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?