Monday, December 19, 2011

Frege's Puzzle and In-Between Cases of Believing

There was a post this weekend at Eric Schwitzgebel's The Splintered Mind about Frege's puzzle, which continues to preoccupy philosophers of mind, and is "is a heck of a mess in philosophy of language" according to Eric.
Frege's puzzle is this. Lois Lane believes, it seems, that Superman is strong. And Clark Kent is, of course, Superman. So it seems to follow that Lois Lane believes that Clark Kent is strong. But Lois would deny that Clark Kent is strong, and it seems wrong to say that she believes it. So what's going on?
Eric suggests the problem is that "Almost all the participants in this literature seem to take for granted something that I reject: that sentences ascribing beliefs must be determinately true or false, at least once those sentences are disambiguated or contextualized in the right way".

I have discussed this problem before, notably here, in the context of impersonal verbs taking that-clauses.  The problem is that whatever applies to belief-ascriptions, must apply also to impersonal ascriptions such as "there is evidence that p", "it was discovered that p in yyyy", "according to the theory of X, it is the case that p", for these sentences, as will become clear, also suffer from the substitution problem. Thus, if Eric is right, sentences like "there is little evidence that Edward de Vere was the author of Macbeth" are not determinately true or false, which seems counterintuitive.

Let me explain. I often warn people against unquestioning acceptance of Wikipedia, but what it says here today seems unquestionably right.
"The Oxfordian theory of Shakespearean authorship proposes that Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (1550–1604), wrote the plays and poems traditionally attributed to William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon.
That is surely true. That is what the Oxfordian theory is. Whether the theory is right or not is irrelevant. The question is whether this characterisation of the theory is correct. It is, and it uses, without mentioning, the proper names 'Edward de Vere' and 'Shakespeare'.  But there are circumstances in which its truth would not survive substitution. Let's suppose we discover that Francis Bacon were identical with Shakespeare, as Cantor famously believed, spending much of his personal fortune trying to prove it.  If so, we should be able to substitute 'Francis Bacon' for 'William Shakespeare' in a sentence telling us what the Oxfordian theory is.  But it is not true that, according to the Oxfordian theory, Edward de Vere was Francis Bacon.  Nor would be true to say that plays and poems such as 'Macbeth' were traditionally attributed to Francis Bacon, even if Shakespeare were Bacon.  Nor would it be true to say that we discovered that Shakespeare was Shakespeare in 2012, even if it were true that we discovered that Shakespeare was Bacon in 2012.

Yet sentences like "Oxfordians believe that Edward de Vere wrote the plays and poems traditionally attributed to William Shakespeare" are unquestionably true, i.e. determinately true (or false).  By equal reasoning, since the problem seems identical, this suggests that sentences ascribing beliefs must be determinately true or false.

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11 Comments:

Blogger Anthony said...

In what way are we assuming that Bacon is identical with Shakespeare?

I'm not very familiar with the theory, but the least incredible possibility seems to be that Bacon used the name of Shakespeare, and that they were not identical.

But maybe I'm missing something. What exactly is this theory that we're assuming?

1:12 am  
Blogger Anthony said...

>> Nor would it be true to say that we discovered that Shakespeare was Shakespeare in 2012, even if it were true that we discovered that Shakespeare was Bacon in 2012.

However, it would be true to say in 2012, "we just discovered that Shakespeare was Shakespeare", if we discovered in 2012 that Shakespeare was Bacon.

1:57 am  
Blogger Edward Ockham said...

>>In what way are we assuming that Bacon is identical with Shakespeare?

In the usual way, meaning they are one and the same person. We have the name 'Shakespeare' whose reference is fixed by the description 'wrote the plays traditionally associated with the name ‘Shakespeare’. (Or it could be fixed by other biographical details of the ‘Stratford man’ whose will is extant). And we have the name ‘Bacon’, whose reference is fixed in a similar way. The question is whether they are one and the same person.

>>However, it would be true to say in 2012, "we just discovered that Shakespeare was Shakespeare", if we discovered in 2012 that Shakespeare was Bacon.

It is not true that we discovered the law of identity in 2012.

8:55 am  
Blogger Anthony said...

>> In the usual way, meaning they are one and the same person.

So Bacon was the son of John and Mary Shakespeare, was baptized 26 April 1564, married Anne Hathaway at the age of 18, had three kids with her, was part owner of Lord Chamberlain's Men, died 23 April 1616, and left the bulk of his large estate to his daughter Susanna? In addition to all the things we know of about Bacon?

9:06 pm  
Blogger Anthony said...

>> It is not true that we discovered the law of identity in 2012.

No, it certainly is not.

9:07 pm  
Blogger J said...

are the referents of ANY proper names--if not historical "facts"-- really fixed? (or, the extension of a name...aka facts associated with the name). I wd say no, except in a colloquial sense. Americans did not know of Jefferson's Hemmings affair until a decade or so ago. So, really the referent changed, however slightly (or rather, the class of attributes aka extension associated with TJ changed. Similarly for "Shakespeare".)

1:12 am  
Blogger David Brightly said...

>> But it is not true that, according to the Oxfordian theory, Edward de Vere was Francis Bacon.

Well, yes and no. Isn't there a use/mention distinction here? If we merely mention, ie quote, the Oxfordian theory indeed it nowhere says that de Vere was identical to Bacon. And there is a background theory that the two were distinct. But if we use the Oxfordian theory against a background theory according to which Shakespeare and Bacon were identical we can deduce that de Vere was identical to Bacon. So in that context it is true that according to Oxfordism, de Vere was Bacon, and Oxfordians would have to face up to this. Lois Lane's situation is analogous to the Oxfordian: lacking the hypothesis that Clark Kent and Superman are identical she is under no pressure to infer that Clark Kent can fly.

So I agree that if beliefs behave like theories then they must be determinately true or false. Eric is going down the wrong path.

11:49 am  
Blogger Anthony said...

>> So I agree that if beliefs behave like theories then they must be determinately true or false. Eric is going down the wrong path.

I don't know if Eric meant it to be significant or not, but he rejected that *sentences ascribing* beliefs must be determinately true or false, not that *beliefs* must be determinately true or false.

I certainly think this is a significant distinction. Sentences are not true or false. What a sentence means today is not necessarily what the same sentence will mean tomorrow. What a sentence means when spoken by one person is not necessarily what the same sentence means when spoken by another person.

1:52 pm  
Blogger Anthony said...

To get from beliefs to sentences ascribing beliefs, you need context-free, eternal sentences. Eric alludes to this, adding "at least once those sentences are disambiguated or contextualized in the right way".

But there's the rub. Sentences can't be disambiguated or contextualized in the right way.

2:01 pm  
Blogger Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanks for the post and comments, Edward!

We all know, in a folksy way, what the theory that is described as "the theory that de Vere is Shakespeare" amounts to. But as an exercise, let's consider aliens who have been watching the story from above, as it were, and let's assume that the theory is correct. Their name for this de Vere / Shakespeare guy is Maximus. Now, what are they going to say about the theory? Is it the theory that Maximus is Maximus? No, it's more like the theory that the guy who did X, Y, and Z and who was known as "Shakespeare" also did A, B, and C and was known as "de Vere". Is de Vere Shakespeare in this scenario? Well, yes of course! Is that a *substantive* claim? Well... kind of. It depends on what you are trying to do with that sentence. Is the fact that de Vere is Shakespeare different from the fact that Shakespeare is Shakespeare? Again, maybe it depends on what you are trying to do in asserting the sentence.

So that's my tentative perspective. One way or another, though, I think there are good grounds for treating attitude ascriptions as vague in a way that allows indeterminate truth values in cases like Kent/Superman. There's probably more than one way of fitting that view about attitudes with an approach to informative identity claims.

8:21 pm  
Blogger biblioarchy said...

Oxfordians tend to use the name 'Shaksper' or some variant, which signifies the actual way the Stratford man signed his name. To say 'Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare'is irrelevant and immaterial, rub a dub dub, because the Stratford man never spelled his name that way. Bacon and De Vere were real people, as was Shaksper, The Stratford man. Shakespeare, is a coprus, an amalgamation of texts, portions of texts, poems, plays, and mysteries. Bacon was not De Vere, and no Oxfordians believe this. Take my word for it, I know them. So if you guys are really into language, and I really enjoyed finding this blog post, please create sentences like..."Did Edward De Vere write the works of Shakespeare? But that kind of sentence would, of course, lead to trying to answer it. The Stratfordians are Rhetorical Alchemists, refining Bankrupt phrases like 'Of course Shakespeare Wrote Shakespeare' into a fiction that an Illiterate Grain Hoarder from Stratford actually wrote all those texts. oh well, ....

8:28 pm  

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