Sunday, November 25, 2007
This brings to the fore all kinds of questions about how reference attaches to word meaning and use. As far as I remember, the historical-causal story of how reference fixing works is something like the following: the reference of any name ‘blah’ is fixed by an original user in a “baptism ceremony” which consist of the original user either ostensively or descriptively picking out the object blah and saying ‘blah’. The meaning (including reference) of ‘blah’ is then transmitted to new users of ‘blah’ when they intend to use ‘blah’ as the original user did. In this way, a long historical-causal chain of ‘blah’-use explains the transmission of the meaning along with the reference of the word.
So far so good.
Now let us turn our attention to poor tharthritis having Fred. Presumably, Fred intends to use ‘arthritis’ in the same way that his original community does. Yet, he also presumably knows that people outside of his community also use ‘arthritis’ (since otherwise he would not use ‘arthritis’ when complaining to the doctor); and no doubt also intends to use ‘arthritis’ in the way that the doctor does when he talks to the doctor. But now he intends to use ‘arthritis’ as both his community and the doctor do. On the historical-causal view it is unclear what the word ‘arthritis’ means. Is the extension of his use of ‘arthritis’, arthritis? Is it tharthritis? Is it both!?
One way to disambiguate would be to claim that the meaning of a word W in the mouth of a user X is always the meaning that W first had in X’s mouth unless X consciously corrects his meaning of the word. But if this holds, then it looks like Jones’ use of ‘water’ does not eventually come to mean ‘twater’ as Kim claims.
Another way to disambiguate would be to hold that the meaning of a word W in the mouth of a user X at time t is the meaning that X intends W to have at t (spelled out in an appropriate historical-causal way). But then it appears that Fred’s use of ‘arthritis’ might end up referring to both arthritis and thartritis. If this is true it would certainly be a startling discovery (at least for me). Most semantic theories that I know of only allow words in literal sentences to have single referents.
Of course there might be other ways to disambiguate the meaning of W. Perhaps the meaning of a word W in the mouth of a user X at time t is the meaning that the community C adorns W with. Where C is the community that X spends most of his time in. However, this account has the exact same problem as the second one whenever X has spent *equal* amounts of time in several communities. In any case, it has been interesting reviewing the thought experiments of Putman and Burge.
- If it is not the case that our intentional states supervene our internal states, then wide content is the correct account of mental goings on.
- If our intentional states supervene our internal states, then our intentional states wholly and correctly reflect our internal states.
- If our intentional states wholly and correctly reflect our internal states, then the meanings of words we use to express these states are correct.
- It is not the case that the meanings of words we use to express these states are correct.
- So, it is false that our intentional states wholly and correctly reflect our internal states.
- Thus, it is not the case that our intentional states supervene our internal states.
- Therefore, wide content is the correct account of mental goings on.
Premise (1) is definitional as far as wide content goes, so I'll leave it alone.
Premises (5), (6), and (7) are inferential from the other premises, so I'll leave them alone.
Premise (4) is justified through the lovely thought experiments created by Putnam and Burge that show instances where the words we use to express, that is the understanding of the meanings of our expressions, are incomplete or possibly (in the case of the Burge example) defective. But we use them anyhow, even when we know this may be the case. I'll leave this premise alone, because I think we do this. A lot.
Premise (2) and (3) are the tricky ones. (2) I'll agree with because if what it takes (that is the definition of supervene) for one state to supervene on another state is to wholly and correctly reflect that state, then no argument from me. Premise (3) is probably the premise that makes the biggest assumption and thus requires the most justification. An objection could be made that:
If we accept premise (4), then either it is not the case that the meanings of words we use to express these states are correct, or our intentional states wholly and correctly reflect our internal states.
I accept premise (4).
So, either it is not the case that the meanings of words we use to express these states are correct, or our intentional states wholly and correctly reflect our internal states.
This thus implies that, if the meanings of words we use to express these states are correct, then our intentional states wholly and correctly reflect our internal states.
This seems okay to me. When we use words, via expressions to express things, it is if the words are correct that we then say that they are expressing the right state. If we use the wrong words via expressions then we don't say that they express the right state, furthermore we don't say that when we get the words wrong, that is use the wrong expression, that it is the fault, or that there is some sort of incorrect reflection of what is going with the states inside our heads that make this happen. We are just getting the words wrong. This is undoubtedly not a great example, but ... say I express the sentence "I am the king of the world!". To claim that my misstep in expression, i.e. that I am using the wrong words like being a king when I darn well know that kings are male (n.b. and I am not) and that kings do not rule the whole world, means that my intentional sates are incorrectly reflecting my internal states, is bunk. Even if I was unaware of the correct definition of what a king is or what it feels like to be the one of the whole world, does not mean that I am incorrectly attributing my expression to some feeling of grandiose and regal superiority. In short, the entailment between expressions and intentional / internal states, used in favour of defending wide mental content vs. narrow content, I believe (ha!) is far too high of an infallibility standard to put expressions up to.
(1) Every vixen is a vixen.
UAt: Necessarily, whoever grasps the thought every vixen is a vixen assents to it.
UDAt: Necessarily, whoever grasps the thought every vixen is a vixen has a disposition to assent to it.
Williamson wants to know if we can maintain UAt or UDAt while acknowledging UA1 and UDA1 fails by the Stephen and Peter counterexample.
(2) Stephen assents to (1) if and only if he assents to the though every vixen is a vixen.
(3) He doesn’t assent to (1) so he doesn’t assent to the thought every vixen is a vixen.
(4) It follows that if t is the thought every vixen is a vixen then Stephen doesn’t assent to the thought every vixen is a vixen and is also a counterexample to UAt.
(5) If the thought that he associates with the sentence ‘Every vixen is a vixen’ is not the thought every vixen is a vixen then he is not a counterexample
(6) Using the word ‘thought’ indicates that inferential differences between Peter and Stephen and us represent differences between the thoughts we associate with (1). Peter and Stephen associate different thoughts then our own when assenting to (1).
(7) If (6), then we should translate their idiolects non-homophonically into ours.
(8) A translation scheme would invoke refusal to acknowledge the full challenge which Peter and Stephen have issued to (1).
(9) To claim (6) then the disagreement between Peter and Stephen and us sounds less threatening because it bundles together logical and semantic differences without unification.
(10) So, the links from understanding to assent and dispositions to assent fail for thought like they do for language.
For reasons other than (8) I think (6) fails because it separates thought from language. If this should be the case then the thought someone associates with a sentence isn’t just the thought of that sentence. This seems kind of strange to accept. I think Williamsons argument for failing UAt and UDAt is a good one.
Saturday, November 24, 2007
1. If the understanding-truth links hold for phlogiston sentences, then either
Black and Rutherford did not understand their own theory or the theory
2. ~ (Black and Rutherford did not understand phlogiston theory & phlogiston
theory is true.)
3. ~ Understanding-truth links hold for phlogiston theory.
However, one may argue that premise 2. is false. One may argue that one of the disjuncts are true, namely, phlogiston is true. This disjunct maybe true if we replace the core of phlogiston theory with the conditional ‘If phlogiston exists then the core of phlogiston theory is true. Williamson dismisses this argument stating “Arguably, however, since ‘phlogiston’ fails to refer, that conditional too fails to express a proposition, so even this more cautions sentence is not true, although it is also not false.” (P. 11 chap 4)
I believe there are two things wrong with this. First, he states “Arguably, however, since ‘phlogiston’ fails to refer” that the conditional fails to have a truth value. This statement is arguable. There are theories that hold that abstract objects have truth values.
Second, even if we concede that it does not have a truth value just because this conditional fails to have a truth value does not mean that the conditional is false, which is what Williamson needs to make his claim that understanding-truth links do not hold. Since Williamson is the one who wants to argue that nothing is epistemically available simply on the basis of linguistic and conceptual competence then the onus of proof is on him if he wishes to accomplish this.
Monday, November 19, 2007
Analytic truths are less substantial then synthetic truths because they impose no constraint on the world.
They do impose a constraint on the world; the recipe for truth is that truth depends on (a) what is expressed and (b) whether things actually are that way.
1. All vixens are female foxes.
1 is true because vixens are female foxes but does this impose a constraint on the world? It should be the case that in the world all vixens are female foxes. But what if all foxes were extinct? It should still be the case that if they did exist in the world then all vixens would be female foxes.
So analytic truths are not less substantial then synthetic truths rather there is little difference betweent them.
Understanding words in a language is just the ability to use them to interact well with other members of the community, in social practice.
Frege- analyticity: Frege- analytic sentences are logical truths or truths that can be turned into logical truths by replacing synonyms for synonyms.
2. All vixens are vixens
is a logical truth.
Vixen and female fox are synonymous so it follows that
1. All vixens are female foxes
is also a logical truth.
The problem that arises is when someone is not correct in their understanding of a word. There can be a case where a person makes a mistake in the definition of a word. So it could be the case that someone misunderstands that vixens are also immature male foxes and so believes 2 without believing in 1.
There is also a problem when words are not used in ways where synonyms can be replaced, like bachelor of arts degree. But a solution is that we take bachelor of arts degree as one whole word or concept instead of breaking it down further.
Sunday, November 18, 2007
- If there is something that binds together the common practice of using a word with a given meaning, then there is a shared understanding of that word.
- If there is a shared understanding of that word, then there is either a mutual similarity of the constituents or it is the complex interrelations of the constituents.
- So, if there is something that binds together the common practice of using a word with a given meaning, then the something is either a mutual similarity of the constituents or the something is the complex interrelations of the constituents.
- It is not the case that the something is a mutual similarity of the constituents.
- Thus, if there is something that binds together the common practice of using a word with a given meaning, then the something is the complex interrelations of the constituents.
- There is something that binds together the common practice of using a word with a given meaning.
- Therefore, the something is the complex interrelations of the constituents.
TW proposes that the something which is the complex interrelations of the constituents, is above all the constituent's causal interrelations. And that “the idea that a shared understanding of a word requires a shared stock of platitudes depends on the assumption that uses of a word by different agents or at different times can be bound together into a common practice of using that word with a given meaning only by an invariant core of beliefs.” So, the something is an invariant core of beliefs (foreshadow moment, I think... not JBs, not JTBs, no esatblishing the entailment links between UA, UK, UJ or UT. Just plain old beliefs / knowledge. Like I said not sure).
The premises that stick out here are 1., 2., 4., and 6.
How about 1. and 6.? Though perhaps wishful and hopeful, the truth of premises 1. and 6. are hard to resist. If there isn't some sort of something that binds the my use and meaning of words (or terms) with those of my fellow man. Well frankly I'm sunk, and so is everyone else. To deny either of these two would invite skepticism about a binding theory of meaning and usage. Bad.How about 4.? The conditions placed on having a mutual similarity of the constituents, is that they have “some invariant feature, shared by all the constituents and somehow prior to the complex as a whole.” To be fair TW qualifies these conditions by stating that this feature almost never occurs. So, even if a strict cataloging were to take place and this feature was found to occur amongst constituents some of the time, this would still not yield the widespread commonalities within usage and meaning that seem so apparent.
How about 2.? The antecedent seems to be fine for the reasons given above for 1. and 6. But the consequent is a little odd, if not false. A disjunction does not seem à propos in this instance (in all fairness perhaps it is my reconstruction of what is going on, but this does seem to be the way TW is setting things up). Rather, having a mutual similarity of constituents is a feature of the complex interrelations of those constituents.
I was with Williamson in chapter 4 right up until the end where he argues against KUt’ (i.e. whoever knows …insert epistemic-analytic true thought here… in the normal way does so on the basis of their grasp of the thought).
Here is my formulation of Williamson’s argument:
(1) Either ‘their grasp of the thought’ in KUt’ can be taken in a thick way or in a thin way.
(2) If we take ‘grasping’ in the thick way (i.e. on the basis of the facts underlying the grasping), then grasping depends on knowledge that is not conceptual.
(3) If KUt’ is taken in a way that doesn’t depend on conceptual knowledge, then it will not help the conceptual-turner any.
(4) If we take ‘grasping’ in the thin way (i.e. on the mere fact that the thought in question has been grasped), then there is no way in which grasping is a basis for knowing in any useful sense.
(5) If KUt’ is taken in a way that makes it epistemologically useless, then it will not help the conceptual-turner any.
(6) If (1)-(5), then (7).
(7) KUt’ will not help the conceptual-turner any.
Ignoring the sloppy grammar in my formulation of Williamson’s argument, I think that (4) is false. There is still an important way in which ‘grasping’ in the thin sense is a useful basis for knowing. Namely, such grasping is a useful basis for knowing in cases where the truths are so thin, fundamental and basic that there can be no other way to explain our knowledge of them. These cases include truths of logic and truths about truth. To be sure, these are truths about the way the world is. But I’m sure Williamson would agree that we do not come to know about them by coming to know about the world – we come to know them merely by having grasped them.
Despite this point, I think that to restrict the role of philosophy only to the study of these “thin” truths is to place too strong a constraint on philosophy, so the conceptual-turner is not saved by resorting to this line of reasoning.
Williamson says that there are two ways to take this, a thin way and a thick way. According to the thin way the mere fact that the person grasps the thought provides an epistemic justification. According to the thick way it's the facts that constitute the grasp of the thought that provides the epistemic lift.
Williamson's argument against the thick way there's alot more to understanding the thought involved than just semantic or linguistic considerations. Many of these are in nature not conceptual or linguistic, such as the factors that add to your competence with an expression (rather than knowledge of its meaning). If the conceptual turner wants something to go on here, she needs epistemic justification that comes from merely linguistic or conceptual material.
The thought I had was that if these are genuinly the considerations necessary for grasping a thought, then they are conceptual considerations. The conceptual turner isn't dead in the water, it's just that the conceptual material she thought she was working with turned out to be a little different.
On the other hand, if all these considerations (previously thought not to be about thought or language) turn out to be conceptual, then any use for the distinction the conceptual turner needs is dissolved. Analytic thoughts or sentences don't really have any special epistemic status in virtue of being conceptual.
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
- The introduction should be clear and to the point. It should make clear what the thesis of the paper is and it should say what the paper is going to do.
- Typically, the first section after the introduction will be an explanation of the view in the target paper. The explanation of the view should be clear; if there's something about the view your peer is focusing on that does not make sense to you, say so! The explanation of the target view should make sense to someone at your level in philosophy who has not read the target paper and is not in our class. So, for instance, you don't need to explain what 'valid' means but you should take time to explain key technical terms or ideas that are not common currency in philosophy.
- The paper should contain an argument that your peer has extracted from the target paper. It should be the main argument your peer is focusing on. It should be presented in numbered premise-conclusion form and it should be valid. It should not just come out of nowhere. A good way to set up an extracted argument is to informally explain the "gist" of the argument in the target paper and say "we can set out/present/state the argument more clearly as follows:
It should be completely clear why there is a numbered list in your paper and what that numbered list is supposed to be.
- The paper should explain and defend the premises in the extracted argument. Spend time saying a bit in favour of the premises of the argument and make sure to define any technical terms. What you're trying to do here is to get the reader to see what can be said on behalf of the premises in the argument you'll criticize. As always, be explicit about what you're doing. Don't just launch into reasons for accepting the premises; tell the reader what you're doing and be explicit about which premises you're discussing.
- The paper should present an objection in numbered premise-conclusion form. The objection must be valid and it must deny a premise in the first argument. The argument should not just be "dropped into" the paper. Introduce your argument. You can follow the strategy of informally explaining your idea and presenting it more formally as a valid objection.
- The objection should be explained/defended. Same as for the original argument.
- The paper should consider a reply to the objection. Which premise in the objection might the author of the target paper reject and why? Be specific about which premise in the objection is being called into question. (Hint: This is easier to do if you don't use the same numbers for the premises in your extracted argument and your objection. So don't start both with '1', for instance.)
- The paper should contain an overall evaluation. Is the objection sound? Why or why not?
Throughout, assume that the reader is lazy, mean, and stupid. Lazy: The reader does not want to have to think. You do the thinking and spell it all out in your paper. Don't make the reader have to work. Mean: If what you write can be taken in more than one way, assume that the reader will take it in the least charitable way. Correct for this by avoiding any looseness and disambiguating important ambiguities. Stupid: Your reader will not "get" what you are saying. Spell it out in detail.
Remember, your job as peer reviewer is to help your peer improve her/his paper. So don't be shy about saying that you didn't understand something, that there's a gap in the reasoning, that a better defence can be provided for a particular premise, etc. As always you should be polite and respectful, but you're not doing your peer any favors if you just say everything is fine as is. As with the previous reviews, you're strongly encouraged to talk to each other about the paper. After all, that's the fun part: discussing an interesting philosophical issue with someone smart. So have fun with it and make sure to give your peer as much help as you can.
Saturday, November 3, 2007
1. If there is someone who understands the meaning of the logical particles that occur within a rule but dissents from that rule, then there is a counterexample to (UAl’LRule).
2. If there is a counterexample to (UAl’LRule), then (UAl’LRule) fails.
3. McGee is someone who understands the meaning of logical particles that occur within modus ponens (MP) but dissents from MP.
4. If (3), then there is a counterexample to (UAl’LRule).
5. If (3) and (4), then (6) (UAl’LRule) fails.
6. (UAl’LRule) fails.
I would now like to canvass opinions on the following Weathersonian counterargument to Williamson:
7. “[T]he meaning of a denoting term is the most natural object, property or relation that satisfies most of our usage dispositions” (Weatherson, 2003: 23).
8. If (7), then one can be a competent language user and also be wrong about the meaning of a denoting term, in the case where one's dispositions to use the term fail to coincide with the most natural object, property or relation in the vicinity of said disposition.
9. If (7) and (8), then (10).
10. If X’s disposition to use a term t fails to coincide with the most natural object, property or relation in the vicinity of t, then X is wrong about the meaning of t but can still be a competent language user.
11. McGee’s disposition to use ‘if’ fails to coincide with the most natural object, property or relation in the vicinity of ‘if. (Since, the most natural meaning of ‘if’ is the classical meaning of ‘if’).
12. If (10) and (11), then (13).
13. McGee could still be a competent language user but McGee is wrong about the meaning of ‘if’.
14. If McGee and those with parallel intuitions are wrong about the meaning of ‘if’, then it would be unsurprising that they deny MP and their denial of MP would not count as a counterexample to (UAl’LRule).
15. If (13) and (14), then (16) the McGee counterexample to (UAl’LRule) fails.
16. The McGee counterexample to (UAl’LRule) fails.
Moreover, if a strategy of this sort works in this case, then it will also work against some of Williamson’s other arguments against an epistemological conception of analyticity.
Does anyone buy this argument? Why or why not?
In my opinion Weatherson’s theory of meaning puts too much weight on naturalness, especially given that he takes naturalness to be basic/irreducible. Does his theory of meaning license too much? Can we get clear enough on what it is for something to be more natural than something else in order make use of his theory?
Understanding-assent link: our sheer linguistic and conceptual competence mandates assent to some sentences or thoughts and inferences
A logical truth is (1) Every Vixen is a Vixen
Sentence (1) can be written as a understanding-assent link as UA1.
UA1: Necessarily, whoever understands the sentence ‘Every vixen is a vixen’ assents to it.
Is UA1 true? If UA1 is true then an armchair methodology of philosophy is based on understanding-assent links.
Williamson’s counterexample is a situation in which a person, A, given sentence (1) infers that (1) entails
(2) There is at least one Vixen
Person A does this through seemingly logical thought, with very good reasons for his belief’s etc.
In this case person A, for background reasons which can be endlessly thought up, denies (2), and so it follows that he also denies (1).
Because A doesn’t assent to (1), under the claim UA1, person A doesn’t understand (1). This seems wrong because a in the situation described person A seems to understand (1) but by some belief of a mistaken theory, or because of certain background belief bred into person A, he doesn’t accept (2).
Williamson claims then that UA1 is false and because of this example nothing is epistemically available only on the bases of linguistic and conceptual competence.
I don’t think this counterexample is very good because it seems as though UA1 has not been proven false because it shouldn’t matter what a person’s view on the matter is when some of their other views are clearly mistaken, no matter how smart or intellectual you imagine them to be. It seems unrealistic that someone denies a logical truth.
Maybe this is too harsh a reading of Williamson, I just didn’t think his example was very convincing.