Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Things such that there are no such things

Alan Rhoda argues as follows:

'In one sense of the word, to say something "exists" is to say that it is actual or real. But that can't be the sense implied when we say that something "is" possible but non-actual or that something "is" impossible because both of those categories exclude actuality. So we have to recognize at least one additional sense of "exists" besides "is actual"'.

Do we have to? I'm sceptical. Here's Alan's argument in a nutshell.

(A) Things such as unicorns are possible, though there aren't such things
(B) There are some things which are possible, though there aren't such things

I suppose we have to admit (A) for the same reason we have to admit 'Some of Jane Austen's characters are working class'. But (B) seems to imply

(C) There are such things, such that there are no such things.
I'm not sure I want to admit that. Certainly Meinong said 'Those who like paradoxical modes of expression could very well say "There are objects of which it is true to say there are no such objects'. But then he would, wouldn't he? And it is paradoxical.


Macuquinas d' Oro said...

Hi Ockham,

May I ask a question about this claim:
“We have to recognize at least one additional sense of ‘is’ besides ‘is actual’ because of sentences like ‘x is possible/impossible’.”

Does it matter that in many languages, especially the highly inflected ones, we would dispense with the copula altogether in those utterances? No EST or ESTI are needed in Latin or Greek. The ending on the adjective links it to the noun of which it is predicated, making the copula completely superfluous. I think a linguist would say that the use of “is” in such situations is purely as a syntactical marker of predication, equivalent to an ending like –us or –a on the adjective. This use is very much like a conjunction, isn’t it? And its “meaning”, if you want to use that uncertain term, is just its syntactic use in linking terms ( as conjunctions usually link phrases ).

Edward Ockham said...

It doesn't matter whether the copula is locked inside the verb, or whether it occurs as 'is' or similar, and the traditional logicians recognised this

"Although every proposition contains these three things [subject, predicate, copula], it could be composed of only two words, or even one. Wishing to abbreviate their speech, people created an infinity of words all signifying both an affirmation, that is, what is signified by the substantive verb, and in addition a certain attribute to be affirmed. " (Arnauld).

Edward Ockham said...

You've got me there! Clearly I don't want to see 'It will be possible that ...' as though it weren't possible now. And if it is possible now, what, as you say, is the relationship between this statement and the way the world actually is when I make the claim?

One to think about for the weekend. Good point.

Edward Ockham said...

Here I do not agree with you. But I haven't thought about your original point yet.

Edward Ockham said...

All I concede is that the proposition 'It is possible that it will rain tomorrow' is present tense. My position is that we cannot infer present tense propositions from future tense ones, and that both tensed and modal propositions are irreducibly tensed and modal.

You want to me say whether our proposition posits something actual about the present world? That depends what you mean by 'posits something actual about the present world'. If you mean that the proposition is really a simple present tense proposition, that's clearly wrong, for it contains a future tense proposition.

I think it's an epistemic proposition, meaning, for all we know, it will rain tomorrow.

Edward Ockham said...

Tom, I am going to create a new post on this. I am a bit tied up at the moment, but hang on in there.

Edward Ockham said...

Thanks by the way for mentioning Charles H. There was a good article in the Stanford Encyclopedia which i followed up.

Edward Ockham said...

A fourteenth comment added because of my superstitious dread of thirteen comments. A strange causality.