Thursday, June 05, 2008

Hamlet kills Polonius

David Brightly writes: "'Hamlet kills Polonious' is analyzed into the conjunctive sentence 'Hamlet exists &Hamlet kills Polonious.' Something that has been puzzling me is how this doesn't run foul of an infinite regress. Can you explain how interpretation of the second, inner 'Hamlet kills Polonius' differs from that of the first, outer instance, so that this doesn't happen?"

A good point. We could represent that the second proper name by a pronoun. Thus Ockham (the medieval one) says that 'chimaera est non-ens' (the chimera is a non-being) is to be analysed as 'chimaera est aliquid' et 'illud est non-ens' (the chimera is something and it is a non-being'), of which the first is false. Or we could represent it a bound variable thus
E x, x = Hamlet and x kills Polonius.

I don't think either is quite right. My position would be that a proper name, which tells us who the predicate applies to,adds a little bit of information to the word 'someone', which doesn't tell us who the predicate applies to. I.e. 'Someone kills Polonius' asserts the existence of a Polonius-killer. Then we can add a bit of information to the 'someone' by turning it into a proper name, as though the proper name were a sort of adjective. I.e.
Someone (Polonius) kills Hamlet.

Thus there is only one proposition, not two, and we avoid the regress. This raises the difficulty of exactly how a proper name can function as an adjective, logically speaking. More later, possibly.


David Brightly said...

I agree that this formulation averts the interpretive regress. But let's go the whole hog: Someone(Hamlet) someverb(kill) someone(Polonius). This is true iff
1. someone someverb someone.
2. the someverb is kill
3. the first someone (the somverber) is Hamlet
4. the second someone (the someverbed) is Polonius.
In Shakespeare's play 'Hamlet' 1--4 are all true, ergo, in Shakespeare's play 'Hamlet' 'Hamlet kills Polonius' is true. But where have the existence assertions gone?

Edward Ockham said...

>>Where have the existence assertions gone?

Not sure I understand. The existence assertion is via the word 'someone' or 'something'. Thus "someone phi'd" is equivalent, on the somethingist view, to asserting the existence of a ph'er.

Hope I've understood your point as I thought we had already established for a long while.

David Brightly said...

I'm not sure I understand either. It would help me understand your theory if you were to write down some sample statements, some involving 'story operators' and some not, and indicate the truth values that the theory assigns them. For example, 'In Shakespeare's play 'Hamlet' someone kills somebody.' I've been

David Brightly said...

I'm having trouble understanding your assertionism and how it interacts with story operators. You started by telling us at BV that 'Hamlet kills Polonius' is to be interpreted as 'Hamlet exists and Hamlet kills Polonius'. When I point up a possible difficulty with this you change the formulation to 'Someone(Hamlet) kills Polonius'. Forgive me, but to someone not versed in this topic this looks like a slippery move! Perhaps, pace BV, comments boxes on blogs are not good places to introduce difficult philosophical subjects. All may not be lost, though, as I have Sainsbury's book on order from Amazon. Cordially, DB

Edward Ockham said...

Hi - I'll take some time over the weekend to develop into a post - still haven't mastered Bill's art of managing a blog.

In brief answer to your point, no, it's not a slippery move, because a 'somethingist' holds that any sentence using the word 'exists' can be translated without loss of meaning into a sentence containing 'someone' or 'something'.

Thus 'blue buttercups exist', which contains the word 'exist', can be translated into 'some buttercups are blue'. This, according to the somethingist, asserts the existence of blue buttercups.

There is no circularity so long as the translation can be made without loss of meaning (Bill would disagree).

That's the first point. The second is how to deal with proper names. According to the assertionist, a proper name is a sort of adjective, so that 'Hamlet killed Polonius' becomes

Someone who was Hamlet killed Polonius.

This asserts existence because of the 'someone', and additionally qualifies the someone as being Hamlet.

As I say, I will try and work this into a proper blog post but it is supper time here.

The Sainsbury is tough going in places, but well worth it.

Edward Ockham said...

PS this doesn't answer the other bit of your question about story operators.

An assertionists needs story operators because some statements that involve fiction seem to be true. E.g. 'Jane admires Anna Karenina', or 'Anna Karenina was more intelligent than Madame Bovary' or 'I resemble Sherlock Holmes'.

Sainsbury has a number of examples in his book and handles the subject quite well, I would recommend waiting for the book from Amazon.