Philosophical Studies

, Volume 176, Issue 3, pp 581–606 | Cite as

The intelligibility of metaphysical structure

  • Peter FinocchiaroEmail author


Theories that posit metaphysical structure are able to do much work in philosophy. Some, however, find the notion of ‘metaphysical structure’ unintelligible. In this paper, I argue that their charge of unintelligibility fails. There is nothing distinctively problematic about the notion. At best, their charge of unintelligibility is a mere reiteration of previous complaints made toward similar notions. In developing their charge, I clarify several important concepts, including primitiveness, intelligibility, and the Armstrong-inspired “ontologism” view of the world. I argue that, ultimately, their charge is best understood as an objection whose central premise is that the notion of ‘structure’ runs contrary to an important presupposition of contemporary metaphysics. But that central premise is, on closer inspection, implausible. I respond to the objection by identifying three popular metaphysical theories that violate the alleged presupposition but are still generally regarded as intelligible. The objection thus fails to show that a theory that posits metaphysical structure is unintelligible.


Metametaphysics Ideology Ontologism Primitiveness Definability Quantification Modal actualism Stuff 



Thanks to Robert Audi, Paul Blaschko, Kate Finley, Geoffrey Hall, Felipe Miguel, Samuel Murray, Alex Rausch, Benjamin Rossi, Margaret Schmidt, David Squires, Jeffrey Tolly, and the audience at my 2017 Central APA session for helpful discussion. Thanks to Nathaniel Baron-Schmitt, Matteo Bianchetti, Andrew Brenner, Rebecca Chan, Callie K. Phillips, Jeff Speaks, Meghan Sullivan, and Jason Turner for their feedback on earlier drafts of this paper. Special thanks belong to Michael Rea, who was invaluable at every stage of this paper’s development. Finally, many thanks to an anonymous referee for their insightful and plenitudinous feedback.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Notre DameNotre DameUSA

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