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.