Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Things such that there are no such things

Alan Rhoda argues as follows:

'In one sense of the word, to say something "exists" is to say that it is actual or real. But that can't be the sense implied when we say that something "is" possible but non-actual or that something "is" impossible because both of those categories exclude actuality. So we have to recognize at least one additional sense of "exists" besides "is actual"'.


Do we have to? I'm sceptical. Here's Alan's argument in a nutshell.

(A) Things such as unicorns are possible, though there aren't such things
(B) There are some things which are possible, though there aren't such things

I suppose we have to admit (A) for the same reason we have to admit 'Some of Jane Austen's characters are working class'. But (B) seems to imply

(C) There are such things, such that there are no such things.
I'm not sure I want to admit that. Certainly Meinong said 'Those who like paradoxical modes of expression could very well say "There are objects of which it is true to say there are no such objects'. But then he would, wouldn't he? And it is paradoxical.

Labels:

14 Comments:

Blogger Bill Vallicella said...

I agree with this. One can admit unrealized possibilities without being a Meinongian possibilist.

5:00 pm  
Blogger Macuquinas d' Oro said...

Hi Ockham,

May I ask a question about this claim:
“We have to recognize at least one additional sense of ‘is’ besides ‘is actual’ because of sentences like ‘x is possible/impossible’.”

Does it matter that in many languages, especially the highly inflected ones, we would dispense with the copula altogether in those utterances? No EST or ESTI are needed in Latin or Greek. The ending on the adjective links it to the noun of which it is predicated, making the copula completely superfluous. I think a linguist would say that the use of “is” in such situations is purely as a syntactical marker of predication, equivalent to an ending like –us or –a on the adjective. This use is very much like a conjunction, isn’t it? And its “meaning”, if you want to use that uncertain term, is just its syntactic use in linking terms ( as conjunctions usually link phrases ).

6:06 pm  
Blogger Ocham said...

It doesn't matter whether the copula is locked inside the verb, or whether it occurs as 'is' or similar, and the traditional logicians recognised this

"Although every proposition contains these three things [subject, predicate, copula], it could be composed of only two words, or even one. Wishing to abbreviate their speech, people created an infinity of words all signifying both an affirmation, that is, what is signified by the substantive verb, and in addition a certain attribute to be affirmed. " (Arnauld).

8:09 am  
Blogger Tom said...

Ochum-

Semantics (and your problem with Alan seems to be one of semantics) aside, describe for me your ontology with respect to, say, future possibilities. There's a chance of rain tomorrow. It's not now tomorrow. It's not now raining tomorrow (or not). Tomorrow's not real.

Describe for me what you take "It is possible that it rain tomorrow" to mean. Is that possibility real? In what sense?

Tom

4:07 am  
Blogger Tom said...

Ochum: It means that it is possible it will rain tomorrow. If you are hoping that we can describe its meaning using sentences in the present tense and indicative mood, I think you are wrong.

Tom: You just used the presence tense indicative at precisely the point of interest when you said "It is possible...." So I'm just trying to understand what sort of reality you believe these words describe. What do you believe you're saying about the world when you say it's the sort of place that "might rain tomorrow"? Is there any relationship at all between the claim that "It might rain tomorrow" and the way the world actually is when you make the claim? If so, what's the relationship? If not, what makes it the case that your language is true or false?

Tom

7:50 pm  
Blogger Ocham said...

You've got me there! Clearly I don't want to see 'It will be possible that ...' as though it weren't possible now. And if it is possible now, what, as you say, is the relationship between this statement and the way the world actually is when I make the claim?

One to think about for the weekend. Good point.

1:52 pm  
Blogger Tom said...

Ochum: Clearly I don't want to see 'It will be possible that ...' as though it weren't possible now. And if it is possible now, what, as you say, is the relationship between this statement and the way the world actually is when I make the claim?

Tom: Precisely. That is all that's behind Alan's point that "actuality delimits possibility." It's what the world NOW is that grounds the truth of my claim (made NOW) that the world is (see? NOW) the sort of place that might rain tomorrow. The 'possibilty' of rain tomorrow is what it is BECAUSE the world 'actually' is what it is right now. This too is all Alan was essentially expressing when he said we "quantify of non-actuals." I still don't like expressing it that way, because as a presentist who affirms that truth supervenes on being, the only 'being' being done is that being done in the present, which in turn means the present is the only temporal locateoin where any supervenience of truth can occur. And non-actuals aren't presently occuring, so I don't see how our langauage can be said to "quantify over" them. To speak of the 'possibility of rain tomorrow' is to fundamentally speak of what today's actual world might/might not become tomorrow. So we quantify of 'possiblia', yes. But that's different than saying we quantify over 'non-actuals'. By 'possibilia', or the 'possibility of rain tomorrow', I do NOT mean 'tomorrow's rain', which is a non-actual. I mean that state of the actual world which might become (over time and through change) or resolve into actual rain tomorrow. But it's that actual state of the world today which constitutes the ontology of 'possibilia' and which in turn is the truth grounds for "It is possible that it might rain tomorrow."

We need to distinguish between the present truth-grounds of future-tense propositions positing contingencies (which grounds are themselves what constitute the ontology of 'possibilia') and the non-actual contingent states of affairs being described by such propositions.

Maybe it's nit-picking, but in my view we quantify over possibilia and not over non-actuals, because I take "possibilia" to be those present slices of the actual world which might become this sort of world or that sort of world in the future, not those future worlds themselves.

Tom

4:16 pm  
Blogger Ocham said...

Here I do not agree with you. But I haven't thought about your original point yet.

7:52 pm  
Blogger Tom said...

Fair enough, Ochum. But I'm not letting go. I want to hear you explain what presently grounds "It is possible that it rain tomorrow." You have already admitted that this does say something about the present world (the state of the world at the time I make the claim).

All I've done is suggest that this something about the presnet world:

a) is some actual state of affairs,

b) is all the truth grounds one needs for the proposition "It is possible that it rain tomorrow,"

c) is best thought of as constituting the ontology of possibilia.

If you agree that our proposition must posit something actual about the present world but disagree with a, b, and/or c, I'd be interested in knowing just what that something is.

Now, (c) is negotiable. It just regards what we believe we're referring to by the term possibilia, whether presently obtaining realities or the non-actuals they ground, or describe. (a) and (b) are fundamental, however. With regard to (c), one can view possibilia as the non-actual states of affairs described (in our case, "tomorrow's rain" when it arrives) or as those present states of affairs that constitute the possibilities they describe. The truth is that possibilia embrace both, even if they're more fundamentally about the present. When we say "It is possible that it rain tomorrow" we use a present indicative to say the world NOW is such that it might rain tomorrow; but we're also talking about what the world might be like tomorrow. So we're obviously talking about non-actuals. Essentially we're reading off the present state of the world and projecting out how that world might change or resolve itself at some future time, and there are always limited ways in which the actual world might change over time.

Anyhow, I prefer to conceive of possibilia as those present states of affairs that make our future-tense propositions true or false. So the future is obviously in view even it it isn't the truth ground for our future-tense propositions describing what might/might not be.

So, I'd still like to know what you take that "something about the present world" to be if you disagree with a, b, and c.

Tom

4:04 pm  
Blogger Ocham said...

All I concede is that the proposition 'It is possible that it will rain tomorrow' is present tense. My position is that we cannot infer present tense propositions from future tense ones, and that both tensed and modal propositions are irreducibly tensed and modal.

You want to me say whether our proposition posits something actual about the present world? That depends what you mean by 'posits something actual about the present world'. If you mean that the proposition is really a simple present tense proposition, that's clearly wrong, for it contains a future tense proposition.

I think it's an epistemic proposition, meaning, for all we know, it will rain tomorrow.

5:47 pm  
Blogger Tom said...

Tom: Thanks for hanging in there with me, Ochum. I love this subject. Don’t mean to keep you in it if you’re no longer interested.

Ochum: You want to me say whether our proposition posits something actual about the present world? That depends what you mean by 'posits something actual about the present world'.

Tom: You suggested it: “Clearly I don't want to see 'It will be possible that ...' as though it weren't possible now. And if it is possible now, what, as you say, is the relationship between this statement and the way the world actually is when I make the claim?” When you said “possible” and “now” in “as if it weren’t possible now” you said you don’t want to deny that these say something about the present world. I’m interested in what that something is.

Ochum: I think it's an epistemic proposition, meaning, for all we know, it will rain tomorrow.

Tom: Can all future-tense propositions be reduced to expressions of our limited epistemic stance? I think not. There are greater riches waiting for those who persevere here, Ochum! Look, you seem unwilling to say that our proposition “It is now possible that it rain tomorrow” has a hand in the present, says something about the present world, that there is some actual state of affairs which constitutes its now being the case that it’s possible that it rain tomorrow, and that in spite of the fact that this is what we're actually saying (viz., that something is "now possible"). You offer our own epistemic limitations as that about the present world which constitutes the present possibility of rain tomorrow. But that seems to suppose that there IS now some truth of the matter about rain tomorrow (viz., either that it’s now causally determined that it ‘will’ rain or determined that it ‘will not’ rain) about which we’re simply ignorant, otherwise were we omniscient we'd be saying either "It is now the case that it will rain tomorrow" or "It is now the case that it will not rain tomorrow." But these both make my case as well, since they say something about the present world, namely, that it is causally closed with respect to how the world will become. We're certainly sometimes ignorant about the future. But are our propositions about the future always an expression of ignorance?

You at least recognize an actual state of affairs in the present which you claim grounds the truth-value of our proposition, and that state of affairs is the speaker’s epistemic state, or the cognitive content of the speaker’s knowledge. That’s an actual state of affairs in the present world. Now, since you posit THIS present state of affairs, THIS reality, as part of that about the present world entailed in our proposition, let me suggest that it’s not that big a leap to posit another presently obtaining reality (the right one this time!) as that we grounds our proposition. It’s there!

What about the proposition “Tomorrow God will exist” (assuming for the moment that God exists and is a necessary being)? Isn’t it clearly that which is NOW the case at the time I make this assertion which serves as the truth-grounds for this proposition?

I totally agree with you that tense and modality are irreducible. But now you sound like Charles Hartshorne, whose conviction that tense was irreducible led him to precisely the view I’m proposing.

Tom

3:17 pm  
Blogger Ocham said...

Tom, I am going to create a new post on this. I am a bit tied up at the moment, but hang on in there.

10:49 am  
Blogger Ocham said...

Thanks by the way for mentioning Charles H. There was a good article in the Stanford Encyclopedia which i followed up.

10:50 am  
Blogger Ocham said...

A fourteenth comment added because of my superstitious dread of thirteen comments. A strange causality.

12:02 pm  

Post a Comment

<< Home