Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Monologion

Anselm's Monologion - all 80 chapters of it - is now in the Logic Museum, in parallel Latin English.  Ockham frequently refers to this work in the Summa Logicae.

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On the reference of 'Sherlock Holmes'

Bill asks here "What makes my utterance of 'Socrates' denote Socrates rather than someone or something else?"

And I ask "What makes my utterance of 'Sherlock Holmes' refer to Holmes rather than someone or something else?"  It's not simple.  There actually is a person called 'Sherlock Holmes' who is a minister of the church living in Massachusetts.  There is an article about him in the Sherlock Holmes society journal here.  So I could use the name to refer to him, as that article does.  Yet a character of the same name appears in the novel The Seven-Per-Cent Solution by Nicholas Meyer, but in this case it is made clear that the character is the same person as the one Conan Doyle wrote about. Meyer's book is an extension of the 'Holmes mythos'.  And also of the Ruritania mythos - in the book, Holmes meets Rudolf Rassendyll, hero of Prisoner of Zenda.

So we can use the name of a fictional character either (i) to refer to the character in a 'textual criticism' context (ii) to write more fiction in the same genre or mythos, (iii) to refer to a real person who happens to share the same name.  What a tangled net, no wonder so many clever people have been ensnared by it.

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Thursday, April 28, 2011

The God of Christianity and the God of Islam

Vallicella has a nice post here about whether the God of Christianity and the God of Islam are the same God. He points out that if reference is mediated by sense, and that if the sense of 'God of Islam' is D1: 'the unique x such that x is omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, created the world ex nihilo and is unitarian', and if the sense of 'God of Christianity' is D2: 'the unique x such that x is omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, created the world ex nihilo and is triune', then:

It is easy to see that no one entity can satisfy both (D1) and (D2). So if reference is routed through sense, then Christian and Muslim cannot be referring to the same being. Indeed, one of them is not succeeding in referring at all. For if God is triune, nothing in reality answers tothe Muslim's conception of God. And if God is unitarian, then nothing in reality answers to the Christian conception.
His examples bring out, in my view, the problem with description theories of singular reference. Suppose that, according to religion A1, there is one god who satisfies the uniquely applying description F1. And suppose that, according to religion A2, there is one god who satisfies the uniquely applying description F2. And suppose, for sake of argument, that F1 and F2 are contraries. Nothing can be both F1 and F2 (Bill's example is 'unitarian' and 'triune'.  Then if religion A1 is correct, there is exactly one F1 and (from the logical properties of F1) there can be no being that satisfies F2. Conversely, if religion A2 is correct, there is exactly one F2, and there can be no being that is F1. According to a description theory, neither god can be identical with the other, if either exists.

But now suppose that both religions have the same ‘core’ holy book B, which refers to one god by name G, but which gives no uniquely defining property for that god. However, at some point in the past there was a disagreement over some heresy, and each religion now has a different supplementary holy book – B1 in the case of religion A1, and B2 in the case of religion A2. It is from these supplementary texts that the disagreement over the uniquely defining properties F1 and F2 arises. But both texts refer to god using the same name G as the core book B. Thus the intended or purported reference of G is the same for both competing religions. The disagreement is not about the identity of the purported referents of G – for these have to be one and the same being – but rather the properties F1 and F2. Both religions agree they are worshipping one and the same god, but they disagree about whether he has the uniquely defining F1 (in the case of A1) or the uniquely defining F2 (in the case of A2).

Something like this clearly holds for Judaism and Christianity. The purported referent of ‘YHWH’ is the same for both Christians and Jews. That is a logical conclusion from the semantics of the Old and New Testament names. You will not understand the New Testament unless you understand that the names 'God' and 'Lord' are meant to refer to the intended referent of 'YHWH' in the Old Testament. But the properties are different. Christians hold that YHWH had a son, who is one and the same god as YHWH, but a different person. Jews do not hold this belief. So a description theory has the god of the Jews and the god of the Christians as being numerically different. But a reference theory (which holds that identity is determined by intended identity or intended referent) has them as being the same.

I do not know much about Islam, but I believe that the Islamic holy books are the records which Muslims believe were dictated by God to various Islamic prophets throughout the history of mankind. I.e. Moses (according to Muslims) was an Islamic prophet. Since Christians, Jews and Muslims agree that YHWH gave the laws to Moses, the intended reference of ‘YHWH’ is the same for all. I.e. if YHWH exists, all three religions are referring to him, even though they disagree fundamentally, and bitterly, about his properties. E.g. Christians believe YHWH he has a son in Jesus. Muslims believe he has a prophet in Jesus, Jews disagree with both of these things, believing Jesus to have been a heretic and a blasphemer, for which reason he was executed.

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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Gospel truth

In my last post, I mentioned two fundamental differences between the account of fiction I have defended here, and the account given by Peter van Inwagen in "Creatures of fiction". The first is that, according to me, sentences in fiction have a truth value. They are typically false (although works of fiction may contain many true statements, such as that Napoleon was short, that Paris is a city in France, that Baker street is in London etc). The second is that fictional names refer. Van Inwagen, by contrast, holds that (i) sentences in fiction typically assert nothing at at all and (ii) fictional names do not refer.

Taking the first point first. Van Inwagen's position is essentially the neo-Fregean view of assertion, namely that the same thought or proposition may occur now asserted, now unasserted, that I have criticised in many places, particularly here, arguing that assertion is part of the semantics of a sentence, and that every complete sentence (i.e. one that is not a subordinate or noun clause) can be analysed into a sign for the content of the sentence - that which it states or expresses, usually signified by a 'that' clause, and a sign for assertion or denial.  Thus "Snow is white" = "It is the case / that snow is white".  If this is correct, then even fictional sentences contain an assertoric component, and hence are capable of truth or falsity, independent of what the narrator means or intends when he or she utters them.  This is exactly what Van Inwagen denies, and it is, of course, why he calls sentences vehicles of assertion. 

The same view is defended by Alvin Plantinga (The Nature of Necessity, Oxford, 1974, Ch. VIII, pp. 153-163 especially), who cites a famous passage by the English poet Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1586).
Now for the poet, he nothing affirmeth, and therefore never lieth. For, as I take it, to lie is to affirm that to be true which is false; so as the other artists, and especially the historian, affirming many things, can, in the cloudy knowledge of mankind, hardly escape from many lies. But the poet, as I said before, never affirmeth. The poet never maketh any circles about your imagination, to conjure you to believe for true what he writeth. He citeth not authorities of other histories, but even for his entry calleth the sweet Muses to inspire into him a good invention; in troth, not laboring to tell you what is or is not, but what should or should not be. And therefore though he recount things not true, yet because he telleth them not for true he lieth not; without we will say that Nathan lied in his speech, before alleged, to David; which, as a wicked man durst scarce say, so think I none so simple would say that Aesop lied in the tales of his beasts; for who thinketh that Aesop wrote it for actually true, were well worthy to have his name chronicled among the beasts he writeth of.
This is not right. For it is not true, as Sidney implies, that there is absolutely no gap between saying something false, and lying. There are at least two things in between. The dictionary definition of ‘to lie’ is ‘to utter something that is false with the intention to deceive’. Thus (1) in the case of stories, the narrator utters something he knows to be false, but with no intention to deceive. There is a compact between the narrator and his audience. The audience knows that these are falsehoods, the narrator knows that they know this, and both sides agree the same. This does not change the fact that the things said are (typically) falsehoods. And (2) in many cases a person uttering falsehoods does not know they are false, but rather believes sincerely in their truth, and so does not intend to deceive either. For example, a story about some miracle that (we will assume) cannot be true, but which the teller genuinely and sincerely and believes, and which, to paraphrase Sidney “he telleth for true”.

Someone who is not a Biblical fundamentalist must deal with the possibility that some or all of the events recounted in the Gospel are not literally true. If so, then according to Inwagen’s neo-Fregean view of assertion, one who recounts the Gospels is not asserting anything, and is not saying anything true or false. Clearly not: the fundamentalist, for one, will strenuously defend the literal truth of everything that is stated there. The ‘truth’ of the Resurrection is fundamental to Christian belief, and is even something a Christian has to publicly state they believe in.

Nor can Van Inwagen exclude such texts from his account. For his account is designed to explain the truth and falsity of statements of textual criticism, in which Biblical criticism must be included. For example, in “Discipleship and minor characters in mark's gospel” Joel Williams writes.
The main character groups in Mark's Gospel are the disciples, the opponents of Jesus, and the crowd. In addition to these groups, a number of individual characters are included in Mark's narrative. Some of them, such as Andrew or Peter, are disciples, while others, such as the high priest or Pilate, oppose Jesus. Also a number of minor characters function neither as Jesus' disciples nor as His opponents.
The statements are clearly true, and they include the sort of quantification (“some of them … others…”) that Inwagen’s account is designed to explain. But they are inconsistent with one of his key assumptions, which is that ‘textual criticism’ statements are vehicles of assertion, whereas the sentences in the texts they are criticising are not.

I will discuss the second point about 'reference' later.

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Monday, April 25, 2011

Vehicles of assertion

I read Creatures of Fiction* more carefully over the break, and I now see I have fundamentally misunderstood Inwagen's position. I had assumed that he saw no fundamental difference between sentences like this

(i) She was a fat old woman, this Mrs. Gamp, with a husky voice and a moist eye, which she had a remarkable power of turning up, and only showing the showing the white of it (Martin Chuzzlewit, XIX)
and sentences like this:
(ii) Mrs. Sarah Gamp was, four-and-twenty years ago, a fair representation of the hired attendant on the poor in sickness (From Dickens's preface to an 1867 edition of Martin Chuzzlewit)
The first is a sentence from the novel itself, and so belongs in English literature. The second is from an essay about the novel, and so belongs in English literary criticism.  It turns out (p. 301) that while Van Inwagen regards the second type of sentence, i.e. the sentence belonging to the genre of literary criticism, as being the vehicle of assertion and thus capable of truth and falsity (the second one is probably true, for example), he does not regard the first type as being a vehicle of assertion.  He writes:
There is no point in debating what sort of thing Dickens was writing about when he wrote (i) or debating what sort of fact or proposition he was asserting, since he was not writing about anything and was asserting nothing. Sentence (i) does not represent an attempt at reference or description.
He mentions (in a footnote) that this is an important point and that the reader who does not concede it will get little out of reading further.  He says that the arguments establishing it will be found in Alvin Plantinga, The Nature of Necessity (Oxford, 1974) Ch. VIII, pp. 153-163 especially, and J. O. Urmson, "Fiction," American Philosophical Quarterly, vol. 4 13 (1976), pp. 153-157.  Much of what Plantinga says is visible on limited preview here.

Thus the two positions that I have defended in many places here, namely (a) that sentences in fiction are the vehicles of assertion, and that what is asserted is mostly false and (b) that proper names refer even in a fictional context, are inconsistent with Van Inwagen's position.  For he says in the passage cited above that an author of fiction asserts nothing, and he says that there is no attempt at reference. And later (p.307) he says that we can only denote fictional characters, by means of descriptions which are true only of them.
How it is we are able to use the proper name "Mrs. Gamp" to refer to a certain creature of fiction ? Normally, an object gets a proper name by being dubbed or baptized. But no one ever dubbed or baptized the main satiric villainess of Martin Chuzzlewit "Mrs. Gamp."There is no corresponding problem about how it is this creature of fiction is denoted by "the main satiric villainess of Martin Chuzzlewit," for this is a quite straightforward definite description that names what we also call "Mrs. Gamp" for the same reason that "the tallest structure in Paris in 1905" names what we also call "the Eiffel Tower" : in each of these cases, a definite description denotes a certain object in virtue of a certain property that that object has uniquely. I think that if we are to have a satisfactory theory of how it is that we manage to refer to particular creatures of fiction, this theory will have to treat such descriptions as "the main satiric villainess" as the primary means of reference to these objects, and proper names as a secondary (though more common) means of reference.
 In subsequent posts, I will clarify and add to my earlier views on the two positions (a) and (b) above.

* Page references that follow are to American Philosophical Quarterly 14, October 1977.

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Saturday, April 23, 2011

More Holmes

There's a in-some-way-similar discussion about fiction over at Peter Smith's residence.  In this case, in relation to the truth of mathematical statement and the, er, 'ontological status' of numbers and thingies.  I've only just caught hold of it, and now Easter looms.

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5 Myths About the 'Information Age'

A lovely article here.
"We have entered the information age." This announcement is usually intoned solemnly, as if information did not exist in other ages. But every age is an age of information, each in its own way and according to the media available at the time. No one would deny that the modes of communication are changing rapidly, perhaps as rapidly as in Gutenberg's day, but it is misleading to construe that change as unprecedented.
And see my own ramblings, e.g. here.

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Thursday, April 21, 2011

To have and to hold

Thanks to the link that Peter van Inwagen sent, I was able to look at his paper “Creatures of Fiction”* which has a much clearer explanation and justification of his thesis that fictional characters can be such and such without having the property of being such and such. Caution: the paper was written in 1977, 34 years ago, and I don’t know if van Inwagen still holds the views expressed there.

The distinction is motivated by the problem of sentences such as “Some fictional characters are witches”. Van Inwagen holds that such sentences are true, and because he is an anti-Meinongian (or rather, as I have argued, because he holds Brentano’s Thesis), he holds that it is equivalent to ‘Fictional characters that are witches exist’, and so implies ‘Witches exist’. But witches don’t exist. Inwagen gets round the difficulty by asserting that predication has different senses. “Witches don’t exist’ has the conventional sense, meaning that nothing has the property of being a witch.  But “Some fictional characters are witches” has a non-standard sense, and does not imply that anything does have the property of being a witch, and so is consistent with "witches don’t exist".

He justifies this by an argument from analogy. His example is a Cartesian who holds that people are immaterial substances. Hence Jake, who is a person, is an immaterial substance. But the sentence “Jake is 6 feet tall” can’t be literally true, for an immaterial substance is unextended, and can’t be 6 feet tall. The Cartesian can get round this by claiming that in ordinary speech we often say "is" when strictly speaking we should say "animates a body that is": the predicate ‘is F’, when predicated of a person, really and strictly means "animates a body that is F". Thus what looks like predication in ordinary speech is not always predication. And so “Alexandra Medford is a witch”, said of the witch played by Cher in The Witches of Eastwick, does not imply that anyone has the property of being a witch. Thus (as I interpret Inwagen) there is no inconsistency between his view that Alexandra Medford exists, but that witches do not, for the following syllogism is invalid:

No one is a witch
Alexandra Medford is a witch
No one is Alexandra Medford

It is invalid because ‘is’ is equivocal in the major and the minor. In the major, it means ‘nothing has the property of being a witch’. In the minor, it is not the ‘is’ of predication, and thus is not equivalent to “Alexandra Medford has the property of being a witch”. Fallacy of equivocation. Thus we can consistently claim that Alexandra Medford exists, i.e. that someone is Alexandra Medford, that she is a witch, although she does not have the property of being a witch, and that no one has the property of being a witch.

My only reply to this (although I am sure there will be more to say), is to invoke Ockham’s other razor, which I discussed some time ago. To one who claims that the verb 'to be' is ambiguous in certain arguments, he objects that this is completely irrational, he says "for it amounts to destroying every argument form. For whenever it pleases me, I will say that 'to be' is equivocal in the premisses, and I will ascribe at will a fallacy of equivocation to every syllogism".

* American Philosophical Quarterly, Volume 14, Number 4, October 1977

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More papers by van Inwagen

Peter writes to me to say that a lot of his papers are online here.  His most comprehensive paper on fictional entities is in "Existence, Ontological Commitment, and Fictional Entities.", which is not on that site.  But the site does contain two older papers: "Fiction and Metaphysics" and "Creatures of Fiction."

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Van Inwagen on existence

I had a brief correspondence with Van Inwagen earlier this week, but he came up with nothing that resolved some of my other puzzles about his theory.  Here is one. From what he says, Inwagen seems committed to the following:

(1) 'Some x is A' is equivalent to 'some x-that-is-A exists'. 

(2) 'Holmes does not exist' is equivalent to 'no one has all the properties Sherlock Holmes holds'.

(3) Someone, namely Holmes, holds all the properties held by Sherlock Holmes

(4) No one has all the properties held by Holmes.

But this leads to a contradiction, as follows.

(5) Holmes does not exist (from 2, 4).

(6) Someone, namely Holmes, who holds all the properties held by Sherlock Holmes, exists (from 1, 3).

(7)  Holmes exists (from 6, elimination)

(8) Contradiction (5, 7)

Spelling it out.  Van Inwagen is trying to get over the problem of 'someone' having the properties ascribed to Holmes, through his distinction between 'having' and 'holding'.  No one has the properties that Holmes holds, and so Holmes does not exist.  But this does not evade the problem.  By the very same reasoning, someone holds the properties that Holmes does not have.  And there is still 'someone', and so Holmes does exist.  Van Inwagen can evade this by dropping his commitment to the equivalence of 'some thing' with 'some existing thing'.  But that would commit him to the variety of Meinongianism to which he is so fundamentally opposed.

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Sunday, April 17, 2011

More testing

http://www.logicmuseum.com/index.htm

This used to be a philosophy blog.

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More link testing

Link 1 and link 2 posted yesterday were immediately indexed by Google.  So let's try with the original link, to see if the power of Blogger will cause it to be recognised.  (One advantage of Blogger is that any post, and hence any link, is instantaneously processed by Google*).

Also, a link to a copy of De Civitate Dei.

*As proof of this, I Googled the words "were immediately indexed by Google", within seconds of posting this, and lo, this post came up in the search.

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More facts about fiction

There is a nice preprint of a paper here by Inwagen where he discusses different theories of being, and particularly the 'neo-Meinongian' theories such as those held by Terry Parsons and Colin Mcginn.   He writes
When I say that everything exists and the neo-Meinongian denies that everything exists, we’re not talking past each another—not, at any rate, because we mean different things by ‘everything’. It is precisely because the neo-Meinongian knows that I mean just what he does by ‘everything’ that he indignantly rises to dispute my contention that everything exists.
This is not a hundred miles from what I argued here.  Maverick philosopher also discusses Inwagen's paper here, though I confess I don't understand his objections to it.  The force of Inwagen's paper is neo-Meinongianism is a theory about the meaning of 'exists', rather than a theory about what exists.

I also found a paper by Amie Thomasson about fictional entities.  She mentions, but rejects, the explanation of discourse about fiction by the use of a 'fiction operator'.

Internal discourse by readers can still be held to be true even though it involves non-referring names, since these claims are plausibly held to be implicitly prefixed with a fiction operator, where “According to the fiction, Holmes solved his first mystery in his college years” may be true even if the simple claim “Holmes solved his first mystery in his college years” would be false. Cross-fictional statements can be handled similarly by taking them to fall in the context of an ‘agglomerative’ story operator that appeals to the total content of the relevant stories, taken together, e.g. “According to (Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary [taken agglomeratively]), Anna Karenina was more intelligent than Emma Bovary”
Fictional operator theories are attractive, and I will try to discuss them next week.

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Friday, April 15, 2011

Logic Museum links

Work so far on the Ockham translation:

Chapter or sectionDescription
IndexThe division of terms
Book I chapters 1-4The division of terms
Book I chapters 5-9Concrete and abstract terms
Book I chapter 10The definition of 'connotative' and 'absolute' terms
Book II chapter 7Truth conditions of past and future tense propositions
Book II chapters 12 & 14Negative and non-referring propositions
Book III.2 chapters 4-7Of the division of propositions required for demonstration

Chapters 11-17, including Ockham's arguments against the reality of universals, to follow one day.

Also there is Book I question I of the Summa on its own. This is part of a test to understand why Google does not index certain pages, together with a modified translation (in case Google is ignoring it because on other sites).

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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Ghost writing in Latin

Holiday time, so I am amusing myself by reading the ghost stories of M.R. James again.  As Wikipedia correctly notes, James' protagonists are usually naive scholarly gentlemen, who through the discovery of some antiquarian object attract (generally unwelcome and unpleasant) attention from the other side of the grave.  Naturally there is plenty of Latin.  James went to Eton College and the King's College Cambridge, where he began a distinguished academic career, becoming Director of the Fitzwilliam museum, then Provost of King's.  He is well-known to medievalists through his Descriptive Catalogue of the manuscripts in the Library of Gonville and Caius College.

Here is some of his made-up Latin (with his own translation) from the story "The Treasure of Abbott Thomas".


LatinEnglish
Verum usque in praesentem diem multa garriunt inter se Canonici de abscondito quodam istius Abbatis Thomae thesauro, quem saepe, quanquam ahduc incassum, quaesiverunt Steinfeldenses. Up to the present day there is much gossip among the Canons about a certain hidden treasure of this Abbot Thomas, for which those of Steinfeld have often made search, though hitherto in vain.
Ipsum enim Thomam adhuc florida in aetate existentem ingentem auri massam circa monasterium defodisse perhibent; de quo multoties interrogatus ubi esset, cum risu respondere solitus erat: ‘Job, Johannes, et Zacharias vel vobis vel posteris indicabunt’; idemque aliquando adiicere se inventuris minime invisurum.The story is that Thomas, while yet in the vigour of life, concealed a very large quantity of gold somewhere in the monastery. He was often asked where it was, and always answered, with a laugh: ‘Job, John, and Zechariah will tell either you or your successors.’ He sometimes added that he should feel no grudge against those who might find it.
Inter alia huius Abbatis opera, hoc memoria praecipue dignum indico quod fenestram magnam in orientali parte alae australis in ecclesia sua imaginibus optime in vitro depictis impleverit: id quod et ipsius effigies et insignia ibidem posita demonstrant. Among other works carried out by this Abbot I may specially mention his filling the great window at the east end of the south aisle of the church with figures admirably painted on glass, as his effigy and arms in the window attest.
Domum quoque Abbatialem fere totam restauravit: puteo in atrio ipsius effosso et lapidibus marmoreis pulchre caelatis exornato. Decessit autem, morte aliquantulum subitanea perculsus, aetatis suae anno lxxii(do), incarnationis vero Dominicae mdxxix(o).He also restored almost the whole of the Abbot’s lodging, and dug a well in the court of it, which he adorned with beautiful carvings in marble. He died rather suddenly in the seventy-second year of his age, A.D. 1529.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Ockham's arguments against universals

I am reading, and having a stab at translating, chapters 15-17 of Ockham's Summa Logicae.  This is one of a number of places where Ockham argues against the view that a universal is something really existing outside the mind (one of the important others being questions 4-6 of Dist. 2, Book I of his commentary on the Sentences**).  I have copied one of his arguments is below, in the original Latin, with the translations by Loux*** and Boehner****.

Neither of the translations exactly reflects the Latin - perhaps because of the difficulty in making sense of the Latin.


Latin*LouxBoehner
Item, sequeretur quod aliquid de essentia Christi esset miserum et damnatum, quia illa natura communis exsistens realiter in Christo et in damnato esset damnata, quia in Iuda. Hoc autem absurdum est.Again, it follows that something of the essence of Christ would be miserable and damned, since that common nature really existing in Christ would be damned in the damned individual; for surely that essence is also in Judas. But this is absurd.Furthermore, it follows that something of the essence of Christ would be miserable and damned; since that common nature which really exists in Christ, really exists in Judas also and is damned.Therefore, something is both in Christ and in one who is damned, namely in Judas. That, however, is absurd.

* Opera Philosophica I - Summa Logicae, St. Bonaventure, N.Y. : Editiones Instituti Franciscani Universitatis S. Bonaventurae, 1974. 899 p., eds Boehner, Philotheus, Gál, Gedeon, 1915- Brown, Stephen.
** Opera Theologica II - Scriptum in librum primum sententiarum, Franciscan Institute, 1967-79, pp. 99-224.
*** Loux, Michael J. 1974. Ockham's Theory of Terms: Part I of the Summa Logicae. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press.
**** In Ockham: Philosophical Writings, a selectionPhilotheus Boehner, Stephen F. Brown, 1990.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Obscure objects: Bouquet and Molina

Here is another scene from the film I discussed earlier. Mathieu and Conchita [Carole Bouquet] are sitting at a table in the garden. Conchita says "I have something to say, but not here". Mathieu gets up, and she follows him up a short flight of stairs, into the house. Mathieu shows her through the door. [Cut to interior of house] Mathieu accompanies Conchita [Angelina Molina] into the living room, where she says "Mathieu, I'll explain what happened last night".

Thus the identity is expressed by the context. We see a woman walk through a door in the exterior.  We cut to a woman walking through a door into the interior.  Therefore we assume it is the same door, and the same woman.  It is all fiction - there is no woman, and no identity.  But the film is telling us there is a woman, and it is telling us there is an identity.

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Monday, April 11, 2011

Individuation in perception

I argued earlier, e.g. here and here, that 'verbal' individuation, where we have only linguistic information about a set of characters, and where we use proper names or pronouns to learn which character is being talked about, is object independent.  No F actually has to exist, for us to be told which thing is F.  There are no hobbits, yet Tolkien can tell us which hobbit carried the ring into Mordor, which hobbit was his gardener, and so on.  Is the same true about 'perceptual individuation'? This is where we tell which individual is being pointed to, or who is the reference of a demonstrative proposition, or simply which person we are seeing or hearing.  Can we understand the demonstrative 'this rose' without there being an actual rose that is pointed to? Can you draw my attention to something, if there isn't a something?

Let's begin with films.  We can tell a story in a film, and usually the story begins in a verbal format, a screenplay.  Here, as I have argued, individuation is object-independent.  In That Obscure Object of Desire, (Luis Bunuel, 1977), the two main characters are Mathieu, a middle-aged wealthy Frenchman, and Conchita, a beautiful Spanish dancer, who ensnares Mathieu.  You can read the synopsis in Wikipeda, where the proper names 'Mathieu' and 'Conchita' tell us which character is the subject of each proposition in the synopsis.

The same story is told, in somewhat more detail, in the film itself. This scene here, for example, visually expresses the proposition "Mathieu is talking to Conchita, dressed in a maid's uniform, against the background of a flowers on a table etc.".  But we don't use proper names to individuate.  Rather, we use the images projected on the computer screen.  One image resembles a man with certain features, the other a woman with certain features.  These images are what some philosophers (such as Reid, although the medieval philosophers had the same idea) called natural signs.  We individuate each character in the film by a combination of facial features and (particularly in this film) by the context in which the features occur.  Bunuel's film is peculiar in that the same character is played by two different actresses.  Carole Bouquet (above left) plays Conchita in the scene linked to above.  In a scene shortly afterwards,  Angela Molina plays her.  Even though the actresses do not actually look that similar, the context - the uniform, the action and the logic of the scene - express the identity.  Famously, many people sat through the film without realising there were different actresses (I plead guilty).

So, a film can express a complex proposition involving many different characters. We can tell which characters is which by visual, verbal and contextual cues.  But no such character has to exist, for the story to tell us this.  At least some demonstrative reference is object-independent.

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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Ockham on semantic independence

In chapter 43 of Summa Logicae, on the properties of substances, Ockham gives a curious argument to support the nominalist view that truth and falsity are not real properties of propositions.  He begins with Aristotle's discussion of contraries, and of the puzzle that the very same proposition (i.e. declarative sentence) can admit of both truth and falsity.  The sentence 'you are sitting' is now true, for you are sitting. But then you stand up, and the sentence is false.  But the sentence hasn't changed.  How can it both be true and false?

Ockham argues that the truth and falsity of propositions are not some sort of quality inhering in them.   Otherwise, it would follow that a proposition was truly altered by the fact that a fly was flying.  And certain heresies would also follow - and here comes the curious argument (my translation).
For if the truth and falsity of propositions are qualities of propositions as whiteness and blackness are qualities of bodies, then whenever some truth exists, ‘this truth exists’ will be true, just as whenever some whiteness exists, ‘this whiteness exists’ will be true. And in the same way of any falsity. Then I accept the falsity of the proposition “God newly creates something”, which according to that opinion is a single quality of the proposition, inhering in it, and as a consequence is something other than God.

Then I ask whether that thing can be created by God, or not. If it cannot, then it is something other than God which cannot be created by God, which is against the Evangelist, who says “All things were made by him: and without him was made nothing that was made.” [John 1.3]. But if it can be newly created by God, let it be given. Then “this falsity is newly created by God” will be true, and “this falsity is newly created by God, therefore something is newly created” will follow, and further “therefore it is true that something is newly created by God”, and as a consequence it is not false, and furthermore “therefore this falsity of the proposition does not exist”, and further still “therefore it is not newly created by God”.

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Saturday, April 09, 2011

Locke on substance

In previous posts, I have argued that the semantics of individuation is object-independent.  To understand which individual is being discussed or mentioned does not depend on any relation between our mind and external reality. Real objects do not 'get through' to our understanding, and individual or singular thoughts remain the same whether or not there exist objects corresponding to them.

Someone will object that 'demonstrative reference' is the paradigm of true reference, and that demonstrative reference is necessarily dependent on objects.  We cannot understand the demonstrative 'this rose' without there being an actual rose that is pointed out.  The word 'demonstrate' is from the Latin demonstrare: to point out/at/to, draw attention to.  You cannot draw my attention to something, if there isn't a something.

Before I go on, I will  quote a famous passage from Locke*.  When we point to something, what is it we are pointing to?
Our obscure idea of substance in general. So that if any one will examine himself concerning his notion of pure substance in general, he will find he has no other idea of it at all, but only a supposition of he knows not what support of such qualities which are capable of producing simple ideas in us; which qualities are commonly called accidents. If any one should be asked, what is the subject wherein colour or weight inheres, he would have nothing to say, but the solid extended parts; and if he were demanded, what is it that solidity and extension adhere in, he would not be in a much better case than the Indian before mentioned who, saying that the world was supported by a great elephant, was asked what the elephant rested on; to which his answer was- a great tortoise: but being again pressed to know what gave support to the broad-backed tortoise, replied- something, he knew not what. And thus here, as in all other cases where we use words without having clear and distinct ideas, we talk like children: who, being questioned what such a thing is, which they know not, readily give this satisfactory answer, that it is something: which in truth signifies no more, when so used, either by children or men, but that they know not what; and that the thing they pretend to know, and talk of, is what they have no distinct idea of at all, and so are perfectly ignorant of it, and in the dark. The idea then we have, to which we give the general name substance, being nothing but the supposed, but unknown, support of those qualities we find existing, which we imagine cannot subsist sine re substante, without something to support them, we call that support substantia; which, according to the true import of the word, is, in plain English, standing under or upholding.

* Essay Concerning Human Understanding, II. xxxiii. 2.

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Thursday, April 07, 2011

Reference, truth and fiction

David Brightly perceptively writes
Can we take a closer look, then, at the Ockhamist theory of proper names? One implication appears to be that, for understanding and deciding the truth of a set of sentences, eg, the Dido and Aeneas story, we can do without the notion of reference altogether. The story can be thought of as a pattern or template or specification with blank spaces or empty slots. The pattern is to be offered up to the world and if we can find objects that fit the slots then the story is true. Names serve merely to label the slots and convey what relations between the slot occupiers are to hold. There is a strong whiff of circularity here which will need to be addressed. Basically, the pattern matching has to be done non-linguistically. But the upshot appears to be that the finding of the objects that satisfy the story is what makes them the referents of the names, under the usual understanding of 'reference'. So we had things backwards all along. This makes some sense to me but it doesn't seem to gel with your 'proper names are descriptive, signifying 'haecceity''. Could you expand on that?
First point: we aren’t doing without the notion of reference. As I pointed out here, we sometimes need to ask which fictional character is being referred to. A GCSE paper may ask which character is being referred to, and the answer might be

(*) Shakespeare is referring to Gertrude.

This means that ‘refers to’ is logically instransitive. We can refer to a dragon by name, and we can grasp which dragon is being referred to, even though nothing is a dragon.

It follows that the truth-conditions of sentences like ‘Shakespeare is referring to Gertrude’ involve nothing in the world, at least as far as ‘Gertrude’ is concerned. The ‘reference’ in question is not some mysterious semantic relation between Shakespeare and some mysterious, non-existing fictional object. There is no such object and no such relation. “Shakespeare is referring to Gertrude” clearly has truth-conditions, but these can only involve word-word relations, and possibly authorial intentions. More about that later.

David’s second point is more problematic. What determines the truth of a set of sentences, such as in the Dido and Aeneas story? According to classical logic, the sentence ‘Fa’ is true when the logically proper name ‘a’ individuates or identifies or locates or ‘refers’ to a really existing object, and when the predicate ‘F-' is satisfied by that object. It is this account that David is probably alluding to when he says “The pattern is to be offered up to the world and if we can find objects that fit the slots then the story is true”. It means we must countenance semantic relations between proper names and the world, and between predicates and the world. I have denied the existence of any such relations. Understanding the meaning of a sentence cannot be dependent on the existence of any objects except language and the mind. Meaning is object independent. But then how do we explain truth? More later.

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Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Do fictional characters exist?

David Brightly asks whether there is really any problem with Van Inwagen’s position that Sherlock Holmes ‘holds’ the property of being a detective rather than ‘having’ such a property. Surely there is. Inwagen’s position is inconsistent with the three main theses he puts forward in the paper. First, he holds that certain kinds of statements about fiction are true. For example, ‘There is a fictional character who, for every novel, either appears in that novel or is a model for a character who does’, or just ‘there are fictional characters’. Second, he holds that ‘there is’ is equivalent to ‘there exists’. Thus, it is true that fictional characters exist. Finally, there is a simple correspondence between the predicate calculus and ordinary language. For example, ‘There are fictional characters’ translates to ‘for some x, fictional_character(x)’ and back.


This is inconsistent with his position that ‘Sherlock Holmes does not exist’ is true, and that he holds, but does not have, the property of being a detective. If it is possible to translate between ordinary language and predicate calculus and back, it follows that any valid inference in predicate calculus is also valid for the corresponding ordinary language statements, and conversely, and that anything true we can say about the predicate calculus statements, is true of the ordinary language ones. So take ‘Some fictional characters are detectives’, which Inwagen (presumably) holds to be true. Thus at least one fictional character is a detective, and thus has, rather than holds that property. Furthermore, if the corresponding predicate calculus statement ‘Ex, fictional_character(x) & detective(x)’ is true, there must be at least one object a in the domain such that fictional_character(a) & detective(a). For example a = sherlock Holmes. But the predicate detective() expresses the property of having, not holding the property of being a detective, so Inwagen’s claim that Holmes (or whatever x satisfies the predicate) does not have that property, is false.


Furthermore, Inwagen holds that 'All fictional characters exist’ is true, and clearly holds that Sherlock Holmes is a fictional character. And he holds that these can be simply translated into predicate calculus, so – according to him - the following are true.


(x) fictional_character(x) implies exist(x)
fictional_character(Holmes)


But these together imply exist(Holmes). This translates back into ‘Holmes exists’, and so his claim that ‘Holmes exists’ is false is contradictory.

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Monday, April 04, 2011

Traditional logic at the Mises Institute

"Jake" writes to me at the Logic Museum saying that David Gordon at the Mises Institute recently held an online logic course in which he used Joyce's Principles of Logic as the class's primary text. "Very intriguing and delightful to see that text being used for a 250-plus-person class in 2011". I doubted Jake for a second, but it seems absolutely genuine. Why would anyone teach a subject that appears outdated and outmoded ever since the famous developments of Frege and Russell and Godel and all the rest? Perhaps the key is Gordon's remark that "The course will emphasize ordinary language reasoning rather than mathematical logic". And he writes
It was not always this way. Logic used to be a key component [of] liberal education: it was part of the classic “trivium”. Being able to masterfully wield logic in debate enabled Peter Abelard to advance medieval philosophy past the Neoplatonic rut it was mired in, and made him the closest thing in his day to a rock star. The School of Salamanca used scholastic logic to give birth to economic theory. Even after scholasticism was unfairly discredited, logic was still widely studied by schoolboys throughout the west. The Austrian School used logic to rigorize and advance economic science. However, the rise of positivism rang the death knell for the widespread study of logic.
And rightly so. While mathematical logic is excellent mathematics, it doesn't capture everything about human reasoning using ordinary language. In particular, as I have emphasised repeatedly here, it captures hardly anything of the interesting and difficult bits. Thank you Dr Gordon.

Some of Joyce's Logic is available at the Logic Museum here.

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Sunday, April 03, 2011

Does Sherlock Holmes exist?

Earlier I discussed Peter van Inwagen's view of quantification in fiction. Van Inwagen holds that the existential quantifier expresses the meaning of 'there is' and 'there exists' in ordinary English. Since he holds that some existentially quantified sentences involving fiction are true, including 'Ex, x is a fictional character', it follows that he holds the paradoxical thesis that fictional characters exist. But what, he asks (p. 246), about our firm conviction that Tom Sawyer and Sherlock Holmes do not exist?

His answer involves distinguishing between properties that fictional characters 'hold', and those which they 'have'. Sherlock Holmes 'holds' the property of being a detective. He does not 'have' that property. The only properties that fictional characters have are existence and self-identity. Thus one interpretation of 'Sherlock Holmes does not exist' is 'no one has all the properties the fictional character Sherlock Holmes holds'.

This is not a comfortable solution for a few reasons. Here are two. (i) The distinction between 'have' and 'hold' is arbitrary and the only reason for making seems to be to avoid a serious difficulty with his theory. (ii) The primary motive for Inwagen's theory was the principle that formal logic is simply a regimentation of ordinary English. But then it turns out we cannot express perfectly arguments in ordinary English such as

Fictional characters exist, Sherlock Holmes is a fictional character, therefore, Sherlock Holmes exists

by any simple translation or 'regimentation'. Indeed, according to Inwagen, the argument above should not even be valid.

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