Review of Philosophy and Psychology

, Volume 7, Issue 1, pp 197–221 | Cite as

Debunking Rationalist Defenses of Common-Sense Ontology: An Empirical Approach

  • Robert Carry OsborneEmail author


Debunking arguments typically attempt to show that a set of beliefs or other intensional mental states (e.g., intuitions) bear no appropriate explanatory connection to the facts they purport to be about. That is, a debunking argument will attempt to show that beliefs about p are not held because of the facts about p. Such beliefs, if true, would then only be accidentally so. Thus, their causal origins constitute an undermining defeater. Debunking arguments arise in various philosophical domains, targeting beliefs about morality, the existence of God, logic, and others. They have also arisen in material-object metaphysics, often aimed at debunking common-sense ontology. And while most of these arguments feature appeals to ‘biological and cultural contingencies’ that are ostensibly responsible for our beliefs about which kinds of objects exist, few (if any) of them take a serious look at what those contingencies might actually be. The purpose of this paper is twofold. First, to remedy this by providing empirical substantiation for a key premise in these debunking arguments by examining data from cognitive science, evolutionary biology, and developmental psychology that support a ‘debunking explanation’ of our common-sense beliefs and intuitions about which objects exist. Second, to argue that such data also undermines a particular kind of rationalist defense of common-sense ontology, sometimes employed as a response to the debunking threat.


True Belief Natural Kind Perceptual Grouping Ordinary Object Rationalist Defense 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Special thanks to Zach Horne, Kristin Seemuth Whaley, David Mark Kovacs, John Hummel, and especially Dan Korman for discussing, reading, and/or giving comments on the paper. Thanks to everyone else with whom I have discussed the paper. Thanks also to an anonymous referee and an editor for this journal for their comments that helped me greatly in refining and improving the paper.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Northwestern UniversityUrbanaUSA

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