge from our conceptual activity. On the assumption that the persistence conditions and essential properties of things are "products of our way of conceptualizing the world" (Heller 1990, 69) it seems that the bearers of such properties are constitutively dependent upon our conceptual activity, which (as Alston agrees) speaks against objectual realism. What isn't clear, and may be contested, is that a retreat from objectual realism commits us to a sweeping denial of commonplace statements bearing upon the various objects for which `realism' is rejected. Insofar as the truth of such statements presupposes the existence of such objects, it is arguably the case that objectual antirealism is not tantamount to objectual eliminativism. All of which may suggest that there is something to be said for the view that objects emerge from our conceptualizations:
   Many philosophers talk as if all that it takes to refer to something real
   is to make up a word with associated identity conditions for which there
   are empirical data (Doepke 1996, 44).

To get a feel for this, consider an identity question that arises for the Julliard String Quartet (JSQ). It is said that JSQ was "substantially changed" with the recent departure of Robert Mann, who had been its last remaining original member.(30) Does the original JSQ exist today with new members? This is the sort of question that prompts philosophical battle. The fact, as some will proclaim it is, that there are no prospects for a clear winner emerging from such battles may appear to speak for identity antirealism. We simply proclaim (say) that the original JSQ survives! Why not? One worry arises when we consider the fact that there may well be competing identity proclamations. Imagine two philosophers, Flem and Flam, one of whom (Flem) affirms and the other (Flam) denies that the original JSQ exists today (that today's JSQ is identical with the original). Flem has one concept of a string quartet, whereas Flam has another such concept. Flem-quartets and Flam-quartets have different persistence conditions, and are, accordingly, different kinds of things. Adopting a realist conception of truth, we might judge that:
   (1) T(The present Flemish JSQ was formed in 1946 and has persisted since
   that time) iff the present Flemish JSQ was formed in 1946 and has persisted
   since that time.

   (2) T(The present Flamish JSQ was formed only recently when Mann retired
   and Smirnoff became the first violinist) iff the present Flamish JSQ was
   formed only recently when Mann recently retired and Smirnoff became the
   first violinist.

The truth ascriptions on the left sides of (1) and (2) would appear to stand or fall together. To accept both truths is to be left with two JSQs, two "things" one of which has and the other has not continued to exist since 1946. In an effort to avoid this commitment, we might appeal to what Alston (1996, 180) calls scheme indexes. Where F1 is Flem's conceptual scheme and F2 Flam's conceptual scheme, it will (might) be said that:
   (3) [T.sub.F1] (The present Flemish JSQ was formed in 1946 and has
   persisted since that time).

   (4) [T.sub.F2] (The present Flamish JSQ was formed only recently when Mann
   retired and Smirnoff became the first violinist).

The `F1' and `F2' indexes will then carry over to the right sides of (1) and (2), suggesting that certain facts about persistence are, as Alston (1996, 179-180) would put it, "scheme relative." The idea is not that persistence is scheme relative. It isn't that Flemish entities persist through mereological changes in one conceptual scheme but not another. There simply are no Flemish entities in F2, and similarly no Flamish entities in F1.(31)


The scheme-relativist is a pretty thoroughgoing antirealist. If all facts are facts only relative to some conceptual scheme (including, troublesomely, that fact), then there can be no talk of the world as it is independently of mind. (Unless, perchance, "There is a mind-independent world" is true in some conceptual scheme?) Magical antirealists avoid self-referential paradoxes by being more circumspect. They are unabashed realists about the world as it is independent of mind. There is such a world, and, of course, it is independent of mind. Even if it has no joints at which the mind may carve, if it weren't there at all, there would be nothing to carve. A sculptor needs stone. "The world is all out there, we do not think it up, when we die it does not go away. It's full of stuff and features--they are just not articulate, that is, pre-individuated" (Sidelle 1992, 287). Where the scheme-relativist finds two different worlds with two different sets of objects (Flemish and Flamish), the magical realist finds only one-world with coincident and overlapping objects. What is it, after all, for an object to exist "in" a conceptual scheme? Objects exist in the world. Both the Flemish and the Flamish JSQs exist in the one and only world there is, according to the magical antirealist.

Magical antirealists should not be confused with "universalists," however. The universalist thinks that while the world is replete with objects, only some comparatively few are of any interest or importance to us. We simply have no use for the object which comprises the statue and the sculptor's chisel, so we have no name for it. But it is every bit as real as the statue or the chisel. "It seems at least to some extent a matter of convention how we cut up the world into properties and things. Since the adoption of conventions can hardly be thought to create the entities to which it gives recognition, it would seem that the role of convention can only be that of selecting from a set of preexisting entities certain ones to give linguistic recognition to" (Shoemaker 1988, 209). But magical antirealists dare to think what "can hardly be thought." The mind does create objects, they insist. It brings objects into being where no objects were before. The statue, it is said, doesn't exist until it is carved from the formless stone. Perhaps the sculptor selects some of the stone for our linguistic and other recognition. But in doing so the sculptor brings the statue into being. It was not there before. Just so, says the magical antirealist, the mind creates the objects to which it gives recognition.

Magical antirealists are antirealists first and foremost about objects. It is objects, first and foremost, which the mind carves from the independently existing world. Objects have modal features. Objects have essences at least in the sense that they have properties without which they could not exist. No entity without identity! No Quinean "neutral" objects. For the magical antirealist, this is the source of the dependency of objects on minds. Objects are mind-dependent precisely because modality is. What else, after all, could account for their dependency? So the world as it is independently of mind is as free of modality as it is of objects.

What does it contain? As already noted, it is not a world of molecules. Or atoms or electrons or quarks. It contains no particulate matter, for particles are objects. It contains no simples.

A favorite answer--and perhaps the only possible answer--is that it is just stuff. This may suggest that it contains stuff like water or gold. In order for there to be water or gold, there would, it seems, have to be particular quantities of water and gold--pools of water, hunks of gold (or rather, perhaps, the water in the pool, the gold in the hunk). Even if, as some maintain, all is water, there would still seem to be at least one (immense) quantity of water.(32) Strawson spoke of a "conceptual complication" when we move from stuff to particulars, the complication being the need for adoption of "criteria of reidentification" and "criteria of distinctness" for particulars (Strawson 1963, 209). If, as magical antirealism insists, the mind supplies all such criteria, pools of water and hunks of gold are products of conceptual activity. If, as magical antirealism also insists, the mind-independent world is free of modality, then it contains no pools of water or hunks of gold. If, as it seems, there can be no water and no gold unless there are particular quantities of water and gold--pools of water, hunks of gold--magical realism entails that there is no water, and no gold, in the world as it is apart from mind.

All may not be quite as it seems. Henry Laycock maintains that stuff such as water and gold is ontologically more basic than bits of stuff like pools of water and lumps of gold. There could be water even if there were no pools (or drops, etc.) of water. "To say, e.g., that there is gold in a certain region is certainly to assert the existence of something, but it is not ... to assert or imply the existence of any `gold-particulars' (bits or pieces of gold)" (Laycock 1972, 27-28). Though Laycock himself is not a magical antirealist, his account of stuff like water and gold may seem at first a source of support for magical antirealism. In fact, however, it is not. We must think of stuff, he concludes, "as a plurality of things, each of the same kind for any given kind of stuff (we may call each of these objects an element of the stuff)." "A kind of atomic theory is implicit in the ordinary use of mass terms" (Laycock 1972, 38). So, for there to be water is after all for there to be objects--bad news for magical antirealists.

All is not lost just yet, however. Stuff, Sidelle evidently maintains, has properties. It looks "just as the world looks" (Sidelle 1989, 55). The mind-independent world is "full of stuff and features."(33) No object is essentially F unless something is F. Our individuative conventions cannot supply the non-modal features on which they rely. We cannot create statues by ourselves. We can specify "actual conditions which must be met for something to be a statue," but in order for there to be any statues there must be "portions of the world which meet the actual conditions." The idea, one might suppose, is that the stuff filling the region of space-time now occupied by the statue is gray, solid and stony. That stuff is not an object, nor is it a collection of objects such as molecules or quarks. (If it were a collection, according to van Inwagen, it would not, strictly speaking, exist. Only the objects of which it is a collection would exist. And they, of course, are objects.) It is not a hunk of matter--for hunks, too, have modal features. (And anyway, to equate stuff with matter is already questionable.) Still, that stuff the stuff filling that region of space-time--the magical antirealist may insist, is independently there and modality free.

Is it? Regions of space-time clearly have modal properties. One region is not another. Could one have been another? The answer is so strongly negative as to make the question seem senseless.(34) True enough, the claim under consideration is not that regions of space-time are modal free. It is, rather, that the stuff filling a given region of space-time is modal free. Is that stuff a distinct quantity of stuff? If it is, then it has whatever modal properties they are which make it distinct. If it were a collection of atoms, it would have set-theoretic modal properties: it could not survive the loss of one of its members. But of course it is not supposed to be a collection. It is non-particulate, non-articulated, non-individuated through and through. So it seems it can be distinct from stuff in other regions only insofar as it occupies (34)a distinct region. But, as we have seen, regions have modal features. It may not follow that the stuff itself has modal features. But it does follow that there is no such (distinct) stuff unless something--the region of space-time it occupies--has modal features.

On the other hand, perhaps it is not a distinct quantity of stuff. Laycock holds that "The water [in the bottle] as such is not a distinct thing but if one thinks of "the water in the bottle" as the singular term designating the water just as long as it is in the bottle, then there is an obvious and trivial sense in which the water in the bottle is distinct from the rest of the world. The water in the bottle, so described, gets its distinctness by proxy, as it were, from the bottle; but not so described it has no criteria of distinctness at all" (Laycock 1972. 31). Applied to stuff, this would appear to mean that the stuff (the stuff as such) in any particular region cannot be distinguished from the stuff in other regions except by proxy. There are problems here, but if this is right it is hard to see how the stuff in the region occupied by the chair could be solid or wooden. If there is no distinct stuff in that region, what does the phrase "the stuff in the region" pick out? More troublesome, perhaps, is the question of what it is that is gray, solid and stony. The only answer left, it seems, is stuff itself--stuff as such.

Not everything is gray, solid and stony. Can stuff itself (stuff as such--as opposed to some distinct quantity of stuff, the stuff in some particular region) be gray, solid and stony as well as blue, liquid and watery all at once? Perhaps the apparent contradiction can be dismissed by some clever device like indexing all predicates to space-time points or regions: stony-here, watery-there. Stuff itself would then not be stony. It would be stony-here. But that, of course, would be to re-introduce the modal properties of space-time regions. There appears to be no hope of eliminating the contradiction without appeal to modal properties.

We might note, for good measure, that water is not gold. Water is a distinct stuff, with its own modal properties. (Can water be turned into gold [without ceasing to exist]? Well, it can or it can't. Either way it has a modal property.) What about Sidellean stuff? Sidellean stuff as such. More about this below.

So, if the world as it is apart from mind is to be thought of on the model of stuff like water or gold, it will have to be thought to contain, if not objects, then at least quantities of stuff or regions of space-time which, like objects, clearly have modal properties.

There seems to be no way at all to understand what, if magical antirealists are right, the world apart from mind is like. One can of course still say that apart from the mind there is stuff and only stuff. But will one have any idea whatsoever what one is saying? "Stuff" is now just a synonym for "the world as it is apart from mind." It gives us no idea what that world is like. According to Kant, one can't say anything at all about the world as it is independent of mind. Magical antirealists, however, are not Kantians. They want to say a lot about the mind-independent world. It has features. It instantiates nonmodal properties. It looks "just as the world looks." Still, it contains no objects, no things in themselves, no modality, no hunks of matter, no stuff like water or gold, no filled regions of space-time, no stuff in any region. Kant thinks we are in no position either to affirm or to deny so much. He agrees with Shoemaker that the mind can't create objects. He gives the mind pretty weak magic: only the power to experience what is already there as if it contained objects. Magical antirealists give the mind strong magic: the power to add objects to what is already there. For Kant the statue is merely phenomenal. For the magical antirealist, once the mind has carved it out, it is just as much a genuine part of the one and only real world as is the stuff from which it is carved.

The idea that objects can be made by merely conceptual activity is deeply puzzling all by itself--it "can hardly be thought." But it is all the more puzzling once we realize what sort of world it is with which the mind must work. How could the world as it is apart from mind be carved into objects? Could the sculptor carve the statue if there were no objects, no hunks of stone, no stone, no simples collected into one region of space-time, no filled regions of space-time, no regions of space-time? Conceptually "carving up" the independently existing world, if it is supposed to be a matter of bringing into existence what was not already there, can be nothing like carving up a stone. Magical antirealism should not be confused with the idea that the mind turns things--e.g., filled regions of space-time--which were not objects into objects. That would be a neat enough trick--harder than turning a sow's ear into a silk purse, even. Magical antirealism is more daring yet. It holds that the mind creates objects not, to be sure, out of nothing--the neatest trick of all!--but rather out of something worse than Chaos. That's a sufficiently godlike trick to count as magical.(35)


Whose concepts carve up the unarticulated world into objects? Who is it whose conventions establish the existence of objects? "Us, of course," one wants impatiently to reply. But magical antirealists obviously face a problem here. If people are objects, they will have to be sensational bootstrappers. Or, they will owe their own existence to conceivers who are not objects. Who in turn will owe theirs to others, ad infinitum. Clearly the original conceivers cannot be objects.

What are the magical antirealist's options? One would be to confine what has been said about the world as it is apart from mind to the material world, and introduce minds as immaterial objects which exist on their own. They are not carved out by concepts. They are the carvers. Their concepts carve material objects from material stuff. Magical antirealists are unlikely to be tempted by such strong dualism, however. In any case, if immaterial objects and their attendant modality can exist apart from the mind's conceptual carvings, then why not material objects as well?

The only hope seems to be to find room for mindful (thoughtful) stuff. If stuff can instantiate non-modal non-mental properties, then why not non-modal mental properties? Perhaps its mental properties supervene on its non-mental properties. The stuff filling the region of space-time now occupied by a given person, the magical antirealist presumably wants to say, thinks. It referentially intends. It, or it together with the stuff that fills the regions of space-time now occupied by other people, makes general individuating principles. These principles in turn make objects. (As for ourselves, there seem to be two alternatives. If we are objects, then somehow preobjectual stuff "carves us out" from itself. If we are not objects, then perhaps we are the stuff which does the carving.) Mind (but not the mind, thought of as an object) is itself an aspect of stuff.

But we have already discovered the fly in this ointment. Magical antirealism needs something like distinct quantities of stuff, but it can have them only if it accepts real modality too. Notice that this will be true no matter what view of the mind the magical antirealist may wish to take. Consider, for example, the view that the mind is not an object of any kind but rather a stream of psychological states. What would such states be states of? What is there around, in the world apart from mind, which can be in those states? On what could they supervene, if they supervene? As we have seen, there is nothing on the scene suitable for the purpose. Mental properties, whatever they turn out to be, will be no worse off than non-mental properties. But they will be no better off either. There will be nothing to instantiate them. Concepts (conventions) emerge either from stuff as such or from certain quantities of stuff. It is hard to see how they can emerge from stuff as such without emerging from distinct quantities of it, and those have modal properties. But so, as we are about to see, must stuff as such.


Neither the modality-free world itself nor anything in it can have modal features of any kind. Neither it nor anything in it has to be the way it is. Neither it nor anything in it could have been otherwise. Neither it nor anything in it could have been other than the way it is.

We argued that the idea of essence-neutral objects, objects innocent of all modal properties, is incoherent. Such "objects" are not objects at all. What about the idea of modally innocent stuff?. Can it be shown to be incoherent? It is easy to construct arguments. Let `P' be some non-modal property, and `s' either stuff itself or something it contains. Assume that Ps. We how have:
   (1) Stuff has no modal properties (assume for reductio).

   (2) If (1) then it is not possible that not-Ps.

   (3) If it is not possible that not-Ps then necessarily Ps.

   (4) If necessarily Ps then not-(1).

   (5) So, if (1) then not-(1).

   (6) So, not-(1).

   (7) (1) & not-(1).

   (1) Stuff has no modal properties (assume for reductio).

   (2) If (1) then it is not possible that Ps.

   (3) So, not-Ps.

   (4) But, Ps.

   (5) So, Ps & not-Ps.

Such arguments are easier to construct than to evaluate. Perhaps there is no way to demonstrate incoherence without relying on modal principles. If so, it will always be open to the defender of modality-free stuff to cry, "Question begging!" The first argument above relies on the principle that if something can't lack a certain property then it must have it. The second argument relies on the principle that if something can't possibly have a certain property then it doesn't have it. The defender of modality-free stuff may wish to deny that these principles apply when the something in question is stuff, and thus that it begs the question at issue to assume that they do. The principles themselves are fine, the defender of modal free stuff would say, but they are of limited scope.

At this point a follower of G. E. Moore might think that the real question is whether the generalized modal principles are more secure than whatever considerations there are in favor of modal free stuff. At the very least our arguments reveal the lengths to which the defender of modality free stuff must go. The magical antirealist must insist that principles like "what can't be so, isn't" are sometimes false.

Alternatively, the magical antirealist may accept the full generality of the modal principles and reject the second premises of our arguments instead. They are of the form "If (1) then it is not possible that --," where the blank is filled by a proposition about stuff. But since "it is not possible that" is equivalent to "it is impossible that," the consequents of both premises in effect attribute modal properties to stuff. The second premise of the second argument says, for example: If (1)then it is impossible that Ps. But that, the magical antirealist may say, is simply not true. If (1) then it not impossible that Ps. If (1) then it is neither possible nor impossible that Ps.

This response invites the reply that since "it is not possible that" is equivalent to "it is impossible that," and since "it is not impossible that" is equivalent to "it is possible that," even by the critic's own lights (1) entails that it is either impossible or possible. But let us pursue a different tack. For P let's choose a property which magical antirealists are completely Sure stuff has. Let's pick modal innocence. So, according to the magical antirealist, if (1) then it is neither possible nor impossible that stuff is modally innocent. I.e., if stuff is modally innocent, then it is neither possible nor impossible that stuff is modally innocent. Nor, a fortiori, is it necessary.

One might well wonder at this point whether it just happens that the mind-independent world is innocent of modality, or whether it simply couldn't have included modality--whether "Stuff is modal free" is true contingently or necessarily. Magical antirealists often give the impression that stuff is just not the sort of thing which could have had modal features. But of course they can't mean that. It can be neither contingently nor necessarily true that stuff lacks modal features. If it were contingently true, then it would after all have been possible for stuff to have included modality. If it were necessarily true, then it would have been impossible for stuff to have included modality. So, if every truth is true either contingently or necessarily, the world must include modality.

Does this refute magical antirealism? Does it prove decisively that stuff cannot be modality free? Perhaps not. The magical antirealist can always insist that the principle that truths are true either contingently or necessarily admits of many exceptions. Our misgivings about modally innocent objects carry over to modally innocent propositions. The fact that magical antirealism violates such seemingly inviolable principles should, we submit, be counted as a strong case against it. In the final analysis we do well to resist the proposal that "cookie cutters in the head literally carve out cookies in the dough that is outside the head" (Devitt 1991, 238).(36)

North Carolina State University St. Cloud State University

Received April 2, 1998


(1.) Dummett (1973, 562) attributes this sort of view to Peter Geach: "we slice up reality into distinct individual objects by selecting a particular criterion of identity."

(2.) Thus Laycock (1972, 28) says that an analysis of persistence conditions for K-things will be informative as to the sorts of changes Ks can tolerate. Proclamations of intolerance are clearly statements of modal constraints.

(3.) Van Inwagen (1993, 27) speaks of a form of Nihilism that holds that there is nothing but various stuffs. This is attributed to Alan Sidelle in O'Leary-Hawthorne and Cortens (1995, 144). As emerges in what follows, Sidelle gives mixed messages concerning what O'Leary-Hawthorne and Cortens call "a stuff metaphysic."

(4.) Cf. Sidelle (1989, 188): "The existence of individuals and kinds requires identity conditions for these individual and kinds."

(5.) Kornblith (1995, 55) speaks of identity conditions for biological objects. Kornblith holds that such objects exist quite independently of our conceptual activity.

(6.) Arguably this is opposed to a Humean line on necessity. Mackie (1980, 19) says that Hume is skeptical "about our ascription of necessity to the real world." Strawson (1992, 17-18) tells us that the natural world is "the natural home" of the view that there is a realm of facts waiting to be explored.

(7.) Ayers (1991, 82) says that particular substances "are naturally discrete individuals, whose given individuality is prior to their being identified and classified by us."

(8.) We owe this to Geoffry Sayre-McCord.

(9.) For the moment, we ignore objectual eliminativism.

(10.) Our present concern does not lie with supernatural beings upon whose thoughts everyday objects are said to depend. We will assume that it is false that there is a necessary being who is sentient. If this were true, we doubt that the entitivity, so to speak, of such a being would be mind dependent.

(11.) Haack (1996, 304-6) is good on realism and mind dependency. "The world--the one, real, world--is largely independent of us. Only `largely' and not `completely,' independent of us, because human beings intervene in the world in various ways, and because human beings, and their physical and mental activities, are themselves part of the world."

(12.) Ayers (1991, 77) attributes this to Frege.

(13.) See Gupta (1980, 82-83) and Gibbard (1997, 105-106). Baker (1997) argues persuasively against this.

(14.) A perceptive APQ editor notes with disapproval that although we treat "No entity without identity" throughout the paper as both a Quinean thesis and a modal thesis, for Quine it was just a "materially adequate" criterion of identity with no modal force. There is not space here to do this comment justice. We should note first, however, that magical antirealists agree with us, so, considering the aims of the paper, it will not matter much if we are mistaken. But could "No entity without identity" lack modal force? Suppose "If C, then x=y" expresses a criterion of identity, but is not a necessary truth. And suppose that, in fact, C. So, x=y. Yet in some possible worlds where C, x and y remain two different individuals. Can this be understood? Even if so, it would be a complete mystery as to why x and y are identical. There would be nothing to account for the fact that, while they could just as well have been two different things, they are are in fact identical. Conditionals such as "If C, then x=y" then, must surely be necessary if true. So even if entitivity requires only the truth, and not the necessity, of such conditionals, it does not follow that "No entity without identity" lacks modal force.

Quineans of a conventionalist sort might reply that it is our conventions which make "If C, then x=y" true. We adopt the criterion it expresses--that's what accounts for its being true. Even if this reply were otherwise adequate, however, it would still fail to show that our criteria of identity lack modal force. It clearly assumes that "If C, then x=y" could have been false, and possibility is just as much a modality as is necessity. This kind of reply is just not open to modal antirealists.

(15.) Almog (1991, 227) says that if we "subtract mountainhood from Everest we are left with something that suspiciously resembles a bare particular." Either mountainhood is essential to Everest or Everest is a bare particular.

(16.) "The kind-essence of an object helps to determine the conditions under which a particular continuant object persists" (Peacocke 1997, 541). Marcus (1993, 57) observes that an essential property is such that if its bearer "ceased to have that property it would cease to exist." See also Laycock (1972, 28).

(17.) This is questioned by Sider (1996, 4). However, Sider allows that there is a concept of intrinsicality that allows for intrinsic identity properties. Lowe (1995, 96) holds that identity criteria tell us "about the fundamental nature" of things. Zemach (1987, 224-225) argues that talk of true natures and essences of things is nonsense.

(18.) Cf. Hacking (1992, 185): "The criteria for being `the same again' differ from kind to kind." See also Shoemaker (1995, 381).

(19.) Elgin (1997, 168-9) appears to endorse a similar view: "We make the kinds and thereby make things into instances of them."

(20.) Jolly (1986, 146) says that Locke's primary concern is to establish this. For Locke, "there are no natural kinds independently of our own minds" (149). For more about natural kinds, see Dupre (1993) and Kornblith (1995).

(21.) Bolton (1995, 278). Uzgalis (1988, 338) says that for Locke "individuals do not have necessary properties."

(22.) Ayers (1991, 89) suggests that individuation is, for Locke, sortal relative.

(23.) This "and" is redundant, since identity conditions are modal constraints. Sidelle (1989, 54) agrees, speaking of "modally packed identity conditions."

(24.) Heller (1990, 31). For reasons explained in the text of the paper, Heller is not a magical antirealist.

(25.) See especially Heller (1990, 31 and 57).

(26.) That is challenged in Zimmerman (1995).

(27.) See especially Heller (1990, 31 and 57).

(28.) Rejecting the Quinean reading of Locke, Chappell (1990, 23) suggests that Locke subscribes to the "doctrine of double existence" for masses of matter and organisms. Locke seems to accept mereological essentialism for masses of matter, though not for organisms. And it is not plausible that our individuative conventions make it the case that such essentialism obtains.

(29.) There is infighting among hunk theorists as to the exact modal properties of hunks. See Jubien (1993).

(30.) James R. Oestreich, "The Musical Chairs of the Julliard Quartet," The New York Times, October 29, 1997, p. B1.

(31.) Relativism, so conceived, is not committed to a sortal relativization of identity. Olson (1997, 156) rightly observes that few if any relativists appear to endorse the relative-identity thesis.

(32.) For more on this and related themes, see Chappell (1971-2).

(33.) Italics ours.

(34.) Jubien thinks that a region of space-time is a set of points. Sets, for sure, have modal properties.

(35.) More needs to be said about the modal conventionalist theme in magical anti-realism. There are many good things in Shalkowski (1996) and Pap (1958).

(36.) For their good comments, we thank Alan Sidelle and Joe Levine.


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Author:Carter, William R.; Bahde, John E.
Publication:American Philosophical Quarterly
Date:Oct 1, 1998
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