Abstract Entities: 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Abstract Entities

1st Edition

By Sam Cowling


282 pages

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Paperback: 9781138827592
pub: 2017-02-17
Hardback: 9781138827585
pub: 2017-02-21
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pub: 2017-02-03
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Think of a number, any number, or properties like fragility and humanity. These and other abstract entities are radically different from concrete entities like electrons and elbows. While concrete entities are located in space and time, have causes and effects, and are known through empirical means, abstract entities like meanings and possibilities are remarkably different. They seem to be immutable and imperceptible and to exist "outside" of space and time.

This book provides a comprehensive critical assessment of the problems raised by abstract entities and the debates about existence, truth, and knowledge that surround them. It sets out the key issues that inform the metaphysical disagreement between platonists who accept abstract entities and nominalists who deny abstract entities exist. Beginning with the essentials of the platonist–nominalist debate, it explores the key arguments and issues informing the contemporary debate over abstract reality:

  • arguments for platonism and their connections to semantics, science, and metaphysical explanation
  • the abstract–concrete distinction and views about the nature of abstract reality
  • epistemological puzzles surrounding our knowledge of mathematical entities and other abstract entities.
  • arguments for nominalism premised upon concerns about paradox, parsimony, infinite regresses, underdetermination, and causal isolation
  • nominalist options that seek to dispense with abstract entities.

Including chapter summaries, annotated further reading, and a glossary, Abstract Entities is essential reading for anyone seeking a clear and authoritative introduction to the problems raised by abstract entities.


'This is a terrific book, and the first full-length introduction to this fascinating topic. Writing in an accessible and student-friendly style, Sam Cowling presents a thorough and systematic presentation of the metaphysical, semantic and epistemological issues raised by abstract entities. Highly recommended!' - Christopher Daly, University of Manchester, UK

'In this impressive book Sam Cowling provides both a clear introduction to the debate over abstract entities, and a careful examination of the platonist position. He is scrupulously fair to both sides, conceding much to the combination of nominalism with realism about possibilities.' - Peter Forrest, University of New England, Australia

'One of the most important problems in philosophy is whether there are abstract objects - such as numbers, properties and propositions. Sam Cowling does a superb job in introducing the debates and problems around this issue. The book is written very clearly and shows an excellent command of the literature. Highly recommended.' - Gonzalo Rodriguez-Pereyra, University of Oxford, UK

"Readers should come away from Cowling’s excellent book appreciating the merits and the plausibility of contemporary platonism, even if they disagree with some of the details. It is largely written for those at home with analytic metaphysics and epistemology. Philosophers of mathematics have overlapping interests, so will learn lots from this fine book." - James Robert Brown, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada

Table of Contents


1. The Case for Platonism

2. The Abstract-Concrete Distinction

3. Paradox, Parsimony, and Infinite Regresses

4. Causal Concerns

5. Non-uniqueness

6. Modal Objections

7. Nominalist Options





About the Author

Sam Cowling is Assistant Professor, Denison University, USA.

About the Series

New Problems of Philosophy

New Problems of Philosophy

Series Editor: José Luis Bermúdez, Texas A&M University

'Routledge's New Problems of Philosophy series has a most impressive line-up of topical volumes aimed at upper-level undergraduate and graduate students in philosophy and at others with interests in cutting edge philosophical work. The authors are influential figures in their respective fields and notably adept at synthesizing and explaining intricate topics fairly and comprehensively.' - John Heil, Monash University, Australia, and Washington University, St Louis, USA

'This is an outstanding collection of volumes. The topics are well chosen and the authors are outstanding. They will be fine texts in a wide range of courses.' - Stephen Stich, Rutgers University, USA

The New Problems of Philosophy series provides accessible and engaging surveys of the most important problems in contemporary philosophy. Each book examines a topic or theme that has emerged on the philosophical landscape in recent years, or that is a longstanding problem refreshed in light of recent work in philosophy and related disciplines. Clearly explaining the nature of the problem at hand and assessing attempts to answer it, books in the series are excellent starting-points for undergraduate and graduate students wishing to study a single topic in depth. They will also be essential reading for professional philosophers. Additional features include chapter summaries, further reading, and a glossary of technical terms.

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