Two Related World Views


Edward N. Zalta


Noûs, 29/2, 1995, 189--211


During the past two decades, the late Hector-Neri Castañeda developed a theory of guises, and applied that theory to the analysis of thought, language, and the structure of the world. Castañeda was deeply impressed by the uniformity of our thought processes, and in particular, by the fact that thoughts about existing objects were fundamentally similar in nature to thoughts about fictions. This impression had such a hold upon his imagination that he concluded that all of the objects of thought, i.e., all of the objects about which we think, are on an ontological par. He postulated a basic realm of such objects, which he called `guises', and analyzed thought and language as primarily about guises. Indeed, he went one step further, and supposed that ordinary objects such as people, tables, chairs, etc., which we confront everyday in our perceptions, were nothing more than systems of such guises. Clearly, if the world consists of (systems of) guises, then thoughts about guises just are thoughts about the world. This is how Castañeda unified his metaphysics.

As imaginative and fascinating as it is, however, guise theory has come up against a wide range of criticisms. One of the most challenging critiques was offered by Plantinga. Plantinga puts his finger squarely on some fundamental intuitions that guise theory gives up, and develops several objections to the guise-theoretic world view as a whole. In this paper, the author uses Plantinga's criticisms as a guide in order to compare the theory of abstract objects with Castañneda's guise theory. The two thheories can be fruitfully compared because they share a common intellectual heritage---both follow Ernst Mally [1912] in postulating a special realm of objects distinguished by their `internal' or `encoded' properties. Despite this common heritage, however, the theories organize, develop, and apply these special objects in distinctive ways. The two metaphysical systems, therefore, differ significantly, and these differences become important when one considers Plantinga's critique of guise theory. In this essay, the author shows that the theory of abstract objects anticipates and addresses most of Plantinga's concerns about guise theory, by preserving intuitions guise theory has abandoned.

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