Monday, January 30, 2006

The Default Position

To me, the following three sentences seem identical

No mountains are golden
There are no golden mountains
Golden mountains do not exist

Brandon writes here:

> On what principles do you make the equivalence of the three the 'default' position?

I reply: on the principle that I don't understand what the other position might be. The default position is simply that I don’t understand the supposed difference between any of the sentences. There is a tendency to to assume that there is a clearly understood and definable difference between so-called 'existential' and 'quantifier' uses. I don’t understand it. Someone please explain it. (See my related posting on Alan Rhoda's attempt to explain it).

Indeed, it is difficult to have the argument unless we assume these formulations say the same thing. Brandon says 'There is a way of looking at the problem such that it's false to say that 'of course' there are no nonexistent objects'. I take him to be asserting the existence of a certain way of looking at the problem. He says 'There is a way …', and I deny the existence of such a way. I could not deny this without the default position that 'such a way does not exist' contradicts his assertion 'there is a way'.

He says that 'nothing about a quantifier requires that it import existence'. But this is itself a quantifier sentence denying the existence of anything about a quantifier that signifies existence. His point seems self-refuting, for to understand it at all is to understand it – a quantifier sentence - as denying existence.

In summary The default position is that the sentence 'there is a default position' asserts the existence of a default position. If you deny this, you have accepted the default position.

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Quidquid latine dictum sit, altum videtur

I argued (commenting in Alan Rhoda's weblog here) that

(1) It is possible that there are unicorns.

does not imply

(2) There are unicorns

Alan disputes this, arguing that (1) can be formalised

(3) (∃w)(Ww & (∃x)(xEw & Ux))

But how do we translate this formalisation? If it translates 'it is possible that there are unicorns' we still can't infer that there are unicorns. The 'that' clause acts, as it is designed to, to protect us from any inference as to the truth of the statement embedded in the clause (just as it protects us from inferring 'there are unicorns' from 'Jack thinks that there are unicorns'. If, on the other hand, we translate it as

(3') There is a possible-world, and there are unicorns, such that the unicorns are in that world

then this does logically imply there are unicorns. But that is because the translation strips out the 'that' clause. Which begs the question. If we are allowed to translate 'it is possible there are unicorns', which does not imply there are unicorns, by a sentence that contains 'there are unicorns' as a logical component, and which does for that reason imply there are unicorns, then Alan has pulled off the trick. But are we allowed to?

Whatever is said in formal logic, seems deep.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Meinongian Objects

Brandon writes here:
  • For the Meinongian solution to negative existentials -- i.e., that there are nonexistent objects independent of thought -- is a very elegant one. It's usually accused of 'ontological extravagance', but I don't think most people have much of an idea what they mean by phrases like that.

I would accuse it of ontological extravagance for the following reason: it claims that "there are" nonexistent objects. But of course there aren't.

An 'ontological claim' is just a fancy expression that there are (or there aren't) things of a certain kind. There are no non-existent things, because to say that unicorns are non-existent is just another, clearly confusing to some, way of saying that there are no unicorns.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2006

On the spelling of Ocham

Someone queried this but, yes, that spelling is fine. At least, that is how the Latin texts do it. (Indeed, a good way to locate Latin commentaries on Ocham is to Google it like that).
'Ockham' is of course better known (as is 'Occam'). But who can say which is right. 'Ockham' is the spelling of the picturesque Surrey village where the man is supposed to come from. Yet even that is uncertain. He may have come from 'Oak Ham' or Woking, which is not picturesque at all, being one of those many old English towns that somehow got annihilated in the twentieth century when the councils improved them with monstrous brown brick shopping malls and ring roads & dreaded pedestrian precincts filled with litter and other undesirable things.

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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.

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Saturday, January 21, 2006

London Calling!!

I thought I would never start a 'blog', for a number of reasons. (i) The name is off-putting (blob, glob, bog, gob). (ii) It is probably an American invention. (iii) It is really a sort of electronic diary, and so belongs in the same box with holiday pictures, amateur novels, school rock bands, drunken confessions, children's poetry, buskers &c. (iv) I have no political opinions, apart from a dislike of George Bush's accent, and a suspicion of high taxes.

Where to start? The most interesting thing that happened today was a whale got beached on the river by Battersea bridge, so the whole town trooped down to have a look. But we missed even that, being forced to spend a afternoon of stultifying boredom at the bathroom shop looking at different sorts of taps. And what was wrong with the old bathroom I ask? Apart from the fact the ceiling fell in, it was fine.

Anyway, more to come. A bit of bathroom news, certainly. I hope to attract an international audience with this, many of whom will be unaware of the London plumbing crisis. You will learn many interesting things. For example, the lady having clinched the deal on the overpriced goods, we learn the assorted hardware will be arriving on the 30 March on a 'tailgate service'. For the uninitiated, this means the lorry driver dumps it all on the pavement and refuses to carry it up the steps or anywhere the place it is meant to go, i.e. the bathroom. Apparently the plumber deals with it from the doorstep onwards. But this being London, the plumber will not be there.

In parallel with this, there is the sewage crisis in our road. This is apparently unconnected with the bathroom problem, a part of the main sewer having fallen in, and so blocking the drains of all the houses from 2-10. So the stuff you send down the pipes all comes back, just like the Amityville horror. But more on that later.
Other bits and pieces to watch out for: philosophy, a dash of malt whisky and a bar or two of Louis Armstrong.

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