Thursday, May 19, 2016

So the bible says

Originally published here.

Them that's got shall get Them that's not shall lose So the Bible said and it still is news
So Billie Holiday sang, probably alluding to Matthew 25:29 (‘For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them’) or Luke 8:18 (‘whosoever hath, to him shall be given; and whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he seemeth to have’), but that’s irrelevant. The point is that the subject of the verb ‘said’ is ‘the Bible’, and as Joshua Harris objects, the Bible cannot ‘say’ anything. It’s ‘an inanimate object, not an intellectual agent’. Well, perhaps we can change that to ‘it says in the Bible – who then is the impersonal ‘it’? What about ‘Matthew says that whoever has will be given more. What if Matthew didn’t write that gospel? Would it then be false that Matthew says that?

It is key to the theory of reference that I shall propose that we refer by means of the signs we use. Granted, it is through our will and agency that we produce signs: words and sentences that we utter or write, nods, winks, shrugs and other forms of non-verbal signification. But once the signs are in public view, it is they which do the work, as David Cameron found to his cost. Were intentions sufficient to make our meaning clear, there would be none of the confusion, ambiguity and lack of clarity that fill every waking moment.

Indeed, why should intentions or thoughts or stuff inside have anything to do with how we express what some text means or says? Suppose that the thought which Bob expresses by the words 'Sinners will be punished' is the thought that we would express by 'hamburgers with relish are delicious'. So when Bob says 'Matthew 25:46 says that sinners will be punished', he thinks that Matthew is saying something about hamburgers. Now what he thinks is false, but what he says is perfectly true. Matthew 25:46 indeed says that sinners will be punished, or something like that. The stuff inside our heads is just not important at all, indeed, it is questionable whether the Bob example is even coherent. Are we supposing that he has a kind of private language which, if there were a dictionary for it, would translate the spoken word 'sinners' into the mental word 'hamburgers'?

This is fundamentally connected with what I will have to say later about reference. Dale Tuggy asks here about some person who has ‘a goofy and anachronistic interpretation of the Bible, on which both God and Moses are avatars of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Then what the Bible actually asserts may hardly enter his mind, as he's indirectly quoting it. But I think he [would] still be referring to what it actually asserts, by using the phrase that you've said.’ I agree. In the indirect quotation that he utters, the word ‘God’ refers to God, and ‘Moses’, to Moses. No avoiding that. Perhaps he means to refer so something else, but that does not matter. It is words that refer, not people. But more later.

Saturday, May 07, 2016

God and Deus

Originally published here. Copying here for reference.

Bill Vallicella, the famous Maverick Philosopher, just dropped me a line asking whether, when Thomas Aquinas and Baruch Spinoza use the term 'Deus', they are referring to the same being. This is a difficult and interesting question.
Bill uses the Latin name 'Deus', alluding to the fact that both men wrote in Latin. Latin was the choice of the 'scholastic' theologians of the 13th century, because it was the language of European scholarship. Thus the work of Thomas, an Italian writing in the 1260s, would have been accessible without translation to his English contemporary Roger Marston. For much the same reason, Spinoza, writing 400 years later, also used Latin.
Clearly both writers would have understood each other's work, as regards the dictionary meanings of Latin words. So when Thomas writes (Summa Iª q. 7 a. 1 co.) esse divinum non sit esse receptum in aliquo – the divine being is not a being received in anything, Spinoza would have understood what he meant because he would have understood the standard meanings of 'esse' (being), 'divinum' (of or belonging to a deity, divine), 'receptum' (that which is taken to one's self, admitted, accepted, received) etc. That is clear. All these words are in Latin dictionaries. But when Thomas writes Manifestum est quod ipse Deus sit infinitus et perfectus – it is manifest that Deus Himself is infinite and perfect – would he and Spinoza understand the proper name Deus in the same way?
This is a difficult question, for many reasons. But there is at least one sort of case where it is clear they are using the name ‘God’ in exactly the same way, namely when they discuss the interpretation of the scriptures. Aquinas does this many times in Summa Theologiae, using the words of the Bible and the Church Fathers to support complex theological and philosophical arguments. Spinoza’s Theologico-Political Treatise is an extensive commentary on the text of the Bible and its meaning, also supported throughout by biblical quotation. So when Thomas writes
According to Chrysostom (Hom. iii in Genes.), Moses prefaces his record by speaking of the works of God (Deus) collectively. (Summa Theologiae Iª q. 68 a. 1 ad 1)
and Spinoza writes
As for the fact that God [Deus] was angry with him [Balak] while he was on his journey, that happened also to Moses when he was setting out for Egypt at the command of God [Dei]. (Tractatus ch. 3, alluding to Exodus 4:24-26)
it is clear that they are talking about the same persons, i.e. they are both talking about God, and they are both talking about Moses. It is somewhat more complicated than that, because Spinoza has a special theory about what the word ‘God’ means in the scriptures, but more of that later. In the present case, it seems clear that whenever we indirectly quote the scriptures, e.g. ‘Exodus 3:1 says that Moses was setting out for Egypt at the command of God’, we are specifying what the Bible says by using the names ‘Moses’ and ‘God’ exactly as the Bible uses them. Bill might disagree here, but we shall see.

God and Allah

Originally published here at Dale Tuggy’s site. Copying here for reference.

Last month my publisher gave the green light to start work on The Same God? Reference and Identity in Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Scriptures. Yes, that old question of whether Muslims worship the same God as Christians, which surfaced again last year when Larycia Hawkins, an associate professor at Wheaton College, was suspended following her Facebook post citing Pope Francis's statement that Muslims and Christians worship the same God. Bill Vallicella has a good post about the question here, and see Beckwith’s discussion, as well as this by someone called ‘Tuggy’.

The first, and natural reaction, is that the Muslim and the Christian God cannot be the same, given the radically different conceptions that Muslims and Christians hold of the supreme being. Muslims believe that God is not triune, Christians believe that he is triune. Since being triune and not being triune are incompatible, it follows that no being could simultaneously instantiate the Muslim and the Christian conceptions, and so, given that there can be only one supreme being, it seems to follow that Muslims and Christians do not worship the same God. On this view, either the Christian or the Muslim is an idolater: one or the other entertains a conception of something that does not exist, but that which does not exist cannot be a genuine object of worship. But not so fast! As Christopher Howse pointed out here, the fact that you think others are mistaken in their description of someone's characteristics does not mean that they are referring to a different person.
Someone, for example, might call Spartacus a "freedom fighter" and someone else call him a "murderous rebel", but they are talking about the same man.
On this view, either the Christian or the Muslim is a heretic, by claiming that God has attributes which are contrary to the orthodox view. John of Damascus says:
There are many other extraordinary and quite ridiculous things in this book [Quran] which he [Muhammad] boasts was sent down to him from God. But when we ask: ‘And who is there to testify that God gave him the book? And which of the prophets foretold that such a prophet would rise up?’—they are at a loss.’ ‘Moreover, they call us Hetaeriasts, or Associators, because, they say, we introduce an associate with God by declaring Christ to the Son of God and God.’ ‘by avoiding the introduction of an associate with God you have mutilated Him. It would be far better for you to say that He has an associate than to mutilate Him, as if you were dealing with a stone or a piece of wood or some other inanimate object. Thus, you speak untruly when you call us Hetaeriasts; we retort by calling you Mutilators of God.’
John is clearly referring to God throughout. Second, he is also stating what Muhammad says via indirect quotation: ‘which he [Muhammad] boasts was sent down to him from God’. Thus he concedes that the being that Muhammad is boasting about is identical to the being that he worships. And so it is heresy, not idolatry. Muhammad denies there is an ‘associate’ of the very same being that John worships. Muhammad does not deny the existence of Jesus, but he does deny the relationship between Jesus and God claimed by orthodox Christians. But it is still more difficult. Howse claims that when someone calls Spartacus a "freedom fighter" and someone else calls him a "murderous rebel", they are both talking about the same man. This begs the question. What relation is invoked by calling someone a name? How do we talk about that person? Well, we use a proper name like ‘Spartacus’, but how does a proper name enable us to do this? Does it embed a description like ‘Thracian gladiator who led an uprising against the Romans’? If so, names that embed contrary descriptions like ‘triune’ and ‘not triune’ cannot possible refer to the same being, and so we are back to the first position. The question is one of idolatry not heresy. If, on the other hand, proper names do not embed descriptions, if they simply refer to their bearers, then they must refer to an existing bearer. Hence (a) God necessarily exists, because I am able to refer to him in saying ‘God exists’ and (b) it must be possible to determine from the meaning of ‘God’ and the meaning of ‘Allah’ alone, whether they are the same being or not. If I know the meaning of an English word and an Arabic word, I must be able to say whether one translates the other or not.
Can we understand a proposition in which two names occur without knowing whether their meaning is the same or different? Suppose I know the meaning of an English word and of a German word that means the same: then it is impossible for me to be unaware that they do mean the same; I must be capable of translating each into the other. (Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus 4.243)
Neither position seems tenable. More later, but as Vallicella says, there is no easy answer to the question. ‘It depends on the resolution of intricate questions in the philosophy of language’.

Monday, March 28, 2016

What I say

"What she said" in the vernacular is a way of expressing or agreeing with what the speaker just said. We can extend this useful idea in all kinds of ways. E.g.

(1) we can apply a negation operator. Thus 'not what she said'.

(2) we can apply it recursively. Thus

A: Snow is white
B:what A said
C:what B said

and so on. Note that all three are statements, each of them says something. Thus to say something is either (i) to say something without reference to another statement. This is the boundary condition. (ii) to reference some other statement which also says something. This is the recursive case.

(3) We can use other pronouns than the third person. E.g. to saying to C, 'not what you said', thus disagreeing with C, and thus disagreeing that snow is white. In the first person 'what I said', emphasising again what you said before, 'not what I said', changing your mind, as we do. And finally 'not what I am saying'. Does this say anything? No. It is a recursive case that has no boundary condition.

(4) Finally, we can ask a question. Thus 'what C says?', to which the answer could be 'what C says', or just 'Snow is white', or 'not what C says', thus 'Snow is not white'. As for 'not what I am saying?', there is no appropriate answer, given that 'not what I am saying' has no boundary condition, as in case (3) above.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Truth and conspiracy

A nice companion to my 2010 post:
For the simple truth is that truth is often hard to come by, and that once found it may easily be lost again. Erroneous beliefs may have an astonishing power to survive, for thousands of years, in defiance of experience, with or without the aid of any conspiracy. The history of science, and especially of medicine, could furnish us with a number of good examples. One example is, indeed, the general conspiracy theory itself I mean the erroneous view that whenever something evil happens it must be due to the evil will of an evil power. Various forms of this view have survived down to our own day.

(Karl Popper, from the Annual Philosophical Lecture read before the British Academy on January 20th, 1960. First published in the Proceedings of the British Academy, 46, 1960, and separately by Oxford University Press, 1961).

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Signification and assertion

Every departmental science has a subject, and its literature talks about or refers to that subject. Physics talks about heavy bodies and momentum and energy, chemistry talks about compounds, biology talks about flora and fauna etc. What does semantics, the science of meaning, talk about?

And there is the problem. Sometimes we cannot refer to what we signify.

Frege recognised this problem in 1892, in his essay ‘On Concept and Object’. A sentence consists of words, each of which has a signification or sense. What the whole sentence signifies is thus a compound of the senses corresponding to the words. (See e.g. his undated letter to Jourdain, in Frege’s Philosophical and Mathematical Correspondence, ed Gabriel and Hermes, 1980). The possibility of understanding a sentence we have never heard before depends on this property. What the sentence signifies is something new and perhaps previously unknown to us, but the signification of the words of which it is composed must be known, otherwise we would be incapable of understanding the sentence. For example ‘Socrates is a man’ is composed of the expressions ‘Socrates’ and ‘is a man’, both of which we know and understand.

The problem that Frege grapples with in ‘On Concept and Object’ is that while we can talk about what ‘Socrates’ signifies, namely Socrates himself, we can’t talk about what ‘is a man’ signifies. Or suppose we can. Let’s refer to it by the expression ‘The signification of “is a man”’. Will that do? No, because that expression is what Frege calls an Object term, an expression that refers to an object like Socrates. Thus the sentence ‘The signification of “is a man” is an Object’ is true. But it cannot signify an object, otherwise the sentence ‘Socrates is a man’ would be composed of two terms for objects. But two such terms cannot compose a sentence, any more than ‘Socrates Plato’ can. The sentence would be a mere list of words. Frege says, enigmatically ‘the concept horse is not a concept’, and attributes it to ‘an awkwardness of language’.

There is a similar problem regarding what I call signs of assertion. Consider
It is false that Socrates is a horse
I have not asserted that Socrates is a horse. On the contrary, I have denied it. Yet the four words ‘Socrates is a horse’ occur inside the eight word sentence ‘It is false that Socrates is a horse’. Perhaps we can explain this as follows. The eight word sentence can be split into ‘It is false’ and ‘that Socrates is a horse’. The latter is what Frege calls an object term. It refers to something a mad person might assert as true, the very thing I stand in the relation of denying to. So the meaning of the eight word sentence is changed by putting ‘It is false’ in front, and so if the meaning of the whole sentence is a composite of the meaning of ‘it is false’ and ‘that Socrates is a horse’, the composite is what ‘It is false that Socrates is a horse’ signifies. But of course that can’t be so, for the very fact that we could signify that Socrates was not a horse, would require that Socrates not being a horse was a fact. Worse, ‘It is true that Socrates is a horse’ would signify Socrates being a horse, so would require the existence of Socrates being a horse. Both those contradictory facts would have to exist in order for the contradictory sentences to be significant. Impossible!

Frege alludes to this problem in a much later essay (‘Negation’) published in 1918. He distinguishes between a question (my example is ‘is Socrates a horse’) from the thought corresponding to an answer like ‘yes’ or ‘no’. For if the sense of the question contained the sense of ‘yes’ or ‘no’, then the question would contain its own answer. The question would express a thought ‘whose being consists in its being true’.
Grasping the sense [of the question] would at the same time be an act of judging, and the utterance of the interrogative sentence would at the same time be an assertion, and so an answer to the question. But in an interrogative sentence neither the truth nor the falsity of the sense may be asserted.
Fair enough, but Frege does not see this as a challenge to his compositional semantics. Consider ‘Is Socrates a horse? No’. The first part signifies the question. If adding the sign ‘No’ completes the sense, then what is signified by the whole thing, namely question plus answer, must indeed be something whose being consists in being true, which Frege apparently denies.

In summary, if the signification of the whole is made up of the signification of the parts, then we should be able to refer to the signification of the whole, if semantics is to be a proper science. But we can’t, otherwise the subject of our science would include items like Socrates not being a horse, as well as Socrates being a horse. Which is impossible. Therefore semantics is not a science, at least not a proper science.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Necessary beings

We don’t have to buy everything that Frege says about concepts to agree that using a concept expression F we can say things like ‘There are three Fs’ or ‘the number of Fs is n’. We can also say ‘There is at least one F’ which, according to Frege, is equivalent to ‘Fs exist’ or ‘there are Fs’. That seems uncontroversial.

Therefore ‘girls over the age of 17 at Mallory Towers’ is a concept-expression. For we can say that there are three girls over the age of 17 at Mallory Towers, or that the number of girls over the age of 17 at Mallory Towers is three. And we can say that, since there is at least one girl over the age of 17 at Mallory Towers, that there are girls over the age of 17 at Mallory Towers.

But here’s the problem. If it is true that ‘girls over the age of 17 at Mallory Towers’ is the name for a concept, then such a concept is not a necessary being. For in a possible world where there is no such school as Mallory Towers, we cannot specify the content of the concept. The property of being a girl over the age of 17 at Mallory Towers cannot be specified without reference to the actual Mallory Towers.

But that seems impossible. In such a possible world, there are no girls at Mallory Towers, since the school doesn’t exist, hence there are no such girls over 17. Therefore the non-existence of such girls is the non-instantiation of the concept *girl over the age of 17 at Mallory Towers*, and so that concept, in that possible world, has the property of being non-instantiated. But in order to have that property, it must exist. Since this is any possible world, it follows that the concept must exist in every possible world, and so is a necessary being. Yet we just supposed that it wasn’t a necessary being. Contradiction.


Is number a property of an aggregate of things? But what is an aggregate? Can the very same things have the same number once disaggregated? Frege (The Foundations of Arithmetic § 23, translation J.L. Austin) writes:
To the question: What is it that the number belongs to as a property? Mill replies as follows: the name of a number connotes, ‘of course, some property belonging to the agglomeration of things which we call by the name; and that property is the characteristic manner in which the agglomeration is made up of, and may be separated into, parts.’

Here the definite article in the phrase "the characteristic manner" is a mistake right away; for there are very various manners in which an agglomeration can be separated into parts, and we cannot say that one alone would be characteristic. For example, a bundle of straw can be separated into parts by cutting all the straws in half, or by splitting it up into single straws, or by dividing it into two bundles. Further, is a heap of a hundred grains of sand made up of parts in exactly the same way as a bundle of 100 straws? And yet we have the same number. The number word ‘one’, again, in the expression ‘one straw’ signally fails to do justice to the way in which the straw is made up of cells or molecules. Still more difficulty is presented by the number 0. Besides, need the straws form any sort of bundle at all in order to be numbered? Must we literally hold a rally of all the blind in Germany before we can attach any sense to the expression ‘the number of blind in Germany’? Are a thousand grains of wheat, when once they have been scattered by the sower, a thousand grains of wheat no longer? Do such things really exist as agglomerations of proofs of a theorem, or agglomerations of events? And yet these too can be numbered. Nor does it make any difference whether the events occur together or thousands of years apart.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Number, concepts and existence

The Maverick Philosopher is agonising about number and existence in this post. It would be simpler if we returned to the original text of Frege which started all this (Die Grundlagen der Arithmetik 1884. Page numbers are to the original edition).

Frege claims with a concept the question is always whether anything, and if so what, falls under it. With a proper name such questions make no sense. (§51, p. 64). He also claims that when you add the definite article to a concept word, it ceases to function as a concept word, although it still so functions with the indefinite article, or in the plural (ibid).

This is part of a section of the Grundlagen where he develops the thesis that number is a property of concepts, not of things. Thus if I say (§46, p. 59) that ‘the King’s carriage is drawn by four horses’, I am ascribing the number 4 to the concept horse that draws the King’s carriage. The number is not a property of the horses, either individually or collectively, but of a concept.

From these two claims, namely that number is a property of concept words, and that proper names are not concept words, it seems to follow that ‘Socrates exists’ makes no sense. If ‘Socrates’ is not a concept word, then it seems no concept corresponds to it, but existence means that some concept is instantiated, so ‘Socrates exists’cannot express existence. This is the difficulty that Bill is grappling with.

But why, from the fact that ‘Socrates’ is not a concept word, does it follow that there is no corresponding concept? Frege has already told us that a concept word ceases to be such when we attach the definite article to it. So while ‘teacher of Plato’ signifies a concept, ‘the teacher of Plato does not. Why can’t the definite noun phrase ‘Socrates’ be the same, except that the definiteness is built into the proper name, rather than a syntactical compound of definite article and concept word. Why can’t ‘Socrates’ be semantically compound? So that it embeds a concept like person identical with Socrates, which with the definite article appended gives us ‘Socrates’?

As I argued in one of the comments, the following three concepts all have a number

C1: {any man at all}
C2: {any man besides Socrates}
C3: {satisfies C1 but not C2}

If the number corresponding to C1 is n, then the number of C2 is n-1. And the number of C3 is of course 1, and if C3 is satisfied, then Socrates exists. Simple.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Metaphysical monstrosities

I have been looking at ‘Van Inwagen on Fiction, Existence, Properties, Particulars, and Method’, by Bill Vallicella (Studia Neoaristotelica Review Article 12 (2015) / 2). Bill is the famous Maverick Philosopher.

Section 3 deals with haecceity. A haecceity property is one which, unlike man or white cannot be multiply instantiated, or as Scotus said, not-predicable of several things (indicibilis de pluribus). For example, being Socrates (Socrateity) is a property which, if instantiated, is instantiated by Socrates alone in the actual world and by nothing distinct from Socrates in any possible world.

It is necessary to posit such properties, Bill argues, to support the semantic thesis of the univocity of ‘exists’ and ‘is’, and its ontological counterpart, that there are no modes of being/existence. It is essential to the thesis that number-words are univocal, and that ‘exists’ is a number-word. But it is not a number-word, for we can say of certain individual things that they exist, using referring terms.
Consider my cat Max Black. I joyously exclaim, ‘Max exists!’. My exclamation expresses a truth. Compare ‘Cats exist’. Now I agree with van Inwagen that the general ‘Cats exist’ is equivalent to ‘The number of cats is one or more’. But it is perfectly plain that the singular ‘Max exists’ is not equivalent to ‘The number of Max is one or more’. For the right-hand-side of the equivalence is nonsense, hence necessarily neither true nor false.
Right, but can’t a proper name N signify a property N* which can be instantiated, but by only one individual, and always and necessarily by the same individual? Then it makes sense to state there is only one object possessing N*, a statement which is false only if there are no (i.e. zero) objects possessing N*. Bill considers this, but thinks it a heavy price to pay for univocity across general and singular existentials.

‘Haecceity properties are metaphysical monstrosities’.

Why? His argument is that being properties, haecceities are necessary beings, and so exist at all possible times in all possible worlds. But how, before Socrates came into existence, could there have been any such property as the property of being identical to him. There would have been simply nothing to give content to the proposition that it is Socrates.

Now I agree that a haecceity predicate is essential to save the univocity of ‘exists’. And I agree, for the reasons given by Bill, that a haecceity property is absurd. But can there not be predicates, i.e. grammatical items, which have no properties corresponding to them?

More later.

Monday, February 08, 2016

Intentional Identity

Peter Geach (“Intentional Identity.” Journal of Philosophy 64, 627-32, reprinted in Logic Matters. Oxford: Blackwell, 1972) argues that the following sentence can be true even if there are no witches, yet can only be true if Hob and Nob are, as it were, thinking of the same witch.
Hob thinks that a witch has blighted Bob’s mare, and Nob wonders whether she killed Cob’s sow.
But how it could be true? If we read it in the opaque way of reading indirect speech clauses then each that-clause must stand on its own syntactically, but there is no way of interpreting the pronoun ‘she’ as a bound variable. The two thoughts add up, as it were, to ‘for some x, x has blighted Bob’s mare, and x killed Cob’s sow. But we can’t split them up into two separate thoughts, because of the second part of the conjunction. I.e. the following is not well-formed.
* Hob thinks that for some x, x has blighted Bob’s mare, and Nob wonders whether x killed Cob’s sow.
On the other hand, if we render the original sentence in the transparent way, we have to presume the existence of a real witch, i.e. some witch such that Hob thinks that she has blighted Bob’s mare, and Nob wonders whether she killed Cob’s sow. Neither of these are satisfactory. I don’t propose any answer yet, but I will start by noticing that the same problem attaches to saying what sentences say, rather than what people think.
(1) A witch has blighted Bob’s mare.
(2) She killed Cob’s sow.
(3) Sentence (1) says that a witch has blighted Bob’s mare.
(4) Sentence (2) says that she (or the witch) has blighted Bob’s mare.
Clearly sentences (3) and (4) are true, even though sentences (1) and (2) are false. Yet the problem is exactly the same as the problem involving different thoughts. Thus we have simplified the problem. We don’t have to worry about explaining thoughts in different minds, but only how we express the meaning of different sentences. Meanings are a little easier than thoughts.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Kripke's Puzzle

This handout clearly explains Kripke’s argument in his seminal paper ‘A Puzzle about Belief’. Kripke derives a puzzle from just two assumptions:
(D): If a normal English speaker, on reflection, sincerely assents to ‘p’ [supple correctly understands ‘p’], then he believes that p.  
(T): If a sentence of one language expresses a truth in that language, then any translation of it into any other language also expresses a truth (in that other language).
He also gives a version (the ‘Paderewski’ puzzle) that doesn’t even use (T). His point therefore is that it would be a mistake to criticize Millianism as follows:
Millianism implies SUB (=Names are substitutable salva veritate, even inside attitude reports), and SUB is wrong. Suppose we have ‘S believes that Tully isn’t famous’ and ‘S believes that Cicero is famous’. Then SUB lets us derive ‘S believes that Tully is famous,” so we incorrectly attribute contradictory beliefs to a normal person.
This is a mistake because that sort of result is obtainable without SUB, i.e. using just (D) and (T) we end up incorrectly attributing contradictory beliefs to normal people.

Objection: But if Millianism implies SUB and SUB results in paradox, then Millianism is wrong. Why does it matter if some other principles also result in the same paradox?

Reply: They aren’t just other principles – SUB just amounts to an intralinguistic application of (T), where e.g. we translate ‘S believes that Cicero is famous’ into ‘S believes that Tully is famous.’  Since (T) seems obviously true independent of Millianism, there’s no reason to blame the paradox on (SUB) and therefore on Millianism.

Friday, January 29, 2016

You are happy

When I utter ‘I am happy’ to myself while alone and having been silent for some while, do I mean that the content of my statement could have been communicated to another person, even though it wasn’t? So that I could inform you (by ‘I’) which entity satisfies ‘— is happy’?

Or do I mean I have privileged access to the referent of ‘I’ in a way that could not be communicated, i.e. so that what I mean to refer to is different from the entity you grasp as *Edward* being happy? In this sense, it would be inconceivable that anyone else could grasp what the referent really was. Only I can grasp the identity. And I don’t mean that as a matter of fact. I mean it’s logically impossible.

What does this mean for numerical identity? Is the referent of ‘you are happy’, uttered by me to you, numerically different from the referent of ‘I am happy’, uttered by you to yourself?

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Defining reference

Discussions of linguistic reference rarely define what reference is. An example is the SEP article here, which as far as I can see does not give any definition, merely stating that linguistic reference is ‘a relation that obtains between certain sorts of linguistic expressions and what speakers use those expressions to talk about’. And what relation is that? Slightly more helpfully it characterises it ‘metaphorically’ as a mechanism that enables us to talk about the world – say about George Bush – through referring terms which hook on to the world. But only slightly. What are these hooks?

Let’s try this. If Socrates is not running and Plato is running, ‘Socrates is running’ is false, and ‘Plato is running’  is true. But ‘a man is running’ is true, because Plato is running. The non-referring, i.e. indefinite, statement is true or false regardless of who is running. But the truth of falsity of the singular statements depends on who is running.

So a singular or referring statement is true when there is some particular person such that the predicate is satisfied by that person, and is false when that person fails to satisfy the predicate, even if the predicate is satisfied by other people. But a non-referring or existential statement is true when any individual, no matter who, satisfies the predicate.

Does that work?

Sunday, January 24, 2016

What does the pronoun ‘I’ refer to?

What does the pronoun ‘I’ refer to? Wittgenstein (Philosophical Remarks, §64).
‘I have a pain’ is a sign of a completely different kind when I am using the proposition, from what it is to me on the lips of another; the reason being that it is senseless, as far as I’m concerned, on the lips of another until I know through which mouth it was expressed. The propositional sign in this case doesn’t consist in the sound alone, but in the fact that the sound came out of this mouth. Whereas in the case in which I say or think it, the sign is the sound itself.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Proper names as identical twins

A while ago I discussed the Bunuel film where different actresses play the same character, and I discussed later how we try to identify people by their faces, or by the sound of their voice. Dogs do the same by their sense of smell, perhaps.

The difference between the film and reality is that Bunuel signifies the identity by convention. The actresses don’t look that alike, certainly not as identical twins look alike. But Bunuel uses cinematic conventions to convey the identity. One actress is seen opening the door, the other is seen walking through the other side. With actual perception the identity is signified naturally.

Before printing, we identified proper names in the same way. Here are two tokens of the word 'Plato' in Worcester 13 9rb and 11vb. With electronic printing, we are used to the same word looking exactly the same, which is guaranteed by the computer representing the five letters in the name 'Plato' by the ASCII characters 80, 108, 97, 116 and 111 respectively. This is what allows us to search an electronic document for the same name, or perform a Google search for ‘Plato’. Even printing on paper guarantees that the letters will look nearly the same.

Before that, we recognised proper names just as we recognised faces.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Tenth Birthday!

Beyond Necessity is 10 years old today!

The first post was remarkably accurate. “But this being London, the plumber will not be there.” Correct, the plumber never turned up, and when challenged, justified this by saying ‘All plumbers are bastards. I should know, I’m a plumber’. We went to a supposedly reputable upmarket bathroom designer in response, but he took half of our money then went bankrupt. A nice Roumanian plumber fixed it for us in the end, to whom we are forever grateful, although the upstairs loo has problems that delicacy prevents mentioning here.

Best wishes to my small band of readers.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Face blindness

Hume, Treatise Book I Part iii, section 2 (my emphasis):
We readily suppose an object may continue individually the same, though several times absent from and present to the senses; and ascribe to it an identity, notwithstanding the interruption of the perception, whenever we conclude, that if we had kept our eye or hand constantly upon it, it would have conveyed an invariable and uninterrupted perception. But this conclusion beyond the impressions of our senses can be founded only on the connexion of cause and effect; nor can we otherwise have any security, that the object is not changed upon us, however much the new object may resemble that which was formerly present to the senses.
Back-reference guarantees sameness of subject. Perception doesn’t. Think of the Bunuel film where two actresses (Carole Bouquet and Angela Molina) play the same character (Conchita). I was one of the many people who were fooled into thinking they were the same actress, because of the identity of character. Think also of the meaning of ‘persona’, namely ‘mask’. This idea comes more easily to me I suppose because I suffer from ‘face blindness’. I find it hard to tell when I am meeting the same (relatively unfamiliar) person or not, and rely on tells such as hairstyle, build, age and so on. I am often embarrassed when I meet the same person in the same day but the lighting is different or they have dressed differently and I do not recognise them. I often have to bluff my way out of it. The world of strangers is literally like a world of masks without identity. My wife and daughter guide me through film plots.

Now it might be that perceptual ‘reference’, i.e. reidentification, is some guaranteed and fail safe way of acquiring rapport with the subject, so you always know that the same person is before you. But I think not. I think other people just have better visual processing powers, meaning that a person’s face is a kind of uniquely applying description or ‘look’ that only one person can have. A sort of visual haecceitas, but which is descriptive, for all that. Think of identical twins. Their visual description is the same, so it’s a qualitative identity, not a numerical one.

Aristotle on singular terms

According to Fred Sommers (The Logic of Natural Language, chapter 3) in traditional formal logic (TFL) as opposed to modern predicate logic (MPL), indefinite noun phrases do refer. “The distinctions crucial to MPL between subject expressions like ‘Socrates’ and ‘denoting phrases’ like ‘a senator’ are not crucial in TFL” (p.51).

Where he gets this idea I don’t know. The scholastic logicians followed Aristotle, and Aristotle says (Peri hermenias 17a38) ‘λέγω δὲ καθόλου μὲν ὃ ἐπὶ πλειόνων πέφυκε κατηγορεῖσθαι, καθ’ ἕκαστον δὲ ὃ μή’. ‘By universal I mean what is by nature disposed (πέφυκε) to be predicated of many, by singular what is not [thus disposed]’. He gives the example of ‘man’ as universal, and the proper name ‘Callias’ as singular. The Greek terms καθόλου and ἕκαστον were translated by the Latins as universale and singulare respectively, from which we get the corresponding Latin-English terms. Note the ‘by nature disposed’ bit – Greek πέφυκε, Latin natum est. I.e. it’s in the very nature of a common term like ‘man’ to be predicable of more than one individual. But this is not true of a genuinely singular term, i.e. its nature is such as to be predicable only of one.

Aristotle also says (Metaphysics 1040a28) that we cannot define singular terms, and that we should not be deceived by the fact that some individual objects have attributes that are unique, like ‘going round the earth’ (= the sun according to his geocentric theory). He points out that more than one thing could go round the earth, or none, so the definite description doesn’t really define ‘sun’ (ἥλιος). ‘But the sun was supposed to be an individual (ἕκαστα), like Cleon or Socrates’. So the ‘nature’ of a genuinely singular term is not just to be predicable of one thing alone, like a uniquely applying description, but to be predicable of that thing in virtue of its very meaning. Is Aristotle anticipating Kripke’s doctrine of the rigidity of reference?

Geach has a challenging objection to this. Suppose I say, referring to a meeting I attended ‘a man was shouting’. And suppose the indefinite noun phrase ‘a man’ refers to, i.e. picks out or identifies some man in the crowd, say Frank, or aims to do so. But suppose Frank wasn’t shouting, but Richard was. Then ‘a man was shouting’ is true, because Richard was shouting. Yet I meant to refer to Frank. I meant to say something which is actually false, but which is true because some other person than I meant satisfied the predicate.

The whole point of indefinite noun phrases is not to refer, at least if to refer means to identify or pick out, to tell you which individual I have in mind. In that sense, ‘a man was shouting’ doesn’t tell you which person you have in mind. It is true just so long as at least one man – it absolutely doesn’t matter which – was shouting. This contrasts with definite terms, which are true only when the person identified satisfies the predication.

I hold that all singular ‘reference’, i.e. telling the audience which individual is said to satisfy the predicate, is intralinguistic, and that there are chains of back-reference which originate in some indefinite noun phrase, e.g. ‘a certain young man’. This originating phrase does not refer in the sense that it ‘tells us which’. Clearly it can be satisfied, i.e. true of some man. But it doesn’t tell us which man it was. For example, some have thought that the man in Mark 14:51 was Mark himself, i.e. the author of the gospel. After all, all the other disciples had fled, so who knew about the man in the linen cloth, apart from the author himself? On the other hand, there were other witnesses present, and the story might have been passed around until Mark heard it, who put it in his account.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Indefinite reference

14:51 And there followed him [Jesus] a certain young man (νεανίσκος) , having a linen cloth (σινδόνα) cast about his naked body; and the young men laid hold on him. 14:52 And he left the linen cloth, and fled from them naked.
The pronouns ‘he’, ‘his’, ‘him’ etc. clearly refer back to ‘a certain young man’. On the theory of extralinguistic reference, they do not refer in themselves, but inherit their reference from the antecedent. But the antecedent is an indefinite noun phrase. Can that refer? Surely not. Mark says ‘νεανίσκος τις’. The article τις (Latin quidam) means ‘a certain’, often used to suggest that the writer either cannot or will not speak more particularly. Commentators have speculated that the man was Mark himself, the author of the gospel, which if true means that ‘a certain young man’ and the pronouns, could be replaced with ‘I’, salva veritate. But Mark deliberately does not tell us. So in what sense does it refer?

Or suppose it does refer. Then as Geach argues (Reference and Generality chapter 1), the sentence ‘some man was wearing a linen cloth’ is true if some man – any man – was wearing a linen cloth. Even if the speaker has some particular man in mind, say Frank, and he means to say that Frank was wearing a linen cloth, it could have been the case that Frank wasn’t wearing a linen cloth, but some other man was, say Dick. So Dick was wearing a linen cloth, and so what the speaker actually said, i.e. ‘some man was wearing a linen cloth’, is true. But what the speaker meant to say is false.

It gets more difficult. If it is true that some man was wearing a linen cloth, whoever he was, then it is true to say that he was wearing a linen cloth. Note I use the pronoun ‘he’. I wrote ‘he was wearing a linen cloth’. But the subject of that sentence is a definite noun phrase, and so the sentence is true if and only if that man, and no other, satisfied the predicate. E.g. if that man was Frank, then the pronominal sentence is true if Frank satisfied the predicate, and false if he didn’t, even if Dick was wearing a linen cloth. Furthermore:
(1) Some man was wearing a linen cloth
(2) Sentence (1) is true if and only he – that man – was wearing a linen cloth.
How weird. Didn’t I say that sentence (1) can be true so long as someone – anyone satisfied ‘was wearing a linen cloth’? Yes, that’s still correct, because he, that man, could be any of the men. He could be Frank, Dick or Raymond. The whole point is that sentence (1) has an indefinite subject, and so doesn’t tell us which person satisfies the predicate. We know that he satisfies it, if the sentence is true. But we don’t know who he is.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Reference as target practice

Successful reference: You must not only hit something; you must hit the right thing. And what makes a thing the right thing is the intention of the one who refers.

I discussed this 'target practice' theory of reference a while ago. I am not impressed. The purpose of language is to communicate, and the role that reference plays is to communicate which individual the speaker is talking about. Or rather, when the speaker utters a sentence of subject-predicate form, with a referring term as subject, the purpose of reference is to communicate which individual the predicate is said to apply to.
So it's not just a matter of hitting the target on the bull's eye. The person you are communicating with has to understand too. How does he know you hit the target? Is it e.g. that he also has to have the target in his or her sights in some way?

We watched American Sniper over the weekend. At the target practice, there was a supervisor with binoculars who would check whether the trainee had hit the target successfully. If that is the analogy, how would it apply to reference? It implies the hearer has some privileged relationship with the target. What if the hearer is an atheist, and does not see, or refuses to see, the target? That implies an atheist cannot understand a Christian’s reference to God. But surely he can. I am sure there are a few atheists or agnostics following this discussion. Are they unable to follow it without binoculars? Surely not.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

The primacy of proper names

Bill Vallicella argues here that a pronoun inherits its referent from the noun of which it is the antecedent. I say ‘John left the party saying he was ill.’ My use of ‘John’ makes an extra-linguistic reference to some person who is not a part of speech or a bit of language. ‘He’ also refers extra-linguistically. But the pronoun ‘he’ inherits its referent from John. It has no independent referential role to play, no role independent of that of ‘John.’

The scholastics might have expressed his point by saying that the proper name refers per se, ‘through itself’, whereas the pronoun refers per alium, or ‘through another’, i.e. through the proper name ‘John’.

I am not sure. There is a strange passage in Mark 14:51-2 about a man who is not mentioned anywhere else in Mark, nor in the other gospels.
[51] And a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body. And they seized him, [52] but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked.
If Vallicella is right, i.e. if the reference of the pronoun is always per alium, through another, and if the ‘another’ is always a proper name, it follows there must be some proper name that ‘he’ (intralinguistically) refers back to. But there isn’t. The man is never mentioned by name, and there is no other reference to him anywhere in the New Testament. Absolutely everything we know about him is from these two verses. The pronoun seems to inherit its reference from the indefinite description ‘a young man’.  I shall discuss the reference of such indefinite noun phrases later.

What if Mark had given the man in the linen cloth a proper name, as Luke does to Zacheus in chapter 19 of his gospel?
[2] And behold, there was a man named Zacheus, who was the chief of the publicans: and he was rich […] [5] And when Jesus was come to the place, looking up, he saw him and said to him: Zacheus, make haste and come down: for this day I must abide in thy house.
Yet there is still the problem that Zacheus is introduced via the indefinite description ‘a man named Zacheus’.  Why shouldn’t the pronoun in ‘he was rich’ and the proper name in ‘Zacheus, make haste’ both inherit their reference from the indefinite description. What is so special about proper names?

Sometimes Mark, like the other gospel writers, introduces people without such an indefinite introduction. Mark 15:40 says “There were also women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome.

But what is the sense of the very first occurrence of a proper name in a narrative? Does it tell us which individual its predicate is true of? Not at all. ‘Simon the leper’ is mentioned only once in Mark 14:3. ‘While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard’. What information does the first and only use of the name convey about Simon? Nothing at all, beyond the fact that he was called ‘Simon’, and that he presumably suffered from leprosy. The passage could have read ‘reclining at the table in the home of a man called “Simon the Leper”‘ without loss of meaning.

In summary, in a narrative context there is nothing special about proper names that distinguishes them from pronouns. Both have to identify an individual in order for them to have their full sense, but they can only identify an individual by inheriting their reference from a previously occurring noun phrase. They cannot refer per se, only per alium.  And ultimately they can do this only through indefinite noun phrases. These alone, by their very nature, are unable to inherit reference.  That suggests that they refer per se, but this raises the question of whether ‘a man’, ‘a certain woman’, ‘one of the disciples’ can refer at all. I shall discuss this in the next post.

This useful page itemises all the characters, both named and anonymous, who are mentioned in Mark.

Monday, January 04, 2016

Exegetical neutrality

The Maverick Philosopher agrees that the Quran contains tokens of 'Moses' (or its Arabic equivalent). He is still not sure whether those tokens refer to Moses or not. I suggested the following questions.

1. Do the OT and NT also contain tokens of 'Moses' (or Hebrew or Greek or Latin equivalent)?

2. Do the OT tokens of ‘Moses’ refer to Moses?

3. Does a ‘yes’ answer to the question immediately above, where I use the name ‘Moses’ also answer the question of whether I can refer to Moses?

4. Do the NT tokens of ‘Moses’ refer to Moses?

5. Some passages in the Quran (not all) that use tokens of ‘Moses’ are clearly quotations from the OT. If we agree that the OT passages refer to Moses, do we also agree that the quoted passages in the Quran also refer to him?

6. If we don’t agree that the quoted passages using ‘Moses’ refer to Moses, what happens if a Muslim printer publishes a copy of the OT? Does the reference failure result from identity or religious beliefs of the person printing or copying all or part of the OT? What happens if a Muslim printer publishes an annotated edition of the Quran which copies (as footnotes) the OT passages verbatim? I.e. does the reference of ‘Moses’ in an OT passage depend on its printed location?

7. If we agree that the passages in the Quran which quote the OT ‘Moses’ passages do refer to Moses, what about the passages which are not obvious quotes. Do they also refer to Moses, or not?

8. If we answer ‘no’ to the question immediately above, what about such passages which are not quotations from OT, but which use pronouns such as ‘he’ to refer back to passages which are quotations? If we agree that in the quotation passages the tokens of ‘Moses’ refer to Moses, is any subsequent pronominal back-reference also a reference to Moses?

This Wikipedia article is useful in matching Biblical and Quranic texts. Note that it gives the Arabic as well as the Romanised names. Thus ‘Moses’ corresponds to the Arabic موسى. So in translating the Arabic name to the Romanised one, do we translate the reference as well? I.e. do we assume that ‘Moses’ always refers to one mentioned in the Old Testament, and that the translation of موسى as ‘Moses’ guarantees that the Quran refers to Moses? Imagine an Arabic-English dictionary which as well as translating nouns, adjectives and verbs, also translates proper names, so that ‘Moses’ is given as the meaning for موسى. Or has the translator violated the principal of exegetical neutrality in assuming sameness of reference?

In any case, Wikipedia appears to violate the principle. E.g. it says “Islam believes that God thoroughly forgave Adam and Eve their transgression when they begged His mercy”. Presumably the names have their standard reference?

Sunday, January 03, 2016

Linguistic Idealism?

Prior ("Oratio obliqua", Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supp. Vol. 37 (1963) 115-26, reprinted in Papers in Logic and Ethics, London:Duckworth, 1976) writes
When we describe our ordinary historical belief as a belief that Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon, the words "Julius Caesar" do not have reference but only cross-reference. Proper names may acquire intelligibility either through our being introduced in some way to their bearers, or by being incorporated into a story – "Once upon a time someone lived in Rome who was called "Julius Caesar", and this Julius Caesar conquered Gaul, crossed the Rubicon, and so forth".
We believe that Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon in the sense that we believe the relevant part of this story; there is no one to whom we are related as believing the whole story of him, but we identify the subject of the later part of the story, ultimately, as simply the "someone" with whom the story begins. ... there is no one of whom I say that he crossed the Rubicon; but I do say that someone crossed the Rubicon, and I have previously said (among much else) that this same someone was called "Julius Caesar".
We have a mass of historical documentation concerning Caesar, and a further, even greater mass of documentation about other people of his era, with multiple cross-references between them. We can extend this documentation by writing a biography of Caesar, using the same method of cross-reference, i.e. reference to historical documentation, which makes the name meaningful. Taking all the historical documentation as a whole, including later speculations (including biographies and historical studies) which attempt to remove contradiction or inconsistency, then you have a massive indefinite description of reality. ‘Caesar crossed the Rubicon’ is definite, of course, but only because of this cross-reference.

Is this linguistic idealism? Surely not. For that historical documentation gives us information about the past. Think of cross-reference as a neat way of locating information. (Think of history as a massive set of old-fashioned metal filing cabinets, where you can make ‘singular reference’ to individual sections of a cabinet, and check for cross-references).

Saturday, January 02, 2016

Assertion and reference

Lydia McGrew appears to suggest here that when the Quran says something like ‘Noah built an ark’, it is not saying just that the referent of ‘Noah’ built an Ark, but also that the referent of ‘Noah’ here is the same as the referent of ‘Noah’ in the Bible. Is the identity of reference asserted, as she seems to suggest, or is it required in order that to understand what the sentence says? I claim that it is a prerequisite, rather than an assertion, for the following reasons.

1. Generally it’s problematic to say that sentences contain assertions about what their component words mean. Does ‘Noah built an ark’ contain the assertion that ‘ark’ means a boat or ship? But then you have the problem of the sentence being false. Is it false because Noah didn’t built a boat or ship, or because he did, but ‘ark’ means something else, like ‘Wednesday’ or ‘fries with ketchup’.

2. What do we do about the passages in the Quran which quote the Bible? The English translation of Exodus 4 reads ‘Moses threw it [his staff] on the ground and it became a snake’. The version in the Quran (20:20) reads ‘Moses threw it down, and thereupon it turned into a slithering serpent’. Is the reference of ‘Moses’ different in the Quran from that in the Bible? If so, how can we accurately quote any passage from the Bible, given that the passage as we quote it may be about different individuals?

3. We use Biblical names in this kind of discussion all the time. E.g. you use the name ‘Abraham’. Are you making the claim that your referent of ‘Abraham’ is identical to the referent of that name as used in the Bible? How do I verify or test that claim? Is it down to same mental intention of yours? But I am not a clairvoyant.

4. How could you confirm your claim? For example, you could say ‘When I use the name ‘Abraham’, my intended referent is identical with the referent of the name as it occurs in the Bible’. But in order to do this you had to use the definite description ‘the referent of the name as it occurs in the Bible’. Are you now making yet another claim that the referent of this definite description is also identical with the referent in the Bible?? And doesn’t this lead to an infinite regress? The problem is that any claim that we are referring to N must itself refer to N.

Bill Vallicella makes a somewhat related claim here, which I will look at tomorrow.

Friday, January 01, 2016

Enjoy yourself

A Happy New Year to my readers. Here is Prince Buster.

Enjoy yourself it's later than you think.
Enjoy yourself, while you’re still in the pink.
The years go by, as quickly as a wink.
Enjoy yourself, enjoy yourself, it's later than you think.

Which has some affinity with the poem by Horace here, no?