Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Street of straw

I gave an example in this post from June 2010 of the odd little details of a man’s life that occasionally obtrude from otherwise serious and impersonal work. I just found another in Buridan’s Summulae de dialectica Book I c. 7. Gerardus est cum Buridano; ergo ipse est in vico Straminum. What is he on about? Well, the Vicus Straminis or street of straw – so-called from the straw-strewn floors of the schools, was in the area still known as the Latin Quarter, the centre of the Arts schools of Paris. Petrach calls it the strepidulus straminum vicus, the noisy street of straws, presumably because of the incessant noise of the disputation going on. This was where Buridan would have conducted his lectures in the 1330s, and presumably spent so much time there that if Gerard is with Buridan, then he is in the Vicus Straminis.

The street is now called the Rue du Fouarre – there’s a bit about it in the French Wikipedia, but seems to have retained little of its former scholastic glory. The article quotes Balzac, who says that it was once the most famous street in Paris in the thirteenth century. But now (that is, in Balzac’s day), it is the poorest one.

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Monday, January 30, 2012

Buridan on logical form

I posted four extensive works by Jean Buridan at the weekend, and just noticed this interesting argument in Book I question 6 of his Questions on the Prior Analytics, which is connected with my earlier discussion on context and indexicals.  He asks whether an expository syllogism - a syllogism in which the middle term is an expression that demonstratively identifies a subject - is valid in virtue of its form.

Sexta quaestio est utrum syllogismus expositorius sit bonus gratia formae.The sixth question is whether the expository syllogism is good [i.e. valid] in virtue of its form
Et arguitur quod non: quia iste syllogismus videtur esse expositorius 'hic homo est albus, hic homo est niger; ergo nigrum est album', et tamen consequentia non est bona, quia conclusio est manifeste falsa et tamen possibile est quod ambae praemissae sint simul verae, scilicet si in maiori demonstratur Socrates et in minori Plato.And it is argued that it is not, for the syllogism “this man is white, this man is black, therefore a black thing is a white thing, and yet the consequence is not good, because the conclusion is manifestly false and yet it is possible that both premisses are true at the same time, namely if Socrates is pointed to in the major, and Plato is pointed to in the minor

He replies that if one suppositum is signified in the major and another in the minor, the middle term is varied, and if the middle term is varied, it is not a good syllogism, nor is it a good expository syllogism. I don’t quite understand how this shows that the syllogism is valid in virtue of its form, however.


Saturday, January 28, 2012

Buridan's Summa Dialectica

Buridan's immense Summa of logic is now available at the Logic Museum. Latin only for the moment.


Friday, January 27, 2012

On knowledge of God

A nice post here by Maverick about whether the way to God is through the self, or by ‘scholastic’ analysis of propositions or thoughts or doctrines. He quotes Augustine (De Vera Religione, c. 39): Noli foras ire, in te ipsum redi. In interiore homine habitat veritas, which he translates as "Do not wander far and wide but return into yourself. The truth resides in man's interiority". I think ‘inner man’ is better and more literal – interiore homine is one of Augustine’s favourite expressions, which he himself probably borrows from the words of Paul in his letter to the Ephesians, 3.16 - ut det vobis secundum divitias gloriae suae virtute corroborari per Spiritum eius in interiore homine - “That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened by his Spirit with might unto the inward man

Giles Fraser would frequently bang on about the two Gods of Genesis: the creator God, known by description, all-powerful and all-knowing, the God that the Scholastics mostly wrote about in their extensive theology. And the God who would walk through the garden of Eden, who looks like a man, and who cannot be approached by logical analysis.

Filed under 'propositionalism'. Propositionalism is the view that all reports of intentional states can be analysed as propositional attitude reports. See my discussion here. I assume it is obvious how this is connected with the idea of ‘the inner man’.

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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Larkin on semantics

It seems Philip Larkin agrees with me.  Explaining why he wrote poetry on the BBC overseas service in 1958, he said
If I must account for it, I think it would be best described as the only possible reaction to a particular kind of experience, a feeling that you are the only one to have noticed something, something especially beautiful or sad or significant.  Then there follows a sense of responsibility, responsibility for preserving this remarkable thing by means of a verbal device that will set off the same experience in other people, so that they too will feel How beautiful, how significant, how sad, and the experience will be preserved.
Yet if the meaning of words changed constantly, or meant something different depending on the different people who heard them, poets like Larkin could not possibly combine words in a poem to set off the same experience in other people.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Context and content

Anthony has commented a couple of times that we require context in order to resolve the ambiguities inherent in language.  True, but the requirement is strictly limited, as the following argument shows. 

We can divide sentences which require context into those which contain indexicals, and which therefore require a perceptual context, and those which require a linguistic context (or those which require both, but this is not an important or separate case). An indexical is a term which requires a perceptual background in order to be intelligible.  The background will determine which object is pointed to, or which place is 'here' or which time or date is 'now', and so on.  The context requirement for indexicals is therefore limited. 

The requirement for linguistic context must also be limited, for if the context-supplying language A itself required a linguistic context B, and if B required yet another context C, there would be an infinite regress, and nothing would be intelligible.  But language is intelligible, therefore the requirement for linguistic context must be limited.

As an example of the limitation of linguistic context, consider:
A man and a boy were standing by a fountain.  The man had a drink.
The sentence 'the man had a drink' requires a context in order for its meaning to be properly understood, for the description 'the man' tells us which of the two individuals standing by the fountain had a drink.  The context is supplied by the preceding sentence 'A man and a boy were standing by a fountain', which requires no further context.  We understand the first sentence simply by understanding the meanings of 'a', 'man', 'and', 'boy' and so on, and this understanding should be available to any competent speaker of the language.  As a result, the two sentences together require no further context at all.  Any competent user of the language can understand them, as long as they are available together, and as long as their correct sequence is determined by the physical nature of the text (or by some other method of determinate ordering).

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Monday, January 23, 2012

Who voted for the Wikipedia blackout?

Belette comments here that a vote for the Wikipedia blackout from anyone with a ‘redlink’ account (i.e. one with a minimal number of edits) “isn't going to get any notice”.

How wrong can he be? Certainly, the election began with ‘tagging’ of the votes which were from ‘SPA’ or sockpuppet accounts. But a number of Wikipedians opposed this, and took the issue to the administrator’s noticeboard (02:34, 16 January 2012). They also complained on the page of Philippe Beaudette - Head of Reader Relations for the Wikimedia Foundation and (note well) an employee of the Wikimedia Foundation.
Hi there Philippe. There's currently an ANI discussion regarding an editor who's tagging SPAs over at the voting page, on the basis that the comments of "passers by" don't get counted. Just want to clarify, is there such a rule in place for that discussion? I'm under the impression that we're inviting any and all of our readers to comment, and we do indeed give equal value to comments of readers-only and established editors alike. Thanks, Swarm X 03:29, 16 January 2012 (UTC)
Beaudette replies “Your impression matches my intention. I'll make note to the closing admins. Feel free to reference this statement. Philippe Beaudette, Wikimedia Foundation”. An anonymous member of the powerful arbitration committee also requested that the tagging stop. “… you might as well stop tagging the SPAs; those of us who are going to close are already pretty aware of these issues, and it seems your actions, which I have no doubt were initiated in good faith, have wound up annoying some people needlessly without adding much to the discussion (04:52, 16 January 2012)”

Thus every single vote for the blackout was accepted, even if it was from an IP, or an account which had been set up for the express purpose of voting. Such accounts could not participate in an article deletion debate, or vote in an arbitration committee election, or even start a new article, or edit a semi-protected page. Yet they were allowed to vote to close all of Wikipedia for 24 hours.

This is of course wholly inconsistent with what Jimmy Wales said in an interview with CNN, 17th Jan , that the Wikipedia community, and the editors of the website voted for the blackout.  No they did not.

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Sunday, January 22, 2012

Anonymity and governance

Commenter 'Belette' has questioned my attempt to connect anonymity with the failure of democracy.  I thought this would be obvious, but fair enough: this is a logic blog and the argument I gave in the previous post was far from demonstrable, being full of all sorts of missing assumptions, handwaving, enthymeme and absent premisses. Let's try and tidy it up and take it from the top with the following pseudo-syllogism:

Anonymity leads to conflict of interest
Conflict of interest leads to bad governance
Ergo, anonymity leads to bad governance

Even this is not deductively valid, but it will do for now.  I will leave the minor (COI leads to bad governance) unless anyone objects, for while not self-evident, it can easily be made so by supplying some missing assumptions. Note also that I have substituted the idea of governance for that of 'democracy'.  Democracy does not always result in good governance, and it is governance we are interested in.  I also use 'governance' rather than 'government'.  The latter almost always implies the action of a state, whereas it is governance in the widest sense that I am concerned with.

So let's focus on the major premiss: does anonymity lead to conflict of interest? Certainly.  A conflict of interest arises when an individual under one description F1 has an interest which is opposed to the the interest of that individual under the description F2.  For example, let F1 be 'director of charity X' and let F2 be 'commercial supplier of provisions and services to charity X'.  Clearly the individual under the first description has an interest and a duty to procure the same service at the lowest possible price, whereas, under the second description, he has an interest in supplying them at the highest possible price. Allowing the directory of a charity to  be the same person as its chief commercial supplier is therefore a conflict of interest.  But if we cannot identify the individual satisfying each description, it will be practically impossible to prevent such a conflict.  Let F1 be satisified by John Smith, a publicly identifiable individual. Let F2 be satisfied by some individual under a fake user name.  Unless we can connect the public name with the made up one, we will never know if there is a conflict of interest.

One recent example of such a conflict on Wikipedia was when the PR agency Bell Pottinger was found to be editing Wikipedia under the fake user name 'Biggleswiki'.  Another less recent example was when London Labour councillor David Boothroyd was not just an editor of Wikipedia under the pseudonym 'Sam Blacketer', but was a member of its  important 'Arbitration Committee', probably the most senior decision-making body on the project. Paul Williams, then director at Wikimedia UK, said: "Sock-puppeting is a very serious offence for anybody. But for someone on the Arbitration Committee it is even more so. It can result in a lifetime ban. The problem with Wikipedia is that you can hide behind user names, but there is an expectation that you don't write for self-interest. In this case there is a conflict of interest."  There you go.

There are other instances of politicians anonymously acquiring important positions in Wikipedia, and who don't want to be publicly identified, but I will leave those for now, as they are for use in the book I am writing on Wikipedia.  I will leave you with an example from last weeks 'Blackout vote'.  The full vote for the blackout was on this page.  Over 700 members of the Wikipedia 'community' voted in support of an action that affected hundreds of millions of people across the world.  Closer inspection reveals that many members of this community may have voted twice, or even more.  About 150 of the support votes were from accounts opened specifically for voting, or re-used. There were a number of obvious 'sleeper' accounts, opened some time ago, almost certainly by existing accounts who wanted to vote twice or more. Typical of the first kind is Korney654*, who only edits twice, the first time to the article on Oboe, displaying knowledge of Wikipedia that is untypical of a first time user, the second time to vote. Typical of the second kind is Phauxcamus* who opened his or her account in 2006, made a handful of edits since then, and now votes for the blackout.  It is highly probable that all these votes were second or third votes from more established Wikipedia account names.  There is no more evident and absurd form of conflict of interest than pretending not to be yourself under a different, anonymous description.

Belette will probably argue that such conflict of interest only arises in the real world, because it has dishonest motives, whereas Wikipedians only act in the best motives. There is no reply to that except to laugh or shrug, with a wink at the gallery.

*With apologies to any editor who was really acting in good faith.  The point is, it is difficult to know under a system that almost guarantees anonymity in this way.

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Saturday, January 21, 2012

Wikipedia and democracy

The Wikipedia blackout on Wednesday 18th January 2011, protesting about legislation against online piracy and copyright theft (SOPA and PIPA), seems to have been a great success.  According to Wikipedia's own (breathlessly enthusiastic) article about it, six US senators who had been sponsors of the bills, including Marco Rubio, PIPA's co-sponsor, Orrin Hatch, Kelly Ayotte, Roy Blunt, John Boozman, and Mark Kirk, said that they would now withdraw their support for the bills. Several other congressmen issued statements critical of the current versions of both bills.  The following day, eighteen of the 100 senators, including eleven of the original sponsors of the PIPA bill, had announced that they no longer supported PIPA.

The Wikimedia Foundation reported that there were over 162 million visits to the blacked-out version of Wikipedia during the 24-hour period, with at least 4 million uses of the site's front page to look up contact information for their U.S. Congressional representatives.  The Electronic Frontier Foundation reported that more than 1 million email messages were sent to congressmen through their site during the blackout.

I see it as a success for a different reason.  It has brought home to many people that Wikipedia wields immense power.  I don't know how much it would cost to advertise for a whole 24 hours on a network that was viewed by 162 million people, but it would be more than I could afford.  As a guide, ITV's most popular show, the X-factor, pulls in about 11 million people.  Only the richest and most powerful vested interest - which Wikipedia now obviously is - could command a budget for that kind of global coverage.  If even a few perceptive people start seeing that Wikipedia is a threat to democracy everywhere, then I count that as a success.

You object that newspapers like the Sun, the Daily Mail, The Daily Telegraph, the Guardian (to mention a few British ones) wield a similar influence, and have an editorial bias. I reply: these are just four newspapers, of different political persuasions.  You have a choice, and people often choose a newspaper that reflects their natural political tendencies in any case.  But there is only one Wikipedia.  Moreover, The Daily Mail does not  pretend to be an encyclopedia.  And traditional media, which have an publicly identified editor, and an owner, can be engaged by traditional legal methods.  This is not the case with Wikipedia. Wikipedia is invisible and anonymous.

Wikipedia has a strong internal administrative power structure, but it is invisible. Its administrators are hidden behind silly names like "Happy Melon", "The Cunctator".  They are fiercely protective of their anonymity.  One of them (on a now secret mailing list) writes "Of course, I'm writing from an anonymous email account with a pseudonym that has always been in place, and probably always will. I've had things oversighted on five different projects, and removed from places where 'oversight' is far from standard practice, to protect that anonymity. Is the fact that you don't know my name, address and date of birth a concern to you? Is the fact that I've written code for the cluster, or administrated three ArbCom elections, a problem for you?"

Er, yes, it's a problem for me. You cannot sue Wikipedia, because it does not exist.  The Wikimedia Foundation, which does exist, and has a legal identity, claims it simply runs a website.  They claim that actions taken on Wikipedia are by members of the 'community' - people like the Melon guy, and about another thousand of these faceless, anonymous individuals whose identity will never be known, and who are responsible to no one.

The picture above expresses everything I fear about Wikipedia.  It is faceless, it hides behind a mask. It casts a shadow over the lives of billions of people.  And it is essentially a conspiracy against the public of all English-speaking nations.

Tomorrow I will talk about how Wikipedia/Wikimedia managed to get the 'community support' for its action on Wednesday.  Keep twiddling those dials.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The narrative conception of reference

Sentences like “I noticed the dark-haired girl I had met the other night” drive me to frustration. I read fiction in a slapdash way, and have a poor memory for detail. So I leaf through the pages, trying to find when ‘the other night’ was, and when I have, try to find the dark-haired girl. But who or what am I really trying to find here? It’s a piece of fiction, there was no such girl. And what do I mean ‘no such girl’? There are billions of dark-haired girls, and thousands of ‘other nights’.

However, frustration aside, the example throws light on an idea I have discussed earlier, namely that the semantics of a definite description are ‘external’ to the proposition that contains it. According to the classic theory of descriptions, the semantics of the description is ‘internal’ to the proposition. We understand the meaning of ‘the first dog born at sea’ by understanding the dictionary meanings of ‘first’, ‘dog’, ‘sea’ etc. But we don’t understand ‘the dark-haired girl I had met the other night’ simply by understanding a dictionary. I have to locate a passage from a previous part of the narrative in order to understand it. The description is incomplete, and we require information external to its proposition in order to understand its meaning.

It also illuminates the conception of reference that I have defended in many posts here, the conception of reference as essentially embedded in a narrative. When the author used that description, he or she was doing so in the knowledge that information provided earlier would be available to me. They knew that because they had written the narrative that included the information, and they knew it would be available in a text presented (either in print or in hypertext) in an ordered sequence. They knew that I would be reading ‘the dark-haired girl’ on p. 46 after I had read ‘a dark-haired girl’ on p.15.

I would argue that all descriptions are presented to us in essentially the same way. The author of the description uses it with the expectation that the background information necessary to understand it are available to his audience. A work of history, for example, is no different from a work of fiction. Gibbon’s monumental Decline and Fall is written as a single work covering more than a thousand years of history. But if he wrote it correctly, i.e. such that his intended meaning was available to any diligent person reading it, recurring descriptions, even when incomplete in the sense above, should be intelligible to the reader. In writing his history, Gibbon knew, or intended, that the persons reading it would have the whole work available, and that proper understanding of it requires reading it in the intended order.

It may seem to be different in the case of narratives which do not have a definite order, but I will discuss these cases later.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Critical Thinking

The Pocket Guide to Critical Thinking, by Richard Epstein.  A reader sent me a copy asking for a view, or a review, so I had a look.  Verdict: not a work on logic as such, but on informal argumentation. It covers claims, a bit about compound claims (i.e. compound propositions linked by logical connectives like 'and', 'or' and so on), reasoning from experience, use of numbers and graphs, and a bit at the end about generalisation.  It bears roughly the same relation to logic as Aristotle's Topics does to his more formally structured logical works.

There is considerable use of examples, which I found slightly tiresome after a few chapters.  However, I left it lying around and found my 16 year old son reading with keen interest.  It clearly has an appeal to that age group and indeed my correspondent confirmed that this was the target readership.  It would be useful to anyone who was interested in studying logic or philosophy at university level, and wanted a background in the approach and method which these subjects use.  So, I would certainly recommend it.

Epstein also wrote the somewhat more advanced Computability, reviewed here by Richard Zach.

Richard L. Epstein, The Pocket Guide to Critical Thinking, 4th edition, Advanced Reasoning Forum, Socorro U.S.A. 2011.


Sunday, January 15, 2012


Brains! No, not zombies, but the 'Brains' group blog, which I was invited to join.  First post, such as it is, is here.


Semantic reference and speaker's reference

Tristan Haze pointed me to this paper by Saul Kripke, which mentions the distinction between speakers reference and semantic reference. "I'd be interested to hear whether you think this answers your objection".

Having read Kripke's paper, which has a lot about another famous distinction, made by Keith Donnellan (I have discussed this somewhere here, some time ago), I don't think it does. My view is that all 'reference' whatsoever is semantic reference, so I don't make the distinction between different kinds of reference.

Furthermore, I don't think that what Kripke calls 'semantic reference' is the same as what I mean by it. I claim that all reference has the same semantic model as 'story relative reference'. Story relative reference is the mechanism that allows us to say which character is which, in a narrative that can be true (as with history) or false (as with fiction). This kind of reference cannot involve any semantic relation between language and the world, because it has the same semantic properties whether or not the information was caused by real people or events, or not. I argue this cogently against Tim Crane's view of reference here.

If I am right (i.e. reference is not a language-world relation) then my 'semantic reference' cannot be Kripke's semantic reference. For Kripke, a definite description signifies semantically by allowing us to identify a unique individual in the world that satisfies that description. Just by knowing the semantics of the terms 'queen', 'England' and '2012', we can determine which individual in reality is satisfied by 'Queen of England in 2012', and so can grasp the truth conditions of 'the Queen of England in 2012 lives in London'. By contrast, I reject entirely the view that the semantics of anything involves a word-world relation. This is true of definite descriptions as well as proper names.  So what I mean by 'semantic reference' is different from what is meant by Kripke, and by most other contemporary philosophers of language.

I will say some more about definite descriptions in the next post.

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Saturday, January 14, 2012

More about non-men

Anthony has asked for some more about indefinite (or 'infinite') negation.  Well he will have to wait for our book to come out (working title: Time and Existence: Duns Scotus' Questions on the Perihermenias) if he wants much more. Opus II Book I Q4 ("Does an Indefinite Name Posit Something") and Opus II Book II Q2 (Does ‘This Is Not Just; Therefore, This Is Non-Just’ Follow?) refer. Until that happy day, here is Thomas Aquinas on the same subject, in his commmentary on the Perihermenias, Book II lecture 2:

Sicut ipse dicit,enunciatio aliqua virtute se habet ad illud, de quo totum id quod in enunciatione significatur vere praedicari potest: sicut haec enunciatio, homo est iustus, se habet ad omnia illa, de quorum quolibet vere potest dici quod est homo iustus; et similiter haec enunciatio, homo non est iustus, se habet ad omnia illa, de quorum quolibet vere dici potest quod non est homo iustus. It must be noted that, as Aristotle himself says, the enunciation, by some power, is related to that of which the whole of what is signified in the enunciation can be truly predicated. The enunciation, "Man is just,” for example, is related to all those of which in any way "is a just man” can be truly said.So, too, the enunciation "Man is not just” is related to all those of which in any way "is not a just man” can be truly said. 
Secundum ergo hunc modum loquendi, manifestum est quod simplex negativa in plus est quam affirmativa infinita, quae ei correspondet. Nam, quod sit homo non iustus, vere potest dici de quolibet homine, qui non habet habitum iustitiae; sed quod non sit homo iustus, potest dici non solum de homine non habente habitum iustitiae, sed etiam de eo qui penitus non est homo: haec enim est vera, lignum non est homo iustus; tamen haec est falsa, lignum est homo non iustus.According to this mode of speaking it is evident, then, that the simple negative is wider than the infinite affirmative which corresponds to it. Thus, "is a non-just man” can truly be said of any man who does not have the habit of justice; but "is not a just man” can be said not only of a man not having the habit of justice, but also of what is not a man at all. For example, it is true to say "Wood is not a just man,” but false to say, "Wood is a non-just man.”
Et ita negativa simplex est in plus quam affirmativa infinita; sicut etiam animal est in plus quam homo, quia de pluribus verificatur. Simili etiam ratione, negativa simplex est in plus quam affirmativa privativa: quia de eo quod non est homo non potest dici quod sit homo iniustus. Sed affirmativa infinita est in plus quam affirmativa privativa: potest enim dici de puero et de quocumque homine nondum habente habitum virtutis aut vitii quod sit homo non iustus, non tamen de aliquo eorum vere dici potest quod sit homo iniustus. The simple negative, then, is wider than the infinite affirmative-just as animal is wider than man, since it is verified of more. For a similar reason the simple negative is wider than the privative affirmative, for "is an unjust man” cannot be said of what is not man. But the infinite affirmative is wider than the private affirmative, for "is a non-just man” can be truly said of a boy or of any man not yet having a habit of virtue or vice, but "is an unjust man” cannot.
Affirmativa vero simplex in minus est quam negativa infinita: quia quod non sit homo non iustus potest dici non solum de homine iusto, sed etiam de eo quod penitus non est homo. Similiter etiam negativa privativa in plus est quam negativa infinita. Nam, quod non sit homo iniustus, potest dici non solum de homine habente habitum iustitiae, sed de eo quod penitus non est homo, de quorum quolibet potest dici quod non sit homo non iustus: sed ulterius potest dici de omnibus hominibus, qui nec habent habitum iustitiae neque habent habitum iniustitiae.And the simple affirmative is narrower than the infinite negative, for "is not a non-just man” can be said not only of a just man, but also of what is not man at all. Similarly, the privative negative is wider than the infinite negative. For "is not an unjust man” can be said not only of a man having the habit of justice and of what is not man at all—of which "is not a non-just man” can be said—but over and beyond this can be said about all men who neither have the habit of justice nor the habit of injustice.

Note that 'man is just' etc is better translated as 'a [or the] man is just'.  According to Aristotle and the scholastics, the apparently negative 'is non-just' is really something positive or affirmative said about anyone who has a determinate nature such as a man or an animal.  Thus is not as wide as definite negation, because not being a just man can apply to anything you like, so long as it is not just, or is not a man.

That's not to say the matter is any clearer, really.

*Translated by Jean T. Oesterle Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 1962

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Friday, January 13, 2012

Men and non-men

Anthony rightly raised the problem of my ‘some men are not men’. He suggested (rightly I think) that this is a problem for ‘Brentano equivalence’, the thesis that ‘Some A is B’ is equivalent to ‘An A-B exists’, and that ‘some A is not B’ is equivalent to ‘An A-not-B exists’.

He is right. If Brentano is right, then ‘some men are not men’ is equivalent to ‘men that are not men exist’, which is clearly wrong. So what’s the problem? I suggest that Brentano is wrong. Clearly we can say that some of the men who landed on the moon have now died ( for example, Alan Shepard, the one who played golf on the moon). So, some men such as Shepard are no longer men. If Brentano is right, that implies that men who are non-men exist, which is false. Non valet consequentia, so Brentano is wrong.

The late thirteenth century philosophers of language, such as the early Scotus, were acutely aware of this problem. Many of them distinguished between so-called indefinite negation of the form ‘A is a non-B’, and pure negation ‘A is not B’. Indefinite negation is affirmative. It affirms the existence of an A that is non-B. In this sense ‘some man is a non-man’ is false. By contrast, pure negation denies everything, including the affirmation of existence. In that sense ‘some man is a not a man’ is true, pace Brentano.

The problem is to render this in predicate logic. The formal sentence ‘for some x, Ax and not Bx’ is affirmative in the traditional sense: it asserts that some x is both A and non-B. However, the pure negative for ‘not for some x, Ax and Bx’ is not equivalent to the medieval ‘some A is not B’. The predicate logic version simply denies the existence of anything that is both A and B, whereas the medievals understood it in the sense we understand ‘some men (such as Alan Shepard) are not men (i.e. are men no longer)’.

Brentano’s thesis was the first formulation of one of the key assumptions of the modern predicate calculus. It is wrong for the same reason the calculus is wrong. It does not translate the meaning of a standard English sentence in the way we want to translate it. So what is the meaning of the sentence, and into what formal language can we translate it?

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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

De re and de dicto

Tristan Haze recommended this 1977 paper by Kripke which I am working through. He mentions the de re / de dicto distinction on page 258, and once again I am struck by the way that so much of our terminology and ideas are inherited from medieval Latin philosophy and logic.  I discussed this before with respect to a priori.

The de re / de dicto distinction is mentioned in a passage here from Thomas's Summa Theologiae, which I quote here using the Dominican translation.

Unde et haec propositio, omne scitum a Deo necessarium est esse, consuevit distingui. Quia potest esse de re, vel de dicto. Si intelligatur de re, est divisa et falsa, et est sensus, omnis res quam Deus scit, est necessaria. Vel potest intelligi de dicto, et sic est composita et vera; et est sensus, hoc dictum, scitum a Deo esse, est necessarium.Hence also this proposition, "Everything known by God must necessarily be," is usually distinguished; for this may refer to the thing, or to the saying. If it refers to the thing, it is divided and false; for the sense is, "Everything which God knows is necessary." If understood of the saying, it is composite and true; for the sense is, "This proposition, 'that which is known by God is' is necessary."

I am not sure about the translation. 'De re' is rendered as 'about the thing', and 'de dicto' as 'about the saying.  Correct-ish, but we have the difficulty of translating a Latin term which is probably being used in a technical sense.   He uses the verb consuevit which means 'is usually' or 'is customarily', which suggests that the terminology was established when he was writing in the 1270s.  It certainly was - the distinction is mentioned at the end of this very technical discussion probably written in Paris around the same time (Aquinas taught in Paris in the 1260s).  Even Abelard, writing in the 12th century, mentions it. A dictum - literally 'what is said' - of a proposition is what is said or asserted by the proposition.  In Latin it is expressed by the accusative-infinitive form, e.g.. Socratem currere which means 'that Socrates runs' or 'Socrates's running'.  A de dicto proposition is thus one which has a dictum as subject.  For example, in Socratem currere est verum (it is true that Socrates is running) the subject is Socratem currere, which is the dictum (or refers to it, medieval texts frequently conflate use and mention), and the predicate is verum.  See Catarina's interesting paper here.

When Thomas talks about the composite and divided sense, he almost certainly means what Ockham is talking about here.  (Not yet available with English translation, however).  Ockham's point throughout the Summa is that the dici de omni pretty much always applies to propositions understood de re, and so Frege's puzzle does not apply in such a sense.  In propositions understood de dicto, there are nearly always problems with substitution.  His ideas about this are mostly in Part III-1 of the Summa, none of which is available in English online, and indeed very little of which is available offline. It is a philosophical scandal that the works of one of England's greatest philosophers are not available in the language of his own country. (For much of his life William would have spoken as well as written in Latin, but the language of ordinary people was a form of middle English similar to the English of Chaucer which would still be intelligible to us modern folks).

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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Wikipedia student assignments - what could go wrong

A reader has complained by email that there is too much medieval philosophy and not enough about Wikipedia. Well mate, I'm sure there are readers of this blog who appreciate the medieval philosophy and roll their eyes at the Wikipedia stuff. But, just to oblige, and I admit I have been a bit quiet on Wikipedia for the last few weeks:-

There is a fascinating study here of what happens when you let students loose on Wikipedia.  A sample of students were invited to make edits to psychology articles, with depressing results. The supervising editors found that students found it difficult to write proper citations, despite being trained for academic writing. They did not understand the subject well enough to write for the average reader of an encyclopedia, and even made mistakes that even a non-expert could spot. Because of their reliance on a single source, it was difficult for them to paraphrase the source without making mistakes or writing nonsense, and so frequently, the text was incomprehensible.

I'll let you read the article and decide for yourselves.  But there were a few points hidden in there.  The first was how bad the students were at writing in a way that generalists could easily understand. Indeed, it was the Wikipedian mentors, who were not experts in the subject, who were much better at this.  I'm not surprised. Writing for a middlebrow audience is difficult, and 'accessibility' is one area where I would fault the otherwise excellent Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. (As well as Wikipedia of course, which fails to be accessible in many interesting ways).

The second was that, as the mentors observe at the end of their paper, the reason that the students' poor edits were reverted was because of the care and attention paid to the articles. They say that the fact that the plagiarism and poor content was reverted or fixed "is almost wholly down to the extraordinary efforts of three Wikipedians. ", and mention that even on popular subjects, the actual number of committed Wikipedians able to police edits is generally over-estimated. This suggests that a lot of poor edits are getting through without being reverted, which doesn't surprise me either.

Tomorrow: Thomas Aquinas.

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Sunday, January 08, 2012

Reprise (reference)

A number of new readers have joined since I started the topics on 'reference' more than a year ago. To avoid going over the same ground again, I will link to some earlier posts for background. Of course, this is all work in progress, and anything may change.

For example, Anthony objects that I am attempting "to develop a theory of reference based on fictional stories". Correct, and that is the whole point. As I argued earlier, the semantics of empty proper names do not obviously differ from that of non-empty names, and it seems that the names of historical characters individuate in just the same way as fictional ones. See also this post about the reference of 'God' and 'Allah'.

I have argued further here that there cannot be such a thing as reference failure. To understand a proper name is to understand which person its sentence is about.

This means (I have argued) that reference cannot be relation between a term – a linguistic item - and an item in non-linguistic reality. The verb 'refers to' is therefore logically intransitive. I explain the notion of logical intransitivity here, and its application to reference here. This leads to the "'Frodo'-Frodo" theory of reference.

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Saturday, January 07, 2012

Augustine on language

More Augustine: The commentary on the Sermon on the mount, in parallel Latin-English. And The Teacher (De magistro), in Latin only at this point, except for a short paragraph at the beginning which I have tackled. It is an enquiry into the nature of language and signs, very difficult. Wittgenstein, as practically everyone knows, was profoundly influenced by Augustine, although I don't know if he had read this piece. When translated, it will be the first English version on the webs.

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Friday, January 06, 2012

Reference and intention

I start my discussion of Kripke’s theory of reference by questioning whether it is necessary that we intend to use a name with the same reference as the person we learned the name from. In at least one simple example, this is neither necessary nor sufficient. Imagine a game were a group of people make up a story by successive members of the group uttering successive sentences of the story. So the first member starts:

(1) A soldier called ‘Alex’ returned from the war.

And the second member goes on

(2) Alex was looking forward to seeing his wife, Jenny, and his daughter Lucy.

And the third continues

(3) Jenny was only eight years old.

Now clearly the third speaker got it wrong. She probably meant to say ‘Lucy’; she meant the daughter, since it is a matter of biology that the wife cannot be eight years old. But her meaning or intentions are irrelevant in any case. For she has successfully used the name ‘Jenny’ with the same reference as the second speaker, and has successfully communicated the proposition that the soldier’s wife was only eight years old, even though she did not intend to use the name that way. What is relevant is not the intention of the speaker, but rather the rules of use of proper names (or other referring terms like pronouns or descriptions), plus an informational background available to both speaker and audience*.

Causation and intention are irrelevant, at least in this particular case. I shall argue in subsequent posts that all the different ways of passing on a reference are reducible to examples such as this one.

*Or an assumed background, which I shall discuss later.

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Thursday, January 05, 2012

The causal theory of reference

My next series of posts are going to be about the causal theory of reference. As a preliminary, here is how the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy characterises the theory.

The causal theory was adumbrated by Kripke[9] (1980) as an alternative to the description theory of nominal reference. The central idea underpinning this sort of theory is that (the use of) a name refers to whatever is linked to it in the appropriate way, a way that does not require speakers to associate any identifying descriptive content with the name.

The causal theory is generally presented as having two components: one dealing with reference fixing, the other dealing with reference borrowing. Reference is initially fixed at a dubbing, usually by perception, though sometimes by description. Reference-fixing is by perception when a speaker says, in effect, of a perceived object: “You're to be called ‘N’.” Reference-fixing is by description when a speaker stipulates, in effect: “Whatever is the unique such-and-such is to be called ‘N’.” (As noted by Kripke (1980), the name ‘Neptune’ was fixed by description, stipulated by the astronomer Leverrier to refer to whatever was the planetary cause of observed perturbations in the orbit of Uranus.)

After the reference-fixing, the name is passed on from speaker to speaker through communicative exchanges. Speakers succeed in referring to something by means of its name because underlying their uses of the name are links in a causal chain stretching back to the dubbing of the object with that name. Speakers thus effectively ‘borrow’ their reference from speakers earlier in the chain but borrowers do not have to be able to identify lenders; all that is required is that borrowers are appropriately linked to their lenders through communication. However, as Kripke points out, in order for a speaker (qua reference borrower) to succeed in using a proper name to refer to the object/individual the lender was using the name to refer to, he must intend to do so. Thus, I may use the name ‘Napoleon’ to refer to my pet cat, even if the lender of the name used it to refer to the famous French general. For in such a case, I do not intend “to use the name to refer to the individual the lender used it to refer to.”
From the article “Reference”, section “Causal Theory of Reference”, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.


Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Aardvarks and reference fixing

Kripke writes:
A rough statement of a theory [of reference] might be the following: An initial 'baptism' takes place. Here the object may be named by ostension, or the reference of the name may be fixed by a description. When then name is 'passed from link to link', the receiver of the name must, I think, intend when he learns it to use it with the same reference as the man from whom he heard it. If I hear the name 'Napoleon' and decide it would be a nice name for my pet aardvark, I do not satisfy this condition. (Perhaps it is some such failure to keep the reference fixed which accounts for the divergence of present uses of 'Santa Claus' from the alleged original use.
Is that right?  How do we intend to use a name with the same reference as the person from whom we heard the name from?

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Tuesday, January 03, 2012

More Augustine

Now added in parallel text:

About the Manicheans, mostly.

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Whitehead on thinking

Alfred Whitehead: "It is a profoundly erroneous truism, repeated by all copy-books and by eminent people when they are making speeches, that we should cultivate the habit of thinking what we are doing. The precise opposite is the case. Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them."

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Augustine - Soliloquies

I got round to a much-needed overhaul of the Augustine index in the Logic Museum.  This now has pretty much everything Augustine wrote, arranged in approximate date order, with links to Latin and English versions where available.  Logic museum parallel text versions are indicated in bold.  And there is the addition of the Soliloquies in parallel text.  Note that all Logic Museum texts are 'anchored', so that can link to any section of the text.  For example, section 20 of book I.

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Monday, January 02, 2012

Kripke on reference fixing

Anthony comments here about the difficulty of making sense of 'reference fixing'.  Let's see what Gareth Evans and Saul Kripke say about it.  In section 1.7 of The Varieties of Reference, Evans gives what he calls a 'particularly clear example' of the phenomenon.
Even if we follow Russell, and hive off definite descriptions for separate treatment as quantifiers, there still remain terms which would intuitively be regarded as singular terms, but for which the 'no referent - no thought (sense) position seems quite incorrect.  A particularly clear example can be produced by introducing a name into the language by some such 'reference fixing' stipulation as* "Let us call who invented the zip 'Julius'". I call such names, whose reference is fixed by description, 'descriptive names'.  Here, as with definite descriptions, it seems impossible to deny that someone speaking, and known to be speaking, 'within the scope of' this stipulation could express a thought, and convey that thought to another person, by uttering "Julius was an Englishman", even if the name is empty.
I'm not sure it is altogether clear, for the reasons that Kripke mentions in lecture III of Naming and Necessity.  He asks whether the referent of 'Godel' could be fixed as 'the person who discovered the incompleteness of arithmetic', then imagines a situation where a man called 'Schmidt' was actually the author of the theorem. His body was found in Vienna in mysterious circumstances many years ago, and his friend Godel got hold of the manuscript, and published it as his own.
On the view in question, then, when our ordinary man uses the name 'Godel', he really means to refer to Schmidt, because Schmidt is the unique person satisfying the description 'the man who discovered the incompleteness of arithmetic' ... So, since the man who discovered the incompleteness of arithmetic is in fact Schnidt, we, when we talk about 'Godel', are in fact always referring to Schmidt.  But it seems to me that we are not.
Perhaps a similar problem attaches to our Shakespeare example?  If the name 'Shakespeare' simply means 'whoever wrote the plays such as Hamlet, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet', and if Edward de Vere did in fact write those plays, then when we are talking about and referring to Shakespeare, we are in fact talking about and referring to De Vere.  But it seems we are not, as Kripke puts it.

*I have modifed Evans' wording to avoid indent problems

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