Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The lazy argument for not doing anything

When inspiration fails, I turn to the Maverick’s site to look for easy pickings, and, lo, I find his post from Tuesday about future contingents. Bill starts with a tolerably useful distinction between the two senses of ‘proposition’ that caused so much anguish for Anthony (and me) the other day
Accordingly, a proposition is the sense of a context-free declarative sentence. A context-free sentence is one from which all indexical elements have been extruded, including verb tenses. Propositions so construed are a species of abstract object. This will elicit howls of outrage from some, but it is a view that is quite defensible.
I.e. proposition in the sense the medievals used it is “context-free declarative sentence”. A proposition in the modern sense is the sense (or ‘meaning’) of a context-free declarative sentence. (The medievals sometimes distinguished between a spoken proposition, i.e. context-free declarative sentence, and a ‘mental proposition’, i.e. the sense of a context-free declarative sentence.

Bill continues with a version of the ‘lazy argument’ for not doing anything, as follows.

1. Either I will be killed tomorrow or I will not.
2. If I will be killed, I will be killed no matter what precautions I take.
3. If I will not be killed, then I will be killed no matter what precautions I neglect.
Therefore
4. It is pointless to take precautions.

This is a breathtakingly rotten argument. Is it true that I will be killed in France tomorrow, I will be killed even if I take the precaution of not going to France? Surely not. It cannot be true that I will have been killed in France, even though I have not gone to France. The argument is only effective if we believe in truthmakers. For if the proposition ‘I will be killed in France tomorrow’ is true now, then Truthmakerists say it has a truthmaker now, i.e. some state of affairs that ‘makes it’ true. But if the truthmaker exists now, and given that we cannot change the immediate present or the past, we cannot change the truthmaker’s existence. So we cannot change the future, for the truthmaker that exists now makes the future true.

The early Duns Scotus has a nice argument against this which I discussed in a post in 2009. Scotus writes
It must be understood that a proposition about the future can be understood to signify something in the future in two ways. So that the proposition about the future signifies it to be true now that something in the future will have to be true [verum esse habebit] (for example, that ‘you will be white at a’ signifies it now to be in reality so that at time a you will be white). Or it can be understood that it signifies now that you will be white then: not that it signifies that it is now such that then you are going to be white, but that it signifies now that then you will be white. For to signify it to be [the case] now that you will be white at a, signifies more than to signify that you will be white at a.*
I take it that “signify it to be [the case] now that you will be white at a” means signifying that a truthmaker exists now for ‘will be white at a’.

*From a translation I made in 2009, which may be different from the corresponding translation (of Aristotle’s Perihermenias) that is now going through the usual process at CUA publications.

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28 Comments:

Blogger Anthony said...

>> Suppose I predict today that such-and-such will happen next year, and what I predict comes to pass. You would say to me, "You were right!"

Actually, depending on the nature of the prediction, I might very well respond to "See! I was right!" with "No, you just made a lucky guess."

However, I don't think this has anything to do with whether or not one accepts the notion of truthmakers. One place where Vallicella gets it wrong is when he says that "the past-tensed and the future tensed sentences express the same proposition", which seems to follow from his outrageous (*) suggestion that you can create a "context-free declarative sentence" from any proposition.

That is an assumption that both he and you seem to be making, and I do not agree with it. At least he is now making it explicitly, though.

Anyway, at this point I once again invite Ed to explain what he means by "proposition", and I'll add that I'm asking him to define it without reference to some vague reference to someone else's definition. (Alternatively, he should please post and answer my question as to whether or not the 10th edition of Introduction to Logic by Irving M Copi and Carl Cohen is an acceptable text to find the answer.)

If you wish to accept "a context-free declarative sentence" as your definition, Ed, then I invite you to form a context-free declarative sentence for the proposition that I will be killed three weeks from now.

(*) My "howl of outrage" is meant with all due respect, of course :).

8:49 pm  
Blogger J said...

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11:08 pm  
Blogger J said...

The contingency issue is different-- Valli. Not Armstrong. Though...still applicable --"it will rain in Phoenix tomorrow, or it won't" (assuming ..the earth continues to exist). Certainly the event raining makes it "true" or not--does the Truthmaker already exist? Maybe in Brahma's mind. Not to even the best weatherman (tho ...can be given likelihood). Duns Scotus was an impressive lad, but did know what probability was?

However, granting that contingency/modality ...makes matters more difficult, what about just basic facts--"jaguars are vertebrates" That proposition exists (ie, the sense/meaning apart from the sentence). What do bio. students memorize? They don't just take pictures of nature. And what is the class of mammals, if there aren't particulars to populate it (and facts about particulars). They learn propositional facts about the particulars in the class of mammals, whether obvious (have spines, hearts, hair, geographic range etc), or more complex, DNA< etc.

Anyway, it's hardly a strictly logical issue. Armstrong's making a metaphysical claim about empirical realism (or "nomological" realism).


Copi. Heh. Syllogism 101!

No, not acceptable, except maybe at Casa Grande JC.

11:11 pm  
Blogger Edward Ockham said...

>>Actually, depending on the nature of the prediction, I might very well respond to "See! I was right!" with "No, you just made a lucky guess."

So you can’t guess correctly? The question is whether a truth-value can attach at all to future tense statements.

>> Anyway, at this point I once again invite Ed to explain what he means by "proposition", and I'll add that I'm asking him to define it without reference to some vague reference to someone else's definition.

I think Vallicella’s definition will do as a working definition. Either a context-free declarative sentence, where ‘context-free’ is defined precisely as he definies it, namely where indexical elements have been eliminated. Or the sense of such a sentence. I think there are problems with this but you need to be more specific about what you think the problems are.

>> then I invite you to form a context-free declarative sentence for the proposition that I will be killed three weeks from now

Eliminating indexicals means eliminating the pronoun and the indexical ‘now’. Therefore the sentence you are looking for is ‘Anthony will be killed on 21 December 2011”.

12:38 pm  
Blogger Edward Ockham said...

J could you make your comments more specific please. And could you ensure that every sentence has a main verb, and is not a string of noun phrases connected by dots of ellipsis. Thank you.

12:39 pm  
Blogger Anthony said...

>> So you can’t guess correctly? The question is whether a truth-value can attach at all to future tense statements.

You can guess correctly, but that doesn't mean that a truth-value is attached to the future-tense statement. Now you could say that a truth value attaches to a future tense statement, when that future tense statement becomes deterministically true (keeping in mind that you are talking figuratively, of course). But such a statement is not a truthbearer.

A truthbearer, by definition, always has the same truth value, and it is either true or false. And before you argue that there are no truthbearers, a candidate for a truthbearer would be the meaning, in context, of a present tense (declarative) statement. (I believe that the meaning, in context, of a future tense declarative statement is *also* a truthbearer, but to argue that we would have to argue about what someone means when they talk about the future.)

When I say that it is the meaning, and not the statement itself, that is a truthbearer, among other things I mean to include statements such a "I am running". "I am running" is not a truthbearer. But the meaning of "I am running", when spoken in a certain context, is a truthbearer. (And substituting a name, like "Dick Cheney is running", doesn't fix things, because there's still the context of time, which incidentally I say cannot be resolved into an "eternal sentence").

>> Therefore the sentence you are looking for is "Anthony will be killed on 21 December 2011".

And what is the meaning of "21 December 2011"? Sure, you can define it with regard to calendars, but what if all calendars are destroyed between now and 21 December? You can define it with regard to the revolution of the earth, but what if the revolution of the earth stops between now and 21 December? Moreover, what if the calendar/earth/atomic-clock/whatever travels at close to the speed of light between now and 21 December?

I am arguing that context-free sentences don't exist.

However, I do believe that the meaning of a sentence can be context-free. "I am sitting." The sentence is not context free, but the meaning of it is. That would be a candidate for a proposition.

Now, with that out of the way, I think it's clear that "I'm going to roll snake eyes" does not have the same meaning as "I just rolled snake eyes". The former is, essentially, (and assuming the speaker is being rational), a wish - it is the expression of a desire, not the expression of a state of the world.

1:13 pm  
Blogger Anthony said...

"not the expression of a state of the world" -> "not the expression of a state of the world outside the speaker"

1:15 pm  
Blogger Edward Ockham said...

>> You can guess correctly, but that doesn't mean that a truth-value is attached to the future-tense statement.

So I say “what Stanley said was wrong”, where what Stanley uttered was a future tense statement. Are you saying the past-tense of ‘was’ is a mistake? Why?

>> A truthbearer, by definition, always has the same truth value, and it is either true or false. And before you argue that there are no truthbearers, a candidate for a truthbearer would be the meaning, in context, of a present tense (declarative) statement

An interesting idea. You mean that if every sentence is made context-free, and thus has specific reference to time, its truth value must be perfectly determinate?

>> And what is the meaning of "21 December 2011"?

I thought you would say that.

>> I am arguing that context-free sentences don't exist.

A possible topic for a future post.

3:06 pm  
Blogger J said...

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3:08 pm  
Blogger J said...

My writing's perfect, Ock--I teach logic (the contingency's another issue.) It's your new mormon pal who doesn't know what a syllogism is who can't write.

for that matter, Scotus was a realist, of a pure form. He would agree to truthmakers, more than likely. And to a realm of propositional truths, even in regard to future/conditional events (ie, more a grammatical point than logical). Why quote realists (and traditional catholics) when yr defending the non-realist/nominalist view? Odd.

Alas, you just don't get Armstrong's point on nomological realism, which is far removed from the quaint scholastic chitchat.

3:10 pm  
Blogger J said...

In other words, don't quote saints, when....you're completely opposed to sainthood and the catholic tradition. Goes for Vallicelli the mussolini of blogdom as well.

3:30 pm  
Blogger Anthony said...

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12:23 am  
Blogger Anthony said...

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12:32 am  
Blogger Anthony said...

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12:34 am  
Blogger Anthony said...

>> So I say “what Stanley said was wrong”, where what Stanley uttered was a future tense statement. Are you saying the past-tense of ‘was’ is a mistake?

No.

>> Why?

I think I'd need a more specific example to say exactly why. But I certainly don't go around saying that people are making a mistake when they say "he was wrong". If someone tried to argue that what Stanley uttered was a proposition about something which was metaphysically possible but not metaphysically necessary at the time it was uttered, and that this proposition was false at the time he uttered it, and that the cause of it being false at the time he uttered was an exercise of free will which happened after he uttered it, I'd say is mistaken on many levels.

>> You mean that if every sentence is made context-free, and thus has specific reference to time, its truth value must be perfectly determinate?

As far as I can tell, that's what Vallicella is proposing by a "context-free sentence". Quine referred to such sentences as "eternal sentences". I reject this. I'm saying you can't make every sentence context-free. In fact, I don't think you can make any sentence completely context-free.

>> >> And what is the meaning of "21 December 2011"?

>> I thought you would say that.

I was hoping you'd respond with something like "stop it, you know what it means", to which I could reply "yes, I do, but that's because I've added context to the sentence".

12:37 am  
Blogger Anthony said...

I once had the task of trying to write a program to convert phrases like "exactly 5 years from now" into "exactly X seconds from now".

Sounds easy, but it turns out such a program is impossible to write. We can't know ahead of time when the rotation of the earth is going to slow down enough to require the addition of a leap second.

12:14 pm  
Blogger J said...

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4:12 pm  
Blogger J said...

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4:13 pm  
Blogger J said...

What of Occam, Ed O' Ock.? My limited reading of the scholastic chestnuts leads me to believe Ock. was more conceptualist than "nominalist." He does accept knowledge from experience (as does Aristotle in theory). He doesn't accept contingent truths (ie, modal propositions are not true or false until...the event occurs).

As Russell suggests in his History OWP, however glib, the scholastic realists combined their theology with their philosophy. So
Substance exists (and the rest of the thomistic chestnuts), because..that fits a theistic explanation (whether...ju-chr, another matter. Aristotle's system seems purely pagan IMHO). Occam on the other hand limits theology to revelation (ie, not provable but a matter of faith). And thus separates the logic from theologizing, and is essentially an empiricist in regard to knowledge. So a Truthmaker would be the human observing events itself, it would seem. No a priori categories, except perhaps the human cognitive structure itself.

4:14 pm  
Blogger Michael Sullivan said...

"My writing's perfect, Ock--I teach logic "

A non-sequitur if I've ever seen one. As an independent third-party observer, J, I will say that your writing on this blog is frequently obscure, sometimes incomprehensible, and always disrespectful in tone. I've checked out your own blog and it's no different. And I teach metaphysics and other philosophical subjects, if that makes any difference.

4:47 pm  
Blogger J said...

Grazi! More like anything not in the thomistic tradition (pseudo-tradition) offends you.

Do you have a handy argument for like a priori truths, or Scotus's quaint dream of incorporeal substance, etc Paddy? Or just following orders from Papa Ratzy.

5:08 pm  
Blogger J said...

frequently obscure, sometimes incomprehensible,

example, paddy? We just don't blindly accept the dogma of the RC and the flying saint, St.Thomas (tho respect..some of it. Like say Thomas's points contra usury, greed and one might say early capitalism). But St Tom even got his Aristotle wrong.

5:21 pm  
Blogger Perezoso said...

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8:29 pm  
Blogger Edward Ockham said...

J - any more ad hominem and you are banned.

11:10 am  
Blogger J said...

You mean like Sullivan's ad hominem against me?

Examples should be provided not just baseless accusations.

again, Scotus is off-topic (and not a nominalist).

12:12 pm  
Blogger Michael Sullivan said...

One mark of disrespect is habitually referring to both the subjects of discussion and your interlocutors by diminutives and pet names, e.g. Ock, St Tom, Papa Razi, paddy, Valli., etc. etc. This is very rude.

By the way, I am not by any definition or stretch of the imagination a Thomist, a public fact about me which is easily discoverable.

But your writing is not obscure and sometimes incomprehensible because of your failure to accept Thomism or Catholic theology (after all, many clear and intelligible writers are not Catholics!), or even because of your rudeness. It's simply that your writing is poor. Nearly any of your comments can serve as an example. E.g.:

The contingency issue is different-- Valli. Not Armstrong. Though...still applicable --"it will rain in Phoenix tomorrow, or it won't" (assuming ..the earth continues to exist). Certainly the event raining makes it "true" or not--does the Truthmaker already exist? Maybe in Brahma's mind. Not to even the best weatherman (tho ...can be given likelihood).

In this case your point is not too difficult to make out, but it is certainly not clearly expressed. Sorry.

6:50 pm  
Blogger J said...

It's a combox. Not a dissertation.

At times I'm slightly demeaning to bozos like..Vallicella because they deserve it--e.g. BV's neo-con writing at Right Reason, his dismissal of democracy more or less, repeated dogmatic points, and re Truthmakers the focus on BV's points rather than Armstrong's.

(I doubt this will get through--but IMO you can't separate politics from philosophy. Even the scholastic nostalgia has a political point, IMO. A Conservative one. For that matter, BV doesn't even get the ancients right--they were NOT arch-conservatives or machiavellians. Plato for one. )

8:30 pm  
Blogger Michael Sullivan said...

I think clear writing is a worthwhile goal even in a combox.

I agree with you to some extent about Vallicella. There's much about his way of doing philosophy I don't care for and there's much about his attitude towards many things and people I don't care for either - for instance towards the scholastics and many of the ancients. I'm not offended by any dismissal of democracy, I think democracy is for most peoples a terrible idea. Churchill said democracy was the worst form of government, except all the rest; the thing is democracy can only work for a virtuous people, and I suspect that the English (and Americans, never mind the rest of the world) were by and large a better people eighty or ninety years ago then they are now. I agree with you that Plato and Aristotle were not conservatives, neo- or otherwise, in the modern sense. Neither am I, though no doubt I qualify as conservative in some sense or other.

Nevertheless Vallicella is an intelligent and sincere philosopher with ideas at least frequently worth reading. He's been at different times both kind and rude and dismissive to me personally, but either way I think he deserves at least a modicum of respect, as do all who are worth seriously discussing with or about.

4:53 am  

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