Saturday, May 12, 2012

My basic logical insights

Jason asked if I was holding back whole theories of language, logic, and signification that I had in mind. Well, sort of. I'm one of those people who find blank canvasses intimidating, so I cut them up into tiny squares and fill in each one, day by day, over the years. Obviously this tends to obscure the "big picture".So, here is a brief attempt, before breakfast, to summarise the program I have been working on for some years.

Starting from the top, I suppose my target is the sort of anti-materialist argument that goes roughly as follows. "We cannot characterise a thought properly unless we specify what it is a thought of. But a thought can be of something external to the mind. But brain states are physical states that can be completely characterised without reference to anything external to the mind. Therefore, there can be no adequate explanation of thought in terms of brain states." It sometimes seems to me that the Maverick Philosopher's entire program is devoted to justifying this argument, and my entire program to refuting it. So my entire program is devoting to establishing or giving conclusive evidence for the following, broadly materialist principle.

(1) We can characterise thought and understanding entirely without reference to any external object.

To reduce this large problem to a slghtly smaller one, I make the following assumption:

(2) Significare sequitur intelligere.If we can explain signification without reference to external objects, then likewise we can explain thought and understanding.

I don't have any arguments for this, I simply take it for granted. It was a fundamental principle in medieval philosophy of language, and was also fundamental to the Fregean theory of language that emerged in the early twentieth century (via Russell) and came to dominate analytic philosophy for a long time.  Now to establish (1), we need to establish that:

(3) We can explain signification without reference to external objects.

This requires unravelling a set of tightly-knit problems surrounding truth, existence, reference, identity, individuation, and the problem of universals. Roughly, this means establishing the following theses

(4) Reference is not a real relation between a proper name and some object 'referred to'.

What I mean here is that in the sentence "'Socrates' refers to Socrates", the verb phrase 'refers to' is logically intransitive. I.e. it takes a grammatical accusative but not a logical one. The sentence can be true without there being any such thing as Socrates.

(5) Existence is not a property

This is to avoid any unpleasant diversion into a neo-Meinongian theory of reference, according to which we can refer to non-existent objects, and which could be one interpretation of (4) above.

(6) Identity is not a relation

This is to avoid any unpleasant diversion into the sense-reference distinction, and to support the theory of individuation required by (4) above.

(7) The truth conditions of singular sentences can be explained without reference to external objects

This is to sidestep the objection that the meaning of a sentence includes its truth conditions, and the truth conditions of singular sentences cannot be explained without reference to external objects. This is the bit I have been discussing in the most recent set of posts, as well as many earlier ones. I don't believe we can overcome this objection unless we can justify some Ramseyan theory of truth, including the following claim

(8) Assertion is a semantic component of a sentence

I have argued this one repeatedly with the Maverick over the years. I think he dimly sees how it is repugnant to (1). For example, it means rejecting the whole notion of a 'truthmaker', in his sense.

A small prize for anyone who can identify the title of this post. Later, I will pull together some links from 6 years of posts to illustrate the theses above. Now breakfast calls.

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14 Comments:

Blogger David Brightly said...

Missed this earlier as had to go out. Would have wished you a hearty breakfast. Plenty of fish, perhaps.

It sounded familiar.

12:50 pm  
Blogger Jason Hills said...

This is helpful, thanks.

It also tells me that we're about as far apart as possible.

It is relatively easy to defend your thesis from scholasticism given their views of the origins of intelligibility. But you then have to content with post-Kantian notions of the origin. How do you handle that?

1:01 pm  
Blogger Edward Ockham said...

>>Plenty of fish, perhaps.

Plenty of bacon, actually. Why fish? Do you mean my insights are fishy?

>>But you then have to conten[d] with post-Kantian notions of the origin.

Not so much 'origin' as 'equivalence'. Understanding and signification are equivalent.

>>It also tells me that we're about as far apart as possible.

Could you explain your view?

1:47 pm  
Blogger Jason Hills said...

Ed,

If understanding and signification are “equivalent,” could you explain what you mean by that? On the face of it, that is absurd, but then it depends on what background you’re coming from. You mentioned materialism, and that makes it more understandable, though I would likely disagree with what you propose. On the face of it I understood “signification” in a classical sense. But then, I realized that I would also say that “understanding and signification are equivalent,” but only because I would be coming from a biosemiotic background per C.S. Peirce and John Dewey. Thought is abduction and semiosis as existentially instantiated.

I mentioned the “post-Kantians,” because those strains tend to lock meaning and the universal categories of description in the mind, while the scholastics would not.

My own work is primarily in pragmatist phenomenology and aesthetics (understood as the valuative structures of experience). I do little in logic proper. I hint at more than explain my view, in part because you haven't quite said enough for me to grasp our similarities and differences. You sounded like a hardcore reductive physicalist, but I might be mistaken.

2:01 pm  
Blogger David Brightly said...

Jeeves

2:05 pm  
Blogger Edward Ockham said...

>>If understanding and signification are “equivalent,” could you explain what you mean by that?

If language is to work at all, I must be able to communicate the thoughts that I have (which are private) to another person. We do this by means of sentences which correspond to the thoughts we have. We utter the sentence, which has a certain signification. If the person understands the sentence, by the very same token he grasps its signification.

2:13 pm  
Blogger Edward Ockham said...

>>Jeeves

Ah yes. Mental powers.

2:14 pm  
Blogger Jason Hills said...

Ed,

I would not be so hasty to claim that thoughts are private or that communications is always private-to-public expression. In analytic terminology, you might say that I insist that the “speech act” is irreducible to meaning; I am sure there is a better way to say this, but I know not the terms. I also would not accept the general notion that sentences correspond to thoughts, except as a mere convention required by formal logic. Moreover, the signifying aspect of a sentence is only a small part of what an expression does, and may only be tangential to its meaning, and thus signification is only loosely tied to reference depending on the case, e.g., perception of external objects vs. cultural signifiers.

I say this not as a challenge, but more as a greeting and handshake about what appear to be two very different views. I hope that I might offer a productive counter-point in the future, but have no wish to argue over the points other than, if you wished, to come to an understanding of the differences.

2:22 pm  
Blogger Anthony said...

First of all, thank you for presenting this. I think I would have understood what you were saying a lot more had I first read this.

I have a few questions, though. What is your reason for wanting to try to disprove this anti-materialist argument? Do you believe there is more evidence for materialism than against it? Is this just an exercise in trying to prove something that you're not even sure of?

Materialist arguments almost invariably work backwards. They start with the assumption of materialism and then try to rationalize (or outright deny) those things which we observe which don't fit into a materialist account.

4:32 pm  
Blogger Edward Ockham said...

>>What is your reason for wanting to try to disprove this anti-materialist argument?

Wow, difficult one. I've been doing it so long I can't even remember. Gut feeling, I suppose.

4:44 pm  
Blogger Edward Ockham said...

>>Materialist arguments almost invariably work backwards. They start with the assumption of materialism and then try to rationalize (or outright deny) those things which we observe which don't fit into a materialist account.
<<

True. But I think we tend to start with what seems intuitively true, then try and rationalise exceptions. It's not just materialism. Ever tried arguing with a fundamentalist of any stripe? (I'm sure you have).

4:46 pm  
Blogger Anthony said...

"I think we tend to start with what seems intuitively true, then try and rationalise exceptions."

Certainly a lot of people do this.

At this point I feel I have to link to a quote from your favorite philosopher[/sarcasm], who called this process "one of the ugliest of psychological phenomena".

http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/rationalization.html

She said it much better than I can.

10:32 pm  
Blogger Anthony said...

Can you elaborate on your gut feeling? Is it a feeling that "We can characterise thought and understanding entirely without reference to any external object." Or is it a gut feeling of something else, which you believe implies this?

12:17 pm  
Blogger Edward Ockham said...

>>Can you elaborate on your gut feeling? Is it a feeling that "We can characterise thought and understanding entirely without reference to any external object." Or is it a gut feeling of something else, which you believe implies this?
<<

The latter. However I can't remember what it was.

1:15 pm  

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