This is the argument I will be looking at, which is taken from chapter one of Williamson’s book. I know other posts touch on this, but when I was reading this just struck me as being a bit off.
- If we do not know whether or not there are elusive objects, then we should not adopt a conception of philosophy that on methodological grounds excludes elusive objects.
- We do not know whether or not there are elusive objects.
- Therefore, we should not adopt a conception of philosophy that on methodological grounds excludes elusive objects.
Why would we not adopt a conception of philosophy that on methodological grounds excludes elusive objects? Because perhaps there is a chance that they exist? Williamson states “what reason have we to assume that reality does not contain elusive objects? Can we be sure that ordinary material objects do not consist of clouds of elusive sub-sub atomic clouds?” What reason have we not to think sub-sub atomic pink fairies exist? Could we just insert “sub-sub atomic pink fairies” into Williamson’s argument? More to the point, if such “sub-sub atomic clouds” actually existed, it seems pretty clear that no philosopher (in the traditional sense of the word) would be in a position to find them. This clearly seems like a job for science. If that is the case, then why not adopt a conception of philosophy that on methodological grounds excludes elusive objects, and then, if the need arises, modify it as empirical verification dictates.
So what would motivate the claim that there are no “sub-sub atomic clouds”? How about all scientific observations up to September 16, 2007? We do not know conclusively that they do not exist, but could we ever? What evidence would be sufficient to show that reality does not contain elusive objects? This strikes me as one of those “if there is no counterfactual evidence possible, then the statement has no significance” (I think said by Antony Flew) kind of things.
Williamson also states that “perhaps they are incapable of being individually thought of… only collectively”. Perhaps, but perhaps not. This whole point seems wildly speculative, so I’m not sure why the opposite couldn’t be a possibility as well, i.e. why it isn’t possible that they could be individually thought of.
I’m aware that the potential for something existing might be sufficient for us not rule it out, but I think there are better (scientific) reasons to think that there aren’t such things as “sub-sub atomic clouds”, namely all empirical evidence. Thus the proper attitude seems to be proceeding under the assumption that there aren’t such things, or at least not making their inclusion in our philosophical methodology mandatory as Williamson suggests.
(I'm also grossly uninformed about metaphysics in general, so if this post is way of the map, my apologies.)