Sunday, September 30, 2007
For example, we can consider "Mars" as being a non-vague entity, as "Mars" clearly refers to a finite entity. However, things like "Mount Everest," etc. are considered "vague" entities, as there is no definitive Mount Everest (as TW mentions in the first paragraph).
In this sense, the problem seems to be with language, as we use the term "Object" or "Extension," or "Predicate" to apply to two distinctly different categories of things, both vague and non-vague, when they have distinctly different properties and differing ontologies. We just tend to apply vague predicates and treat their truth values the same way we would non-vague predicates, even though they are very different things and it is not clear we should do so.
To illustrate, we can consider a vague predicate versus a non-vague predicate. Let's consider the two predicates, "is dry," and, "has 5 water molecules." Both descriptors refer to the exact same planet at the same time, though one is vague and the other not. The state of affairs of the world is not vague, as it can be described by the latter definite description, and follows all of the usual, "Either Mars has 5 water molecules or it does not have 5 water molecules" and the like. It is only when we take the vague predicate, "is dry" and try to apply it to the world as we would a definite description, that things start to become complicated.
So (I think) what I am saying is that in the case of the predicate "is dry" The only reason the sentence, "Mars is always dry or not dry," is difficult to ascribe a truth value to is not because the world is vague, just that it is our general tendency to apply descriptors and concieve of things in ways that are useful for practical reasons (just as the term "Mount Everest" serves practical purposes) rather than encoded with definitive meanings. It's not the world that is the problem -- the world is as it is, with finite properties -- but rather it is our way of thinking/talking about the world that runs us into the difficulties that we encounter with the "Original Question." Or that's probably what TW was saying, I'm not sure anymore.
I think I'm on board with this "thought and talk" method of "serious" philosophy, but only because of footnote #14, and the sentence that preceeds it. Mainly because I don't want to admit to having a short attention span.
This is the argument which I will be looking at, which is found at the beginning of chapter two, and is then reiterated later on page 22/23. I will present a counter argument, which I think Williamson rejects to hastily, and discuss why I think the objection works.
1) If vagueness derives from our thought and talk about the world rather than the world itself, then attempts to solve problems of vagueness should focus on thought and talk.
2) Vagueness derives from our thought and talk about the world rather than the world itself.
3) Therefore attempts to solve problems of vagueness should focus on our thought and talk rather than the world itself.
4) If what constitutes
5) What constitutes
6) Therefore, the world itself can be vague.
I think premise (2) could be denied (as I have tried to show with my counter argument) or at least it not always the case that (2). I am aware that Williamson says that these types of things (like
If there are vague predicates, and the extension of a predicate is the set of things which it applies to, then could it not follow that the predicate is vague in virtue of its extension being vague? I’m not confused about the word ‘dry’ and the words ‘not dry’, but if the extension of the original question is by no means verifiable, that is, no such evidence that would make the extension of the original question true or false, then it seems to me that the problem is with the world, and that that is why our thought or talk about it ends up being vague. I think that perhaps the vagueness of the object just gets filtered up through language. To be more precise, the way we speak about something as being vague reflects the vagueness of the thing itself.
1. If the new original question means the same as the original question then the original question can be changed to “Was Mars always either dry or wet?”
2. The new original question means the same as the original question.
3. Therefore the original question can be changed to “Was Mars always either dry or wet?”
4. If the original question can be changed to “Was Mars always either dry or wet?” then answering the original question in the negative is not a contradiction.
5. Therefore answering the original question in the negative is not a contradiction.
Williamson may be able to respond by denying premise 2 of the argument. To show how Williamson could respond more clearly I will change the original question to something easier to quantify. I will change it to “Was Mars always either below zero degrees or not below zero degrees?” Let us assume that Mars does reach above and below zero degrees. To answer this question in the negative would be to say that Mars is both not below zero degrees and not not below zero degrees, which is a contradiction. Thus I will change the question from “Was Mars always either below zero degrees or not below zero degrees?” to “Was Mars always either below zero degrees or above zero degrees?” These two questions are not the same because the second question has a middle, namely zero degrees. Therefore X and its opposite are not the same as X and ~X. Below zero or not below zero is smaller than 0 or greater than or equal to 0, while below zero or above zero is smaller than 0 or greater than 0. Some may deny this line of argument for a term such as ‘dry’, or say that ‘dryness’ can not be quantified.
1. If it was once indefinite whether Mars was dry then it is indefinite whether Mars was always either dry or not dry
2. It was once indefinite whether Mars was dry
3. It is indefinite whether Mars was always either dry or not dry
This argument uses the basic rule of modus ponens ‘If P then Q. P, therefore Q’. The first premise is valid; that is, if something was indefinitely some thing at one point in time then it could not have been always been that thing. The second premise merely states that the first component of the first premise exists, and thus naturally its second component must also exist. Using the same structure from the first argument, let us consider what would happen if we substituted ‘Mars’ with ‘2+2=4’ and ‘dry’ with ‘true’.
1. If it was once indefinite whether ‘2+2=4’ was ‘true’ then it is indefinite whether ‘2+2=4’ was always either ‘true’ or not ‘true’
2. It was once indefinite whether ‘2+2=4’ was ‘true’
3. It is indefinite whether ‘2+2=4’ was always either ‘true’ or not ‘true’
The first premise uses the same logic again and therefore must maintain its validity. Since the proposition ‘2+2=4’ is a necessary truth, we can also substitute ‘2+2=4’ with ‘necessary truth’. While the second premise may have difficulty in obtaining support, it is easy to provide a time in history where indeed it might have once been indefinite whether the addition of two and two could have equalled four or that any other necessary truth is true for that matter. With that, we are left with the concluding premise that is false. We do know that ‘2+2=4’ or that any necessary truths were never indefinitely true, but always true, regardless of our beliefs in them. While both arguments may be valid in their structure, the second is obviously not sound, which casts doubt unto the soundness of the first.
Here is a reconstruction of a sound and valid argument one could use in favour of the original proposition:
1. At any given time, If Mars can never be both dry and not dry, then it may only be either dry or not dry.
2. At any given time, Mars can never be both dry and not dry
3. Therefore, at any given time, Mars must either be dry or not dry
Since this argument structure emulates that of a logical truth, it necessarily follows that either Mars is either dry or not dry at any given point of time. The ‘at any given point of time’ component was added to satisfy the temporal condition of ‘was’. It could also be used to satisfy an ‘is’ component if the example were taking specifically about a present example, as opposed to one being used from the past.
Saturday, September 29, 2007
This is the argument that Williamson gives in point 3, pg. 22:
(1) The original question is not about thought or language
(2) To answer the original question you have to assess rival theories of vagueness in thought and language.
(3) We cannot get an appropriate answer from doing (2)
(4) Therefore, the original question is surreptitiously about thought or language.
It seems that (4) doesn’t follow from (1), (2) and (3), because it seems the case that you could exchange it with (4a) and it would seem to be true.
(4a) Therefore, the original question, because it is a question and not a statement, cannot be philosophically analyzed.
Also it seems that (2) isn’t definitely true. If this is the case then it doesn’t matter that (3) because we could find a different way of answering it or if we accept (4a) then answering the original question doesn’t tell us anything.
I’m really not sure on any of this, I just find it weird that Williamson feels he needs this argument to conclude that the original question is secretly about thought or language because then he is accepting premise (3); that we will never be able to answer it appropriately, which kind of seems like a copout.
I could also be taking this totally wrong because I just don’t know enough of the background yet to comment on his second point in chapter 2.
Friday, September 28, 2007
1) ‘Δ’ has the same kind of semantics as ‘~’, both are given by a many-valued truth table.
2) If (1), then (3).
3) ‘Δ’ is no more a metalinguistic symbol than ‘~’ is.
4) ~P is about whatever P is about (which is not metalinguistic).
5) If (3)&(4), then (6).
6) ΔP is about whatever P is about (which is not metalinguistic).
7) P is indefinite iff ~ ΔP.
8) If (4)&(6)&(7), then (C).
C) Replying to the question ‘Is Mars dry?’ by saying ‘indefinite’ is not a metalinguistic response; it is a response about Mars.
I deny (1). Though it is true that the semantics of both Δ and ~ are given by a many-valued truth table, it is false that Δ has the same kind of semantics as ~. Accepting Δ into the object language leads to semantic paradox, whereas accepting ~ alone into the object language is innocuous. To see why, consider the following sentence:
i) ‘The proposition expressed by (i) is indefinite.’
Now, by (7) to assert (~ ΔP) is to assert (P is indefinite) so the sentence (i) is equivalent to ‘~ Δ the proposition expressed by (i)’.
But, on Williamson’s proposed semantics for ‘Δ’,
if (i) is true, then (i) is false;
if (i) is false, then (i) is true;
and if (i) is intermediately valued, then (i) is false.
In all three cases, whether one adheres to a bivalent semantics or one of the many-valued semantics canvassed by Williamson, having ‘Δ’ as a symbol in the object language allows one to construct paradoxical sentences that appear to be both true and not-true. The standard solution here would be to say that we can only use ‘Δ’ metalinguistically. However, this approach is not open to Williamson given his argument. Another possible save would be to accept dileathism, the view that sentences/propositions can be both true and false. But this seems like an extreme concession. He could also argue that sentences like (i) are in some sense illegitimate sentences. While this move seems initially attractive it is notoriously hard to support, as has been demonstrated in the discussion surrounding the traditional liar’s paradox. In sum, if Williamson wants to retain his point when formulating his argument in terms of 'Δ', it appears that he will have to make some serious foundational concessions.
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Here's the checklist of similarity:
(1) There are concrete things: check. (duh)
(2) There are also abstract things: check.
(3) These abstract things exist in a publicly accessible domain: check.
(4) These abstract things are not mind-dependent: check? P:check. M:tentative check?
(5) These abstract things are the objects of thought: check.
(6) When we speak we express a token of the type: check.
(7) Do we token when we think, or do we interact with the type directly? I don't know what either says about this.
Chris, or anyone for that matter, please tell us we haven't regressed a few thousand years. What's the difference?
Also, I'm guessing Fregianism denies (4), and maybe (3). Correct?
Monday, September 24, 2007
Sunday, September 23, 2007
My comment paper is in regards to the Sorites paradox (i.e. what the heck is a heap?) and one of the proposed solutions mentioned in "The Era of Specialization."
1) A single grain of sand by itself is not a heap of sand
2) If one has something that is not a heap of sand, and one adds a single grain of sand to it, it is still not a heap of sand
Since the term "heap" is a vague predicate, it would seem that there is no exact dividing line between heaps of sand and non-heaps of sand. However, this taken with #2 seems to suggest that no matter how many grains of sand one adds, it will never sufficiently constitute a heap, which seems odd to say.
Several positions on the Sorites paradox are mentioned, but I have chosen the view that makes the least sense to me, namely, the degree-of-truth-and-application views. This view is that "the application of a vague predicate is not an all or nothing affair, but comes in degrees, as does the truth claims made using such a predicate..."
So essentially, as I understand it: "On a scale of one to ten, the truth value of saying "yes" to the phrase 'this pile is a heap of sand,' is 3."
It seems odd to say, that something is “sort of” a heap of sand, and moreover this just splits the problem down further. For, if a predicate comes in degrees, then it would seem difficult to discern between the varying degrees. Where does one draw the line to which something is a heap to a lesser degree, until the point in which it no longer becomes a heap? If something is definitely not a heap at one grain of sand, and still definitely not a heap at two grains of sand but a heap to a greater degree than just one grain, where is the exact point in which there is a distinct “heap” of sand present, equal to the degree of certainty that we can clearly state as being the case when we assert that one grain of sand is definitely not a heap of sand?
(Also, the statement “two grains of sand is not a heap, but is more a heap than one grain of sand” doesn’t seem to make sense in itself, because two grains of sand is clearly no more of a heap than one grain. Though it is closer to having enough grains of sand to be a heap, it is still no closer to being a heap in and of itself than the one grain of sand.)
1. Essential properties of objects are defined as notions of necessity
2. Necessity is conveyed by predicates (i.e. the application to sentences; … is a necessary truth) or by use of the operator (i.e. the attachment to sentences; it is necessary that …)
3. Thus, for any applicable choice of a term t that refers to or describes o it is necessary that if t exists, then t is F.
Quine’s response to this argument attacks the concluding third premise, stating that by observing any object o, that there are some terms t that refer to o which make the sentence ‘It is necessary that if t exists, then t is F’ true or false depending on its context. So it is this relation that Quine rests his counterargument upon. Here is his counterexample:
1. Mathematicians are necessarily rational
2. Mathematicians are not necessarily two-legged
3. Cyclists are necessarily two-legged
4. Cyclists are not necessarily rational
5. There are individuals who consider themselves as both mathematicians and cyclists
6. Thus, there are properties that can be necessary or contingent relative to how you are describing the individual
However, the next question need be asked is what of considering o by itself and exclusive from any characterizations? While none of the readings are suggestive of any aiding theories, I would argue that this Quine’s rebuttal in itself is not enough to refute essentialism in its entirety. If we are inquiring about a specific individual and his properties, are we not comparing all of them in relation to himself, as he is, and none of his particular identities? There clearly are many objects and individuals in which properties are both clearly and distinctly essential or contingent; which seems counterintuitive to Quine’s reasoning.
Even with the case of considering multiple identities into one example it would be redundant to consider every case in such a way. Conceivably, you may add every type of attribute that that thing or person is (i.e. The individual is a mathematician, cyclist, female, blue-eyed, mother, etc.) as opposed to, in retrospect, just considering one identity or one type of thing at a time.
Williamson argues for the conclusion that “[w]e should adopt no conception of philosophy that on methodological grounds excludes elusive objects.”
1. If it is possible that reality contains elusive objects then it is possible that not everything is thinkable.
2. If it is possible that not everything is thinkable then “[w]e should adopt no conception of philosophy that on methodological grounds excludes elusive objects.”
3. It is possible that reality contains elusive objects.
4. Therefore it is possible that not everything is thinkable.
5. Therefore “[w]e should adopt no conception of philosophy that on methodological grounds excludes elusive objects.”
A criticism one could give to this argument is to deny the 2nd premise, on the grounds that there is no evidence that there are elusive objects and therefore it is more likely that there are no elusive objects, and everything is thinkable. Thus, just because it is possible that not everything is thinkable does not mean “[w]e should adopt no conception of philosophy that on methodological grounds excludes elusive objects”, since there is no evidence that elusive objects exist.
6. If there is no evidence that elusive objects exist then we should not abandon conceptions of philosophy that on methodological grounds excludes elusive objects.
7. There is no evidence that elusive objects exist.
8. Therefore we should not abandon conceptions of philosophy that on methodological grounds excludes elusive objects.
This criticism does not work because premise 6 is false. McDowell’s argument requires the premise that everything is thinkable. Just there being a logical possibility, (no matter how unlikely) is enough so that McDowell can not claim the premise that everything is thinkable.
- If the sense designated by a sign is it's reference, then any two signs that have the same reference designate the same sense.
- 'Mata Hari' and 'Margaretha Zelle' have the same reference, but do not designate the same sense.
- If (2), then it is false that any two signs that have the same reference designate the same sense.
- So, it is false that any signs that have the same reference designate the same sense.
~q (3,2) MP
- Therefore, it is false that the sense designated by a sign is it's reference.
The Argument Again With Some Different Words:
- If the information content encoded by a singular term is it's extension, then any two singular terms that have the same extension encode the same information.
- 'Mata Hari' and 'Margaretha Zelle' have the same extension, but do not encode the same information.
- If (2), then it is false that any two singular terms that have the same extension encode the same information.
- So, it is false that any singular terms that have the same extension encode the same information.
~q (3,2) MP
- Therefore, it is false that the information content encoded by a singular term is it's extension.
So, what to say about this... Either I can deny (1), (2), or both. If I deny (2), then 'Mata Hari' and 'Margaretha Zelle' do not have the same extension, that is that they do not have the same referent @ w, this is assuming that both terms are rigid and not flaceid (on some construe of flaceidity?) and that a singular terms extension is the referent. If I deny (1) , then I have to deny the consequent, (i.e. assert (4)). That it is false that any two singular terms that have the same extension encode the same information. Honestly, I still (yep been thinking about this for a while now...) haven't decided which I prefer. Big problem. I'll jump off the fence soon enough, hopefully.
1. If conceptualist accepts Russellianism then the conceptualist will analyze propositional conceptual structure and not other nonconceptual structure.
2. If the conceptual turn analyzes everything philosophy should analyze then philosophy should not analyze nonconceptual structure.
3. It is false that philosophy should not analyze nonconceptual structure.
4. Therefore it is false the conceptual turn analyzes everything philosophy should analyze.
5. Therefore it is false that one can accept the conceptual turn if one accepts Russellianism.
A criticism one could give to this argument is to deny the 3rd premise. However, mereological and chemical structure are nonconceptual structures, thus to deny that philosophy should analyze nonconceptual structure is to deny that philosophy should analyze mereological and chemical structures. Williamson argues “that philosophy can appropriately investigate general features of nonconceptual structure too, such as the mereological structure of physical objects.”
6. If philosophy should not analyze nonconceptual structure then philosophy should not analyze mereological or chemical structure.
7. It is false that philosophy should not analyze mereological or chemical structure.
8. Therefore it is false that philosophy should not analyze nonconceptual structure.
(i) A term is a rigid designator if it picks out the same property, n in all possible world-states in which the object o containing that property exists.
(ii) A property P is essential to an object o when the claim it is necessary that if o exists then o is P, is true
(iii) If n is a rigid designator of o, and F is a predicate expressing the property P, then the claim that P is an essential property of o is the equivalent to the claim it is necessary that if n exists, then n is F.
(iv) There will be some terms t that refer to o which make the sentence it is necessary that if t exists, then t is F false.
(v) There is no principled, non- arbitrary way of selecting, for an arbitrary object o and property P, what sort of term t should be used to underwrite claims to the effect that o did, or did not, have P essentially.
(vi) So, objects have or lack properties essentially only relative to ways of describing them.
I think that there is a problem with premise (iv). It is necessary that if I, Natalie exist, then I am a human. This is true because it is the case that in all possible worlds, to be considered Natalie, it is a necessary property to be human. I could also say that it is necessary that if I exist, then I have a dog named Arthur. This is false because it could be the case that in some possible world I do not have a dog, or I have a dog and his name is Bob, etc. This tells me that the property of having a dog named Arthur is not an essential property of being Natalie. So then having a dog named Arthur is not a rigid designator of Natalie.
Quine’s example gives two separate properties to an individual i, that make the sentence it is necessary that if t exists, then t is F false. It goes like this:
Let i be some individual who is both a brilliant mathematician and a champion cyclist, and suppose that the world’s greatest mathematician and the world’s greatest cyclist both designate i. Then (a) is false.
(a) it is necessary that: if the world’s greatest mathematician exists, then the world’s greatest mathematician is two-legged.
So, premise (iv) seems correct in claiming that there are some instances where the sentence it is necessary that if t exists, then t is F is false.
There seems to be something fishy with this example; if i is an individual that is rigidly designated by the properties brilliant mathematician and champion cyclist then wouldn’t (a) be true because if the world’s greatest mathematician is a champion cyclist, then it follows that the world’s greatest mathematician is two legged. So, I think that Quine’s example doesn’t necessarily prove premise (iv).
A) any philosophical problem is equivalent to a conceptual/linguistic problem
B) B -> C
C) any philosophical problem is about concepts/language
1) if any sort of problem solved by examining concepts/language then it is a conceptual/linguistic problem
2) philosophical problems are solved by examining concepts/language
3) philosophical problems are conceptual/linguistic problems
Williamson seems to deny both (A) and (B), as well as (1). I'll concentrate on the response to the second argument.
The philosophical problem on the table is to decide the truth value (or lack thereof) of (M):
(M) Mars was always either dry or not dry
It's clear that (given mars dried gradually over time) no amount of empirical data will either confirm or deny (M). For simplicity, suppose all relevant data has already been collected. (M) is clearly about Mars and it's dryness or lack of dryness. To support this, Williamson notes that no metalinguistic or metaconceptual terminology appears in (M). However all proposed solutions to the problem involve analysis of the concepts or language involved(mostly analysis on the meta-logical level), what gives? To deny that this is a problem, Williamson takes an ordinary example from outside of philosophy and gives an argument.
4) When deciding a court verdict, consideration about thought/language are often brought into account. Irregardless, in a criminal case Guilt or Innocence of the defendant is the main issue, not language or concepts.
5) (4) -> (6)
A proponent of the linguistic/conceptual turn can simply assert that (2) -> (3) in response (and retain soundess of the previous argument). They can accept analysis in language and thought from other disciplines, but it's philosophy they're concerned with. Should they be sticklers about it, they can assert that the role of linguistic or conceptual analysis is clear in those other cases, but seems to be unusually dominant in the case of philosophy. Williamson's explanation as to what exactly we're up to when ascending to the metalinguistic/conceptual level can be seen as a response:
8) analysis of language & concepts help us decide what inferences are valid when discussing issues other than language & thought
9) (8) -> ~(3)
12) ~ ((2) -> (3))
A little motivation for (9) is needed. Basically, given (8) the role of linguistic/conceptual analysis in philosophy is explained in many cases (and that role is NOT to be subject matter). If this is so, then the motivation for accepting (3) is defeated, since we only accepted (3) in the first place because of the large unexplained role of linguistic/conceptual analysis in philosophy.
A possible response would be to deny (9). After all, (8) does not show that (3) is false. If some other motivation for accepting (3) were found, this argument would not cover it. Personally, this seems hand-wavey to me. As far as I can tell, Williamson has a pretty strong point in this chapter.
Thursday, September 20, 2007
1) For any philosophical thesis X and any philosophical system/framework/model S, If intuition points to X being true and a seemingly coherent system S has been constructed that “incorporates” X, then if a skeptic is to legitimately object to X, he/she needs to offer reasons for thinking that S is incoherent or that X is false.
2) (1) -> (3) If intuition suggests that Kripkean essentialism (KE) is true and the seemingly coherent Kripkean modal framework (KMF) has been constructed, which “incorporates” Kripkean essentialism, then if a skeptic is to legitimately object to Kripkean essentialism, he/she needs to offer reasons for thinking that the Kripkean modal framework is incoherent or that Kripkean essentialism is false.
3) If intuition suggests that KE is true and the seemingly coherent system KMF has been constructed, which and “incorporates” KE, then if a skeptic is to legitimately object to KE, he/she needs to offer reasons for thinking that the KMF is incoherent or that KE is false.
4) Intuition suggests that KE is true, and a seemingly coherent system, namely KMF, has been constructed that “incorporates” KE.
5) [(3)&(4)] -> (6) If a skeptic is to legitimately object to KE, he/she needs to offer reasons for thinking that KMF is incoherent or that KE is false.
6) If a skeptic is to legitimately object to KE, he/she needs to offer reasons for thinking that KMF is incoherent or that KE is false.
7) The Quineans’ objection to KE (that rigid designation demands explanation) is an objection based on general (or external) skepticism that fails to show that the KMF is incoherent.
8) The Quineans’ objection to KE does not show that KE is false (and, strictly speaking, the Quineans do not presume to have shown that KE is false).
9) [(6)&(7)&(8)] -> (10) It is false that Quineans have legitimately objected to KE. [This follows from an application of Modus Tollens and DeMorgans Law, since the consequent of (6) is (not-(7) or not-(8)).]
10) It is false that Quineans have legitimately objected to KE.
11) For all objections O (to a theory X), if O is a legitimate objection (an objection in keeping with standards we must recognize) that skeptics have raised against a theory X and has been successfully rebutted, or O is illegitimate, then X has been successfully defended.
12) If the Quinean objection is a legitimate objection (an objection in keeping with standards we must recognize) that skeptics have raised against KE and has been successfully rebutted, or the Quinean objection is illegitimate, then KE has been successfully defended. [Instantiation of (11)]
13) [(10)&(12)]-> KE has been successfully defended.
14) KE has been successfully defended.
In this reconstruction, my primary concerns are the general methodological considerations that Soames invokes, (1) and (11). My main objection to (1) is that the assumption of its antecedent does not ground its consequent conditional, namely, that ‘if a skeptic is to legitimately object to X, he/she needs to offer reasons for thinking that S is incoherent or that X is false’. It seems to me that one can legitimately object to a philosophical position without showing the system it is embedded in to be incoherent *or*, alternately, without showing that it is false directly. Amongst other ways, one can also object to a philosophical position if it is foundationally lacking. This, I take it, is one of the Quineans main points against KE. Kripke’s theory of naming, and hence rigid designation, is not sufficiently worked out. While I do not endorse this Quinean contention (the “description theory” of names that Quineans are relying on is not exactly firm bedrock), I think that Soames’ methodological constraints are too strong. There are other ways to object to philosophical positions.
My uneasiness with (11) then is parallel to my worry regarding (1). Simply stated, I am unsure that Soames and I have the same idea of what ‘standards’ an objection is to meet for it to be legitimate. Certainly, internalist objections, coherency objections and worries of falsehood are some of the weightier objections to a theory. However, there is also something to be said for having a clearly laid foundation. Being clearly reducible is a virtue. As for the consequent of (11), Soames admits that some cases where the conditional is satisfied and a theory X has been successfully defended are cases with a ‘Moorean flavor’. Perhaps it is this flavor that I’m discontent with. (Moreover, since most epistemologists prefer fish flavored ice-cream to anything with a Moorean flavor, I think that I’m probably not alone here).
[On a side note, I think that Soames is on to something by first examining models that are based on intuitions. Many of the best mathematical proofs are generalizations of evident or intuitive instances. Moreover, it is easier to properly criticize erroneous intuitions when they are formalized, if for no other reason than that clarity of exposition plainly exposes flaws.]
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
There is no gap between the sort of thing one can think and the sort of thing that can be the case
1. When one thinks truly, what one thinks is what is the case
2. Thus, the world is everything that is the case (inferred from Premise 1 & 2)
3. Therefore, there is no gap between thought and the world
After presenting this argument, McDowell offers, in seemingly support of, the claim that ‘thought can be distanced from the world by being false’. However, this supplementary premise can be considered contrary, if not contradictory to the first premise. If no gap exists between what one can think and what can be the case then no amount of thought, regardless of its falsity, can create that gap. Either the argument should be deemed invalid or modified to account for the logical inconsistency in its structure. A revision of the argument could entail the removal of this premise, however McDowell must maintain one ideology over another since both beliefs cannot co-exist together. A second notion to consider is this idea of false thoughts vs. true thoughts; both stemming from the exact same world of thought. It would be mildly presumptuous to say that all false thought distances us from the world. I would argue that these false thoughts do not come from the world; rather they come from our interpretation, or namely distortion of true thoughts, which exist completely independent from our existence and thus the existence of our fundamental rationality that we apply to it. This may result from either from philosophical nescience or perhaps it is intentioned in all sorts of abstract thinking. Of course, this thought exists in the individuals that are thinking it; however can it not exist somewhere, as something, without us thinking it? Once we apply our thinking to something, is that not when other interpretations, possibilities, limits, and thus falsities are formed? It would appear that false thought could not exist in this manner. So false not is not what is distancing us from the world but it is our very nature that is the culprit.
McDowell commits another mistake in the ensuing premise, stating that ‘there is no distance from the world implicit in the very idea of thought.’ Here, he reaffirms the original premise of his argument after incoherently refuting it.
Sunday, September 16, 2007
- If verification is holistic, then if meaning is verification, then it is also holistic.
- If individual sentences don't have meanings on their own and no sentence is immune from revision, then most sentences don't have predictive content in isolation.
- Individual sentences don't have meanings on their own, because any sentence can be held true in the face of any experience.
- No sentence is immune from revision, because given any theory T incorporating S a synonymous theory T could be constructed incorporating ~S.
- So, most sentences don't have predictive content in isolation.
- If most sentences don't have predictive content in isolation, then verification is holistic.
- So, verification is holistic.
- So, if meaning is verification then it is also holistic.
- Meaning is verification.
- Therefore, meaning is holistic.
There are a number of ways, that I can see that someone could counter this argument. One would be to deny premise 9., otherwise known as one of the tenants of logical positivism. But the one that seems to be the most glaringly false is premise 2. If we are to consider it's negation:
If individual sentences have meanings on their own and sentences are immune from revision, then most sentences have predictive content in isolation.
This does not seem right to me. Why does this follow? (a comment on this from someone would be great). Given the way this conditional is written, if the consequent is ever false, that the predictive content of a sentence is not in isolation, then the whole conditional is false. But, it seems plausible to suppose that the predictive content of a sentence could be considered as being both in isolation and not. If this is the case, then the rest of then the sub-conclusion in 5., cannot run accordingly.
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.)
(i) There is no gap between what one thinks and the sort of thing that can be the case.
(ii) What one thinks is what is the case.
(iii) Since (i) and (ii) then (iv)
(iv) There is no gap between thought and the world
Williamson goes on to state that McDowell’s argument requires the premise that ‘everything (object, property, relation, state of affairs, …) is thinkable. He also states that to allow this premise as true is ‘highly contentious’ for the reason that reality could contain elusive objects, incapable of being individually thought of. His example for this is as follows:
‘Can we be sure that ordinary material objects do not consist of clouds of elusive sub-sub-atomic particles? We might know them by their collective effects while unable to think of any single one of them.’
Williamson goes on to state that because we cannot rule out the possibility of elusive objects McDowell cannot have the premise ‘everything is thinkable’.
The question then arises is it necessary that for something to be thought of we must think of the individual particles that constitute it? This might imply that to truly think of my dog Arthur I must not only think of him as a black lab with white feet I must think of all the physiological systems that contribute to his being. That to truly think of anything we must be sure to think of the most basic molecular structure of that thing. Surly we can not claim that this is the case when we think about all things. Is it enough to simply state that we are aware of the possibility of elusive objects and can think of them in this non-specific way? Williamson doesn’t seem the think so. To me it seems that there is a need for a definition of what it means to be ‘thinkable’ if we want to decipher what is and what isn’t.
I hope this kind of makes sense, I welcome anyone's thoughts.
1) Conceptualism, as spelled out by Dummett’s first two tenants, is too restrictive unless ‘thought’ is taken in a broad sense.
2) If a methodology (i.e. conceptualism) is too restrictive, then (13) that methodology must me rejected.
3) If ‘thought’ is taken in the broad sense McDowell endorses, then everything is thinkable.
4) It is conceivable that ‘the nature of [sub-sub-atomic particles] may preclude the kind of separable causal interaction with complex beings that isolating them in thought would require’.
5) (4) -> (6) it is possible that there are necessarily objects that cannot be thought of.
7) If (6), then (8) it is false that it is necessarily possible that everything can be thought of.
9) If everything is thinkable, then the unthinkable things allegedly described in (4) do not exist.
10) If (3)&(9), then (11) if we take ‘thought’ in the broad sense, then conceptualism is ontologically restrictive (in particular it denies the existence of the unthinkable things described in (4)).
12) If (11)&(8), then taking ‘thought’ in the broad McDowellian sense is too restrictive.
I think that (12) is this argument’s weak link. The basic intuition that Williamson seems to be invoking here is that methodology shouldn’t restrict ontology. If that’s what’s going on, I think he is wrong. Consider the following case: certainly, if anything should be built into our methodology it is that we should ceteris paribus prefer simple theories to complicated ones. But this implies that theories should be ontologically parsimonious when ever possible. In other words, the simplicity requirement puts a restriction on ontology and since the simplicity requirement is a legitimate methodological constraint, methodology can legitimately restrict ontology. One might still worry, rightly I think, that conceptualism places illegitimate restrictions on philosophical methodology. However, the case in question does not appear to show that. As Dan noted, losing elusive objects isn’t a theory breaker. If it turns out that elusive objects do play important roles in our best theories, then of course this might be a serious concern. Similarly, if we can prove elusive objects exist, McDowellian conceptualism is in trouble. But, if neither of the preceding antecedents are true, it seems we are cutting off excess weight from our theories in advance, which is good.
I apologize for both the sky-highness and the heavy-handedness of my argument reconstruction. It is not to be taken as a complete reconstruction of Williamson’s argument against McDowell, as again his other points seem sound. However, I think it brings to the forefront an important issue concerning philosophical methodology and reveals a questionable assumption that Williamson may be straying dangerously close to making.
Saturday, September 15, 2007
Williamson spends a fair bit of time on a point made by McDowell. He claims that there is no fundamental gap between what is the case, and what is thought to be the case. Throught this thesis, he could be considered a follower of the conceptual turn. He definitely follows the first two thesis of Dummett. Williamson makes a few argument against him (most of which I think are sound), I'll focus on one that may be unsound:
1) What one thinks is individuated at the level of sense
2) What is the case is individuated at the level of reference
4) if (3) then (5)
5) What one thinks is the case distinct from what is the case
I think this argument could be resisted. McDowell states "When one thinks truely, what one thinks is what is the case"(page 8). If the object of thought are propositions, and propositions consist of something being some way (if true), then premise (1) can be denied. Dummett's second thesis can be brought in to say that (1) is really speaking of the psychological process of thinking, NOT thought. Perhaps this is one of the weaker readings Williamson eludes to.
On to the point about elusive objects. If the drive of this discussion is to obtain a methodology for philosophy, I don't see this as relevant per-se. The presence of elusive objects would make McDowell's claim false, but I don't think it would undermine his justification of the conceptual turn. Elusive objects cannot be studied anyway, so from a methodological standpoint they're not too significant. However from a metaphysical standpoint I think Williamson is dead on here.
Thursday, September 13, 2007
The first one is due by 5:00pm this Sunday. Its focus should be on the assigned readings for Monday. It should not be focused on our single old reading so far, the introduction to Williamson's book.
In general, each comment paper will comment on the readings for that week. In each of these papers, I want you to (i) present an important argument, or an important claim, from the reading for that week, and (ii) offer a critical remark. By "present an argument" I mean that you should try to explicitly display the premises and the conclusion in the argument you are considering and you should try to make your presented argument valid. By "present a claim" I mean clearly identify a particular claim. By "offer a critical remark" I mean a criticism from you, not one from one of the authors we're reading.
An example of what I do not want would be comments of the form "I did not understand what x meant by saying P". You are free, however, to discuss in a comment paper some things that x might mean by saying P and why none of those make sense. I do not expect polished work, but I do expect some evidence of your having thought about the reading.
Finally, these should be short. As brief as a paragraph or two and by no means longer than two pages. You can submit a hard copy by sliding it under my door, an electronic copy by emailing it to me, or you can post your comment to this blog.
Please comment on this post with any questions you may have re: comments. Now please read Jay's post below and let him know what you think.
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
First, let me say that when it comes to Williamson’s big project of revising and improving the methodology of philosophy, nobody is more on board than I. I mention this because some who know me may take (dismiss?) my following comments as general anti-metaphysical ones. To do so is to oversimplify my motives.
"Philosophers of science know the dangers of moralizing from first principles on how a discipline should ideally be pursued without respecting how it currently is pursued; the same lesson applies to the philosophy of philosophy. (Intro p.7)"
There’s a reason why philosophers of science respect how science is actually performed, and don’t moralize against it; they recognize that it has been tremendously successful and you don’t fix something that isn’t broken. Compared to the philosophy of philosophy, the analogy may not be apt. Does anyone claim that philosophy has been tremendously successful? I should hope not, even Williamson doesn’t claim this. It hasn’t been futile, certainly not, but it can’t make the same claim to success as scientific methodology can. Because of this difference, the willingness to tweak, tinker, or even seriously revise the philosophical methodology cannot be ruled out ‘just because phil sci doesn’t.’
“We can intelligibly ask what bread is made of, or what houses are made of, but to ask what things in general are made of is senseless, some suggest, because the question is posed without any conception of how to verify an answer... but we know now that in at least one important respect [the mockers and doubters] were wrong. With however much confusion, Thales and the rest were asking one of the best questions ever to have been asked, a question that has painfully led to much of modern science. To have abandoned it two and a half thousand years ago on grounds of its conceptual incoherence or whatever would have been a feeble and unnecessary surrender to despair, philistinism, cowardice or indolence. (Afterword p.1)”
I assume when he mentions ‘much of modern science’ in this context he is referring to subatomic physics/chemistry/biology.
When the mockers and doubters were saying ‘Hey, study bread and houses instead,’ it was the study of those things which led to the current state of those sciences. The scientists of the time, and all those time from then until now, have tried to answer questions about what specific things (read: not the general things) are made of. They would have started with bread and houses, then, once they knew some stuff about them, they asked what those newly discovered things were made of, and so on.
So when he says the ‘what things are generally’ question led to modern science, I think he’s off. It has not led to success by asking the same question with some clarifications. Abandoning this question for more accessible questions led to modern science via incremental successes. The moral to be drawn here is, I think, not that philosophy was always asking a good question which required clarification, but that there’s a time and place for questions, and restricting oneself to accessible questions is the way to the advancement of knowledge.
I won’t make too much of this. His point that clarifying the question is important to progress is itself tremendously important. However, I just wished to add that sometimes abandoning inaccessible questions (which even with clarification are still inaccessible) for accessible ones is important too.
The last 2 pages of the afterword gave me goosebumps.