This paper seeks to answer the following question: What is a minimal set of entities that form an ontology of the natural world, given our well-established physical theories? The proposal is that the following two axioms are sufficient to obtain such a minimalist ontology: (1) There are distance relations that individuate simple objects, namely matter points. (2) The matter points are permanent, with the distances between them changing. I sketch out how one can obtain our well-established physical theories on the basis of just these two axioms. The argument for minimalism in ontology then is that it yields all the explanations that one can reasonably demand in science and philosophy, while avoiding the drawbacks that come with a richer ontology.
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A first version of this paper was presented at the conference “New trends in the metaphysics of science” in Paris in December 2015. I’m grateful to the participants for their feedback, to Max Kistler for the invitation to submit the paper to this special issue, and to three anonymous referees for their helpful comments. The programme set out in this paper is worked out in the book A minimalist ontology of the natural world, co-authored by Michael Esfeld and Dirk-André Deckert, forthcoming with Routledge in autumn 2017. Apart from the many discussions with Dirk-André Deckert, the view expressed in this paper is influenced by the work with my collaborators Mario Hubert, Dustin Lazarovici, Andrea Oldofredi and Antonio Vassallo.
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Esfeld, M. A proposal for a minimalist ontology. Synthese 197, 1889–1905 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11229-017-1426-8