Friday, December 30, 2011

On the usefulness of believing

St Augustine's work, in parallel Latin English now at the Logic Museum here.  Scotus quotes this a number of times, so I thought it useful to include. My aim, one day, is to have a hypertext that covers all the 'authorities' (Aristotle, the Church Fathers, the Vulgate of course) linking to all the scholastic texts that quote them or refer to them in any way.

Did Shakespeare write Shakespeare?

I just found this again, a nice summary of the method by which we can establish that Shakespeare really did write Shakespeare, and which illustrates some of the ideas I developed in my last post.

The method is to construct a number of ‘description clusters’, and then demonstrate that these clusters can only be satisfied by a single historical individual. A description cluster is a number of sub-descriptions of which it is beyond question that they are satisfied by a single individual. Thus we have the ‘William Shakespeare the author’ cluster, consisting of the subdescriptions “Shakespeare the author of Titus Andronicus”, “Shakespeare the author of Henry VI Part 2”, “Shakespeare the author of Romeo and Juliet”, etc. We know (or are at least very certain) these sub-descriptions apply to the same person, because those plays were published with the name ‘William Shakespeare’ in his own lifetime.

Then we have the description cluster William Shakespeare the actor, consisting of the subdescriptions ‘Shakespeare who played in the King’s Men, 19 May 1603’, ‘Shakespeare who appeared on Sir George Home’s list of "Players"’ etc. We are very certain they are uniquely satisfied because it is unlikely the same company would have had two actors of exactly the same name.

Similarly we have description clusters for ‘William Shakespeare the Globe-sharer’, consisting of descriptions found in legal titles to shares in the globe theatre. Finally we have a cluster for ‘William Shakespeare of Stratford’. Each of these clusters is satisfied by a single person. To prove that they are all satisfied by a single person, rather than four separate people, we look for little overlaps, where it seems highly like that two or more sub-descriptions in different clusters are satisfied by a single person. For example, a sub-description in the ‘William Shakespeare of Stratford’ cluster contains the information ‘is legally entitled to be called “gentleman”’. So does a subdescription in the ‘William Shakespeare the Globe-sharer’ cluster. Similarly, a subdescription in ‘William Shakespeare of Stratford’ matches a subdescription in the ‘William Shakespeare the author’ cluster.

The available evidence, at least if the website linked to is correct, is that because of a significant number of overlapping subdescriptions, the four big clusters are satisfied by a single person.  There is actually a fifth cluster (or perhaps it's a subcluster of the 'Will Shakespeare of Stratford' cluster) of descriptions attached to Shakespeare's monument in Stratford church.  These refer to Shakespeare (i.e. the subject of the monument) as a great writer within a few years of his death. 

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Reference fixing by description

Biblioarchy and Anthony have commented on ‘reference fixing’ by description. Anthony objects that in order to fix the referent of 'Shakespeare' as 'the man who wrote the plays and poems traditionally attributed to William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon", we need to agree on who that was.
If we just leave it floating out there as possibly being one person, and possibly being another person, and possibly being several people, and possibly not being a person at all (maybe aliens wrote the plays), then we haven't fixed it.
Biblioarchy makes a similar point, saying
Some Oxfordians and many Stratfordians believe that more than one hand was at play on many of the texts. Also that they appear to be palimpsests of sorts, revised and rewritten over the years by 'The Author', Shakespeare, whomEver he was, and perhaps, a cadre of University Wits in the Fisher's Folly Days Mid 1580's. This would of course, completely demolish the Stratfordian time-line, setting it back a decade, and disqualify the Stratford man.
Well, the idea of ‘reference fixing’ is not mine. Kripke introduced it in Naming and Necessity, and Gareth Evans discusses it in The Varieties of Reference. Kripke’s point – there is an excellent summary of it in the SEP article on Reference - is that while we can determine the reference of a proper name by some uniquely satisfied description – for example, we can fix the reference of ‘Aristotle’ as ‘the last great philosopher of antiquity’, the semantics of the name cannot be identical with the semantics of the description. For ‘the last great philosopher of antiquity’ might well apply to Plato in a possible world where Aristotle died in infancy.

But these comments do suggest a deeper problem with the whole idea of fixing reference by description, given that primary sources do not give us a single description of a putative historical character, but rather a series of descriptions. What if there wasn’t a single author of the Shakespeare plays? What if one person wrote Hamlet, another person wrote the Tempest? Indeed, I believe Oxfordians have to insist that the authors are different, given a fairly certain dating for the latter play of after 1604, when De Vere died*. What if there wasn’t even a single author of any of the plays? All mathematicians know about Nicholas Bourbaki, who is not a person at all – the name is a pseudonym under which a collective of French mathematicians wrote a series of books about advanced set theory and algebra.

My own subject is Duns Scotus. Who was he? A hundred years ago, we might have fixed the reference of his name by the description ‘the author of De Modis Significandi’. But that would have been wrong, as Grabmann demonstrated in 1922 that this work was by Thomas of Erfurt, a fourteenth century logician belong in to the Parisian ‘modist’ school. The authenticity of the Questions on the Prior Analytics, once attributed to him, is also doubtful. And though his books on the Categories, and on the Sophisticis Elenchis, and of course the monumental Ordinatio are almost certainly authentic, it is clear that we have a series of different descriptions – ‘the author of the Ordinatio’, the author of the Lectura, and so on – rather than a single description.

Scotus' biographical details are even more problematic. We have a handful of details about his life. Records show that someone of that name was ordained at St Andrew's Priory, Northampton on 17th March 1291, from which we infer a probable date of birth of about 1265, given the minimum age of 25 for ordination. So we have the description “person named ‘John Duns Scotus’, ordained in 1265 etc’. We believe he was in Oxford in 1300, based on a single passage in the Ordinatio that I discuss here. His name is on a list of those who opposed King Philip’s attempt to depose Pope Boniface around 1303. We have a few other bits of information. But whether these different descriptions are all satisfied by the same person is little more than conjecture and probable inference. We don’t know for absolutely certain whether there was a single author of his individual works. His Questions on the Perihermenias comes down to us in two separate versions, one of which (Opus I) contains a fragment of what may be another work. It is not certain how much of this was edited or rewritten by his disciple Antonius Andreas. So even a single work has a series of descriptions corresponding to the differing codices or primary sources which have come down to us.

*Shakespeare made extensive use of narratives describing the wreck and redemption of the ship the "Sea-Venture" in Bermuda in 1609, and the events which ensued when the crew made it safely ashore.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Lunatic, Liar or Lord?

I have now scanned in Question 2 of the Prologue to Scotus' Ordinatio. There is much of interest here.  There is the well-known allusion to the defeat of the Egyptians at the battle of Hims (also known as the battle of Wadi al-Khazandar)  in 1299. The battle was on 22-23 December 1299, but the news did not reach Oxford until the summer of 1300, which is taken as evidence that Scotus began the revision of the Ordinatio then. He writes that, with the co-operation of God, Islam will soon be ended "for it is greatly weakened in the year of Christ 1300, and many of its devotees are dead and some have fled".  This was gravely lacking in foresight.

There is also a reference to Josephus' history of the Jews, which for a long time was used as evidence for the "historical Jesus".  Josephus questions whether Jesus was really a man, says he was the worker of miracles, and was the Messiah.  We are not now certain whether this passage is authentic, or a Christian interpolation.

And there is an argument that must be a very early version of the one now known as Lunatic, Liar or Lord?, popularised by C.S. Lewis and many other Christian apologists.

The argument as we now have it is that Christ (or in other versions, the Christians who wrote the gospels) either deceived by conscious fraud, and so was a liar, or was himself deluded, and so a lunatic, or was telling the truth, and so was the Lord. This is the 'trilemma'. The argument (1) that Jesus (or the Christians who wrote the gospels) could not have been lying, because Christianity forbids lying, (2) that he could not have been deluded, because of the evidence of his rationality (or the rationality of the Christians who wrote or preached the gospels).

Scotus argument is essentially the same, although a little more complex. I will discuss it later.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Belief reports versus evidence reports

Biblioarchy has commented here on what Oxfordians believe. He says " Bacon was not De Vere, and no Oxfordians believe this. Take my word for it, I know them." I do take his word for it, and it is a further objection to Eric Schwitzgebel's view that such belief ascriptions have an indeterminate truth value.

Nor do I see any difference between "The Oxfordian theory is that Edward de Vere was Shakespeare", which Eric agrees does have a determinate truth value, and "Oxfordians believe that Edward de Vere was Shakespeare" which, as I understand Eric, does not have a determinate truth value.

Biblioarchy's comment also reminds me of other verbs that create intensional contexts, such as 'is emphatic that', 'holds that', 'insists that', 'has received evidence that', 'has good reason to claim that' and so on. It is entirely implausible that the substitution problem connected with these verbs is different in any way from the problem of belief ascriptions.

Friday, December 23, 2011


Sorry not to have responded to comments.  I've been in the North (Liverpool in fact, then Manchester, then Sheffield).  I'll catch up at some point.  If I don't, I wish all my readers and commenters a very happy Christmas.


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

On Lois Lane and rationality

Lois Lane has the following two beliefs

(1) that Clark Kent cannot fly, and that Superman can fly.

Yet Clark Kent and Superman are identical. Substituting ‘Superman’ for ‘Clark Kent’ in the first belief gives us the beliefs

(2) that Superman cannot fly, and that Superman can fly.

Clearly it is irrational to hold the beliefs characterised by (2). Does this mean that Lois has irrational or illogical beliefs in believing (1)? Or is the inference from (1) to (2) invalid? Contra: the beliefs characterised in (1) are clearly not irrational. For we base our beliefs on evidence. The evidence given to us in the Superman stories suggests that Clark Kent and Superman are identical. The reader is always shown evidence that Clark Kent is Superman, by means of scenes showing him changing from his office suit and glasses to his Superman costume, without glasses. The same stories show us that Lois Lane does not have the benefit of this evidence. She is looking the other way, or is looking for shoes or handbags while Clark is changing his costume. Therefore

(3) The reader of the stories has evidence that Clark Kent is Superman

(4) Lois Lane does not have evidence that Clark Kent is Superman

Therefore, I argue, it is not irrational for Lois to have the beliefs expressed by (1). It is not irrational to believe that of which one has no evidence to the contrary – even though other people, such as the reader, have evidence to the contrary. Therefore the inference from (1) to (2) is invalid.

Note, and this is actually is my main point against Eric’s position here, that it is invalid for exactly the same reason that the following inference is invalid.

(5) Lois Lane has evidence that Superman can fly, therefore she has evidence that Clark Kent can fly.

The puzzle about substitution and belief statements is the same as the puzzle about substitution and evidence statements. Even though Clark Kent is identical with Superman, the evidence that Clark Kent is Superman is different from the evidence that Clark Kent is identical with himself.

On learning the law of identity

Anthony asks whether we could learn in 2012 that Shakespeare is identical with Shakespeare, given that we learned in 2012 that the Oxfordian theory is correct. I reply, this makes it difficult to distinguish between principles like the law of identity, and flaky theories like the Oxfordian theory. Consider the following two statements.

(1) It follows from the law of identity that Shakespeare is identical with Shakespeare
(2) It follows from the Oxfordian theory that Shakespeare is identical with Edward de Vere

It would clearly be false to say – even if it did turn out that the Oxfordian theory was correct - that it follows from the law of identity that Shakespeare is identical with Edward de Vere, i.e. that it follows from a logical principle that some fringe theory is correct. Otherwise we could prove all sorts of strange theories from logical principles, which of course we can’t.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Frege's Puzzle and In-Between Cases of Believing

There was a post this weekend at Eric Schwitzgebel's The Splintered Mind about Frege's puzzle, which continues to preoccupy philosophers of mind, and is "is a heck of a mess in philosophy of language" according to Eric.
Frege's puzzle is this. Lois Lane believes, it seems, that Superman is strong. And Clark Kent is, of course, Superman. So it seems to follow that Lois Lane believes that Clark Kent is strong. But Lois would deny that Clark Kent is strong, and it seems wrong to say that she believes it. So what's going on?
Eric suggests the problem is that "Almost all the participants in this literature seem to take for granted something that I reject: that sentences ascribing beliefs must be determinately true or false, at least once those sentences are disambiguated or contextualized in the right way".

I have discussed this problem before, notably here, in the context of impersonal verbs taking that-clauses.  The problem is that whatever applies to belief-ascriptions, must apply also to impersonal ascriptions such as "there is evidence that p", "it was discovered that p in yyyy", "according to the theory of X, it is the case that p", for these sentences, as will become clear, also suffer from the substitution problem. Thus, if Eric is right, sentences like "there is little evidence that Edward de Vere was the author of Macbeth" are not determinately true or false, which seems counterintuitive.

Let me explain. I often warn people against unquestioning acceptance of Wikipedia, but what it says here today seems unquestionably right.
"The Oxfordian theory of Shakespearean authorship proposes that Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (1550–1604), wrote the plays and poems traditionally attributed to William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon.
That is surely true. That is what the Oxfordian theory is. Whether the theory is right or not is irrelevant. The question is whether this characterisation of the theory is correct. It is, and it uses, without mentioning, the proper names 'Edward de Vere' and 'Shakespeare'.  But there are circumstances in which its truth would not survive substitution. Let's suppose we discover that Francis Bacon were identical with Shakespeare, as Cantor famously believed, spending much of his personal fortune trying to prove it.  If so, we should be able to substitute 'Francis Bacon' for 'William Shakespeare' in a sentence telling us what the Oxfordian theory is.  But it is not true that, according to the Oxfordian theory, Edward de Vere was Francis Bacon.  Nor would be true to say that plays and poems such as 'Macbeth' were traditionally attributed to Francis Bacon, even if Shakespeare were Bacon.  Nor would it be true to say that we discovered that Shakespeare was Shakespeare in 2012, even if it were true that we discovered that Shakespeare was Bacon in 2012.

Yet sentences like "Oxfordians believe that Edward de Vere wrote the plays and poems traditionally attributed to William Shakespeare" are unquestionably true, i.e. determinately true (or false).  By equal reasoning, since the problem seems identical, this suggests that sentences ascribing beliefs must be determinately true or false.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

On the true nature of reality

I have finished the first draft of a translation of Chapter 51 of Ockham's Summa. To put this in context, it is part of chapters 40-62 which cover Aristotle's ten categories or 'praedicamenta' or 'genera'. In this part of the book, Ockham argues that the categories are not ten kinds of thing that exist in reality, outside the mind, but rather they are kinds of term - ten terms that signify the same thing in different ways. He writes (my translation)
For it should not be thought that the ten genera are things outside the soul, or that they signify ten things, each of which is signified by only one of the genera, but rather the teaching of the Peripatetics shows that the ten genera are ten terms signifying the same things in different ways. For just as the eight parts of speech can be distinct, and yet signify the same thing, e.g. 'white', 'whitening', 'to whiten', 'go white', so the identity of the things which they convey can be consistent with the distinctness of the categories.
Is that right? It is consistent with Ockham's strategy throughout this part of the book. Instead of saying 'Socrates has wisdom' we should say 'Socrates is wise'. We should not suppose that the abstract term 'wisdom' is some king of thing outside the soul, which bears some odd relation to Socrates such as 'instantiation' or 'inherence'.

Someone will object (perhaps they are from Phoenix) doesn't this miss something out? Is 'wise' just another way of referring to or 'suppositing for' Socrates? Surely not. Socrates himself - per se ipsum - is not the referent of 'wise'. There must be something in reality which, in addition to Socrates, makes 'Socrates is wise' true. There must be some difference between the fact that 'Socrates' refers to Socrates, and the fact that 'wise' refers to Socrates. And that difference would be wisdom itself. Whereas it is part of the meaning of 'Socrates' that it signifies him, it is not part of the meaning of 'wise'. There must be something more to reality than the referent of subject and predicate.

I reply: there may well be something more, but as I have argued before, this 'missing part' of reality cannot be conveyed by noun phrase. I won't repeat these arguments in detail, but briefly, Socrates and wisdom gives us two separate things, but not Socrates being wise. And Socrates being wise is not enough, since we want to know whether his being wise is a fact, is the case etc. There is always something missing from a noun phrase that makes it incapable of expressing reality. To express reality we need a verb. But realists always insist on talking about reality using noun phrases. What do they have against verbs?  Why this discrimination? If verbs were a part of society, they would be a disadvantaged minority, socially excluded, if realists had their way.

And note also that it is not the nature of the verb to express action. For 'action' is an abstract noun phrase. For there to be action, the action must take place, or happen.  In any case, there are verbs that do not signify actions at all, such as 'to rest', 'to remain', 'to endure' and so on. As Arnauld says in his Logic, Part II chapter 2, "On the verb", 'Peter lives' is a proposition and 'Peter living' is not. If you add 'is' to 'Peter living' to get 'Peter is living', you get a proposition, and this is because the participle 'living' does not signify affirmation, whereas the verb 'is' does. "From this it appears that the affirmation that does or does not exist in a word is what makes it a verb or not".

Is there something in reality that corresponds to the noun-verb structure that is essential to all language? If so, we could not talk about it, at least, not using nouns. We could express reality, but not signify it.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Ockham's Fregean moment

I am working on chapter 67 of Ockham's master work, where I find something that reminds me of Frege.  Ockham is talking about 'material supposition'.  This is a mode of supposition where a word stands for itself.  It's rather like when a word is enclosed in quotation marks (which the medievals didn't have), except the whole point of quotation marks is that we create a new word to stand for the unquoted word, and so the word precisely doesn't stand for itself.

Ockham claims that there are situations when a word signifies something that it does not materially supposit for. His example is the sentence "animal is predicated of man", in Latin: animal praedicatur de homine.  Note the word 'homine', which is the ablative case of the word 'homo'.  This is important, for Ockham's sentence is true because 'a man is an animal' is true, which in Latin is homo est animal.  Note the nominative case of 'homo'.  So when we say "animal is predicated of man", we mean that animal is predicated of homo, not homine.  But we can only say that using the word homine, at least in Latin.  (Or perhaps the same is really true in English, except the ablative of the word 'man' is the same as the nominative?)  Thus the quoted homine signifies itself, i.e. homine, but supposits for its nominative homo. (Hope that makes sense).

That seems trivial.  But it seems remarkably close to Frege's famous puzzle about the concept horse.  Frege held that simple propositions like 'Red Rum is a horse' are composed of Object and Concept.  The object is signified by the object word "Red Rum" and is thus Red Rum himself.  The concept is signified by the predicate " - is a horse".  Let's call that the concept Horse.  But now the puzzle.  The sentence "the concept Horse is a concept" is also a simple sentence, where the term "the concept Horse" occurs in subject position.  So it signifies an Object, according to Frege.  And so is not a Concept.   Thus, the concept Horse is not a concept.  Frege admits this is odd.
It must indeed be recognised that here we are confronted by an awkwardness of language, which I admit cannot be avoided, if we say that the concept horse is not a concept, whereas, e.g., the city of Berlin is a city, and the volcano Vesuvius is a volcano.
This seems remarkably similar to Ockham's puzzle about homine, although it would take some work to tease out the underlying basis of it, if any.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A piece of enormously complex polyphony sung over a drone of Aristotelianism and a cantus firmus of revelation

A long title to go with the other one today. Michael Sullivan’s perceptive and entertaining ramble on Ockham and Scotus is well worth looking at.

Does a Common Term Suppositing with a Present Tense Verb Supposit Only for Presently Existing Things?

Sorry for the strange title but it is a literal translation of one of the questions (Latin: Utrum terminus communus supponens verbo de praesenti supponat tantum pro praesentibus) in Scotus’ Questions on the Perihermenias, and I am struck by the increasing resemblance between the discussion going on here, and the discussions on the same subject going on in the late 13th century in Oxford and Paris. In my last post, I discussed the slightly paradoxical syllogism
(1) No y is identical with Caesar
(2) Some x was identical with Caesar
(3) Some x is not identical with any y
to which David Brightly objected that
For (1) to be true it's clear that the range of the quantified expression 'no y' cannot be all men who ever were. Rather the present tense 'is' modifies the quantifier 'no man' restricting the ys in (1) to the presently existing men. Similarly in (2) the past tensed 'was' modifies the quantifier 'some x', restricting the xs to the men who ever were, ie, no restriction at all.
Well that’s true, and that’s one solution proposed by some of the scholastics, who thought that the present tense of the main verb of the sentence restricts (Latin: restringit) a common term like ‘man’ to suppositing (i.e. ranging over) presently existing men (praesentibus).

What’s wrong with that solution is the present tense that we have to use when we say what things are in the domain or range of quantification. David says that using a verb in the past tense allows the quantifier it to range over all the man that ever were. The problem is the implied present tense of the ‘ranging’. How is it that the quantifier ‘ranges’ – present tense – over past men, men who longer exist? Surely it can’t. Nor can the domain now ‘contain’ all such men. It used to contain them, but now it doesn’t. So the second premiss (2) cannot be true. There cannot be any x that was identical with Caesar, because however wide the domain or range of quantification, the domain exists in the present. It has to exist in the present because we say that it is the range of our quantification, and to say that we must use the present tense.

Anthony is closer when he says that the real problem is presentism, but there are problems with presentism also, which I will talk about later.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


David Brightly has rightly questioned whether my argument is valid:
Caesar was a man
Caesar is not (any longer) a man
Some man is not a man
It's not, unless our domain of quantification consists only of men.  But I can easily restate the argument
No y is identical with Caesar
Some x was identical with Caesar
Some x is not identical with any y
I don't see any way round that.  Of course, some x was identical with some y (for y = Caesar, where the verb "=" has past tense).  And perhaps we could read the existential quantifer as tensed - there was an x such that x is not identical with any y.  But there's no way we could make any sense of it in standard predicate logic.  Moreover, the standard way of understanding quantification as a kind of relation between variables or open sentences or predicates on the one side, and objects on the other, makes no sense either.  For example, logicians say that the predicate "- was an emperor" is satisfied.  Is satisfied?  Or was satisfied?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Quantifying over

In an earlier post I asked whether some men are not men. Intuitively all men are men, and so ‘some men are not men’ is false. Yet if the term ‘man’, occurring in the subject position of a sentence, means something like ‘someone who is, was or will be a man’, and given that Caesar was once a man, but is no longer a man, i.e. not now a man, it seems to follow that some men (e.g. Caesar) are not men, i.e. were men but aren’t now. Thus, counterintuitively, some men are not men. From this we derived the even more puzzling ‘some present events are not present events’. Caesar’s crossing the Rubicon was once a present event. And if ‘present event’ means ‘event which is, or was once, or will be present’, and since Caesar’s crossing the Rubicon is not present, it apparently follows that at least one present event (crossing the Rubicon) is not a present event.

David Brightly, taking the approach of a contemporary logician, helpfully suggests that “we just stipulate in advance which men we propose to quantify over and this bounds what 'some man' may refer to. It could be men alive, dead or alive, living in Midsomer, ever been married, whatever is appropriate, as long as we make it explicit and make appropriate adjustments elsewhere.”

I object that it is a problem either way. If the English word ‘man’ in fact only means presently existing man, it immediately follows that we can’t quantify over men in the 13th century, for there are none to quantify over. Nor were there any. ‘Some man lived in the 13th century’ is false, unless there is a 700 year old man still alive. The question is what the word ‘man’ ranges over. If only presently existing entities, then there were no men alive 10 years except for those alive now, thus very few men who were alive 90 years ago. Census records are all false. There were not 7 million people living in London in the 1920s. More like a few thousand (namely all present Londoners who are old enough to have lived here 90 years ago).

If by contrast we accept that there were 7 million Londoners in the 1920s, we have to accept that most of these, namely the ones who have died, are no longer Londoners. Thus, some Londoners are not Londoners. You can’t escape the problem by specifying ‘domains of quantification’.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

On believing the same thing

I asked: If Tom believes that snow is white, and Carol believes that snow is white, are they believing the same thing or not?  And Anthony asked rhetorically, if I am eating a hamburger, and you are eating a hamburger, are we both eating the same thing or not? If I am nervous, and you are nervous, are we both experiencing the same emotion? If I have 5 apples, and you have 5 apples, do we both have the same number of apples? I'm reading a copy of "The Great Gatsby". You're reading a different copy of "The Great Gatsby". Are we both reading the same thing?

If we are both eating a hamburger, then in one sense we are eating the same thing, namely hamburger.  Perhaps we could say the sameness in question is a 'formal' identity.  In another sense we are not, given that there are probably two hamburgers in question, hence there is no sameness in the sense of 'numerical' identity.  Clearly there is no numerical identity between what Tom and Carol believe, even though they both believe that snow is white.  But if the identity is formal, where is the matter which has the form?  The form of  hamburger is embedded an organic carbon compound (meat).  The form of "The Great Gatsby" is embedded in another compound (tree pulp, paper).  What is the material that embeds the form of the proposition 'snow is white'?

Friday, December 09, 2011

On an existential problem suggested by Anthony

I am beginning to appreciate more the comments provided by Anthony (if only he would think before commenting, and not endlessly comment and delete - bear in mind that any comment whether deleted or not comes through my email box).

I suggested earlier that some things used to exist, but no longer exist.  Given my acceptance of Brentano's equivalence - that "some A is B" is equivalent to "Some A that is B exists", Anthony has spotted that this entails that some things are no longer things, and are thus not things (although, to be sure, they were things).  And indeed some men (e.g. Caesar) who were a man, are no longer a man.  Ergo, some men are not men.

This has the distinct whiff of paradox, which I will investigate later.

Ockham and Bradley's regress

I am currently working on chapter 51 of Ockham’s Summa Logicae, and I have spotted something that looks very much like Bradley’s regress. He writes
Nec illud quod subiungitur de materia et forma, subiecto et accidente, toto et partibus, et spiritibus unitis corporibus concludit rem relativam mediam inter illa unita. Eadem enim quaestio remaneret de illa re media: quomodo facit unum cum eo in quo poneretur? Aut enim se ipsa, et eadem ratione standum fuit in primis unibilibus; aut alia unione, et tunc procedetur in infinitum.
I am still working on a translation, but it means something like this. The context is Ockham’s argument against the existence of relation as a distinct category of thing separate from the things that are related. He says that the joining of matter and form, subject and accident, whole and parts etc into one object does not imply the existence of a relation-entity intermediate between the two. For the same question would apply to the relation-entity. How is the relation made one with the thing (such as the unity of matter and from) in which it is posited? Either by itself, and by the same reasoning we should have stopped at the first two things capable of being united (e.g. matter and form alone), or by another union, and then there would be an infinite regress.

But this is Bradley’s regress, or something very similar to it.  Bradley did not invent his regress!

An interesting side note: the Latin phrase eadem ratione standum fuit in primo seems to be a stock phrase always used in the context of regress proofs. Burley uses the same argument, and the same phrase here, arguing that if something X exists, this is either because of its essence, or from something added to its essence. If because of its essence, then existence is part of essence. If because of something else Y added to the essence, then Y exists either because of its essence, or by something added to its essence. If by something Z added to Y, then we have to ask the same thing about Z, and so on ad infinitum. But if by its essence, then by the same reasoning we should have stopped in the first place (eadem ratione fuit standum in primo). I.e. if it is enough for Y to exist because of its essence, the same reasoning applies to the starting point X, and we should have stopped there.

A similar argument, and the same phrase, is used by Thomas in lecture 3 on Book 10 of the Metaphysics. When a man is said to be one, the term one does not express a different nature from man, just as being does not express a different nature from the ten categories; for, if it did express a different nature, an infinite regress would necessarily result, since that nature too would be said to be one and a being. And if being were to express a nature different from these things, an infinite regress would also follow; but if not, then by the same reasoning we should have stopped at the first instance (pari ratione standum fuit in primo). See also Summa I Q6 a3 arg3, where he argues that good is good essentially, and not by something added to it, Summa I Q27 a3 arg1, where he argues that no other procession exists in God besides that of the Word, Summa IIa Q109 a6 arg3, arguing that a man does not need grace in order to prepare for grace, and De Potentia Q3 arg 7 arg7, arguing that the forces of nature suffice for the action of nature without God operating therein.

See also Albertus, Metaphysics IV iv (scanned but not corrected or translated), where he argues that there is no medium between odd and even.

It’s interesting because the stock phrase suggests a stock argument, and therefore its use by writers prior to Ockham suggests the argument did not originate with him. But it is a stock argument against multiplying entities. We must choose reason 1 which tells us not to multiply entities, and reason 2 which tells us we must multiply. If we choose reason 2, we get another entity, but then must choose between reason 1a, which tells us to stop there, and 2b which tells us to continue multiplying. But if we choose 2b, we get an infinite regress. Therefore choose reason 1a. But now the crucial point: reason 1a is the same as reason 1, therefore by the same reason whoy not just stop at 1 - pari ratione standum fuit in primo.

Ockham uses this argument all over the place in the Summa, and it is pretty much the basis of his nominalism. But the examples above suggest that it did not originate with him. His genius lay in seeing its application in metaphysics and logic, in using it as the foundation for his nominalistic program, and in writing the Summa, which is a masterpiece of extended argument, intermixed with polemic and some entertaining ranting and abuse. (More on the ranting and abuse later).

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Does everyone believe something?

Anthony asks whether ‘that it will rain next week’ is something. The quotes are scare quotes, but I could rephrase his question using real quotes. Does the noun phrase “that it will rain next week” name anything? And if so, what kind of thing is it? Is it located in space? Indeed, is it located in time? If I say that grass is green today, and you say the same thing tomorrow, is what you say tomorrow numerically identical with what I say today? Is the object of saying, stating, thinking, believing etc. a timeless eternal object, located nowhere in space itself? Is that Platonic idea consistent with nominalism?

I'm not sure a logician needs to worry about questions like these. A logician is worried about whether an arguments like

Everything said by Tom is true
That snow is white is said by Tom
That snow is white is true

Tom believes that snow is white
Tom believes something

are valid.  And surely they are.  If Tom believes that snow is white, then the simplest answer to the question of what 'that snow is white' refers to is simply that it is what Tom believes. Why bring space and time into it?

Monday, December 05, 2011

Wikipedia and the Enlightment

A debate is raging in Wikipedia about why their 'valued articles' are not very good, and hence not very valuable. You can follow it on their mailing list here.  The list of 'Valued Articles', which is itself not very good, because it omits many obviously vital articles (such as Theology) is here.  The obvious answer (which seems to have occurred to no one) is that there is a shortage of editors who know about these subjects. Take one of the vital articles on their list, Age of Enlightment.  It begins
The Age of Enlightenment (or simply the Enlightenment or Age of Reason) was an elite cultural movement of intellectuals in 18th century Europe that sought to mobilize the power of reason in order to reform society and advance knowledge. It promoted intellectual interchange and opposed intolerance and abuses in church and state. Originating about 1650–1700, it was sparked by philosophers Baruch Spinoza (1632–1677), John Locke (1632–1704), Pierre Bayle (1647–1706), mathematician Isaac Newton (1643–1727) and Voltaire (1694–1778). Ruling princes often endorsed and fostered figures and even attempted to apply their ideas of government. The Enlightenment flourished until about 1790–1800, after which the emphasis on reason gave way to Romanticism's emphasis on emotion and a Counter-Enlightenment gained force.
This is horrible and clumsy and fails to explain what the Age of Enlightenment was really about. First of all it was a period rather than a movement, which is in fact why it is called the 'age' of enlightenment, lasting from about 1740 to 1780, although its ideals persisted for long after that, and I would like to think or hope that this blog embodies some of them.

Secondly, the Enlightenment is essentially a set of values shared by prominent writers and thinkers of the period. Their guiding principle was that the increase of knowledge, the use of reason, and the application of the scientific method would improve the condition of humankind. Its outlook was a belief in the possibility of progress: human beings are essentially good, and people can better themselves and society by education and the application of reason.

The introduction to the Wikipedia article doesn't really get us there at all. I'm not sure that enlightenment thinkers regarded themselves as an 'elite'. One of their basic principles was that reason is the property of all humankind, and not of some self-elected elite. To say the movement 'promoted intellectual interchange' may well be true, but is true of many other movements. The third sentence about princes "endorsing and fostering figures" and "applying their ideas of government" makes no sense. And the final sentence is horribly 1066-ish.

The problem is simple: the theory of "crowdsourcing" doesn't work. According to this theory, 'anyone can edit' an article, and by some Darwinian process the good edits will survive and the bad ones will perish and become extinct, and so we will end up, after 10 years of Wikipedia, with an absolutely perfect and flawless article about the Age of Enlightenment.  That theory is clearly false. It is a crime that the gang of illiterates who have taken over Wikipedia should have let such a noble project - one which should have been the very embodiment of the ideals of the Enlightenment - languish and decay so lamentably.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Ockham on the continuum

Newly translated, for the first time on the Internet etc., here is chapter 45 of part I of Ockham's Summa Logicae.  Here, Ockham's applies his nominalism to the age-old question of the continuum.  Is a point something separate and indivisible from the line of which it is a point?  Is number something different from the things which are numbered?

Ockham says no. Aristotle’s intention, according to Ockham, was to deny that there is anything indivisible 'in this world below' (in istis inferioribus).  Continuous quantity is nothing other than a single thing having one part at a distance from another part, and discrete quantity (number) is nothing other than the numbered things themselves. The difference between continuous and discrete quantity is simply that the parts of continuous quantity mutally protude onto one another [ad se protensae mutuo], whereas the parts of discrete quantity (i.e. two men) can be as near or as far as you like, with no 'medium' between them.
... in the case of discrete quantity it does not matter whether or not the items which constitute the discrete quantity are distinct in place and situation or not, or whether there is a medium between them. Hence, for two men to be 'two', it does not matter whether there is a medium between those two men or not. For they are two when there is no medium between them, just as when they are distant from each other by a hundred leagues, nor does the predication 'two' of those men vary because of anything to do with nearness or distance. On the contrary, if they were in the same place at the same time they would be two, just as if they were not in the same place.
 The translation is new, and has not been through any of the review stages required in the Logic Museum, so all suggestions welcome.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Bad performance

Sometimes just the performance can make music horrible, even though the performers are skilled, and the rendition has no obvious flaws.  Here's Guarachi Guaro by the Salvadorean band Proyecto Ac├║stico. Compare it with the arrangement it was taken from by Cal Tjader and his quintet from 1953.  Much better, but why?

Here also is the original by Dizzy Gillespie, arranged by Gerald Wilson. Only 276 views, though superior to the others. Love the wind up gramophone.  I have one of these in the attic, I may take it out for a 'spin' some day.

The insoluble problem of future tense statements

Vallicella finally addresses the problem of Excluded Middle and Future-Tensed Sentences.  A prediction in 1996 that the FTSE would reach 10,000 by 2011 would have been wrong at the time the prediction was made.  As he points out (using the US Dow index as his example), subsequent events merely made it evident that the content of the prediction was false, rather than bring it about that the prediction had a truth-value.  Not even God can restore virginity*.

This suggests that the Law of Excluded Middle applies to future tense statements, but this causes him puzzlement, expressed in the following 'aporetic triad'.

1. Law of Excluded applies unrestrictedly to all declarative sentences, whatever their tense.
2. Presentism: Only what exists at present exists.
3. Truth-Maker Principle: Every contingent truth has a truth-maker.

They can't all be true, according to him, because the conjunction of any two implies the negation of the third. So here is a genuine insoluble problem. Each has a strong claim to our acceptance, but all of them cannot be true together.

Is that right? First, I don't see why the three statements are logically inconsistent.  Why can't the truthmaker for a future tense statement exist now, in the present? However, presumably Maverick buys the argument I gave here.  If the truthmaker exists now, and given that we cannot change the immediate present or the past, we cannot change the truthmaker’s existence. So we cannot change the future, for the truthmaker that exists now makes the future true, but we can change the future, ergo etc.  So we can assume the additional premise

4. The truthmaker for any contingently true proposition exists only at the time for which the proposition is true.

By the expression 'time for which' a proposition is true, I am attempting to translating the medieval Latin pro tempore, meaning, roughly, any time at which any present tense statement corresponding to a non present tense statement is true. For example, if I truly say 'it will rain next week', when today is 3 December 2011, the time for which my statement is true = any day next week, i.e. the week commencing Monday 5 December.  The corresponding present tense statements are 'it is raining today', uttered on Monday, or on Tuesday, Wednesday etc.

But statements 1-4 above cannot all be true.  If only things in the present exist, future truthmakers do not exist. It may be that they will exist, but they don't now.  So the statement 'it will rain next week' has no truthmaker (although, if it does rain, it may be that it will have one).  And yet law of excluded middle surely applies to any statement whatever.  If it does rain next week, and I say that it will rain next week, then surely we can say next week that 'Edward was right'.

Which of the four statements above is incorrect?  (Rhetorical question, for those who read my blog regularly).

*Pace Peter Damian.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The lazy argument for not doing anything

When inspiration fails, I turn to the Maverick’s site to look for easy pickings, and, lo, I find his post from Tuesday about future contingents. Bill starts with a tolerably useful distinction between the two senses of ‘proposition’ that caused so much anguish for Anthony (and me) the other day
Accordingly, a proposition is the sense of a context-free declarative sentence. A context-free sentence is one from which all indexical elements have been extruded, including verb tenses. Propositions so construed are a species of abstract object. This will elicit howls of outrage from some, but it is a view that is quite defensible.
I.e. proposition in the sense the medievals used it is “context-free declarative sentence”. A proposition in the modern sense is the sense (or ‘meaning’) of a context-free declarative sentence. (The medievals sometimes distinguished between a spoken proposition, i.e. context-free declarative sentence, and a ‘mental proposition’, i.e. the sense of a context-free declarative sentence.

Bill continues with a version of the ‘lazy argument’ for not doing anything, as follows.

1. Either I will be killed tomorrow or I will not.
2. If I will be killed, I will be killed no matter what precautions I take.
3. If I will not be killed, then I will be killed no matter what precautions I neglect.
4. It is pointless to take precautions.

This is a breathtakingly rotten argument. Is it true that I will be killed in France tomorrow, I will be killed even if I take the precaution of not going to France? Surely not. It cannot be true that I will have been killed in France, even though I have not gone to France. The argument is only effective if we believe in truthmakers. For if the proposition ‘I will be killed in France tomorrow’ is true now, then Truthmakerists say it has a truthmaker now, i.e. some state of affairs that ‘makes it’ true. But if the truthmaker exists now, and given that we cannot change the immediate present or the past, we cannot change the truthmaker’s existence. So we cannot change the future, for the truthmaker that exists now makes the future true.

The early Duns Scotus has a nice argument against this which I discussed in a post in 2009. Scotus writes
It must be understood that a proposition about the future can be understood to signify something in the future in two ways. So that the proposition about the future signifies it to be true now that something in the future will have to be true [verum esse habebit] (for example, that ‘you will be white at a’ signifies it now to be in reality so that at time a you will be white). Or it can be understood that it signifies now that you will be white then: not that it signifies that it is now such that then you are going to be white, but that it signifies now that then you will be white. For to signify it to be [the case] now that you will be white at a, signifies more than to signify that you will be white at a.*
I take it that “signify it to be [the case] now that you will be white at a” means signifying that a truthmaker exists now for ‘will be white at a’.

*From a translation I made in 2009, which may be different from the corresponding translation (of Aristotle’s Perihermenias) that is now going through the usual process at CUA publications.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Brandon has a thoughtful comment on an approach to truthmakers that turns the current discussion on its head.
If I recall correctly David Brightly at some point commented that it was possible to take a view in which truthmaker theory goes at things backward -- takes propositions as given facts and then tries to find the reality to suit, whereas one could take reality as the given fact and then look at how propositions express it (or fail to do so). I think this latter approach is more promising. If Truthmaker Maximalism and Necessitarianism are both true -- if you can find a truthmaker for every true proposition and the link between truthmakers and true propositions is not loose but logically rigorous -- then this would virtually guarantee that the approach was fruitful in and of itself. But if either of them is false, then truthmaker theory is, at the very most optimistic assessment, missing something important.
I can't find where David Brightly said this but, yes, that's right.  If I manage (unlikely) to draw a faithful representation of my garden, then we don't take the picture and find the reality (a garden) to suit.  Rather, the garden is the given, and then we look at how well the picture resembles it.  Aquinas (and Scotus) say something along these lines.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Wikipedia: major studies detect cooling over Antartica

On 26 April 2009 – that is, two and a half years ago – an account called ‘Ivanelo’ added some material to the Wikipedia article on ‘Climate of Antarctica’, including the claim that “Since mid 1960s, all major studies detect cooling over the most of Antarctica”.

Today (28 November 2011), climate expert William Connolley reverts the edit, with the comment “rm twaddle (how did that stand for so long)”. Quite. On the assumption that the claim is twaddle, how was it not spotted for so long? Particularly as Connolley himself had worked on it interim.

This is something to store up for my discussion with the UK charity commission. Wikimedia UK managed to persuade them – see the discussion here - that processes exist on Wikipedia to ensure high standards of article quality. Their solicitors, Stone King, certainly assured them that “the content promoted has sufficient editorial controls and safeguards on the accuracy and objectivity of the information provided”. This is highly questionable. Connolley is one of a few subject matter experts who understand how to make judgments about their area of specialism. But there are not many like him, and the whole process of Wikipedia governance is inimical to such specialism. Connolley himself would like the Arbitration Committee of Wikipedia "to think more about content and less about conduct" - see his election guide here - but he knows that will not happen.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A simple definition for truthmaker?

Brightly suggests a rule for finding a truthmaker for any proposition p, viz., any entity t such that 't exists' entails p will do the job. Thus we have an 'equation' to solve. When p = 'Vallicella exists' a solution would appear to be t = Vallicella.

I'm not sure that will do. For a start, it suggests that every truthmaker T of a non-existential proposition is a truthmaker for at least two propositions, namely the non-existential one, and also the existential one 'T exists'. E.g. let T be the truthmaker for 'it is day'. Then it is the trutmaker for that, and also the truthmaker for 'T exists'.

Also, more worryingly, the entailment relation is very easy to satisfy. If p is true, then its truthmaker is any (existing) entity x whatsoever, since x exists, and p is true, i.e. if x = a then 'a exists' and p are both true, and we have entailment. Entailment only failing when the antecedent is true and the consequent false. (I think, I always get lost with entailment).

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Want to donate to Wikipedia?

I just noticed a burst of traffic from a site discussing whether to donate to Wikipedia.  Welcome to Beyond Necessity.  On donating, I'm not necessarily saying don't, but do check where your money is going first.

If you are logging in from an IP based in the UK, even if you are not from the UK but here on business or pleasure, you will be taken to a page owned by Wikimedia UK.  Note that carefully.  It says Wikimedia with an 'm' not a 'p', and it says 'UK'.  If you are outside the UK you don't get the 'UK' but you still get the 'm'.

Wikimedia is not the same as Wikipedia, so you are not donating to Wikipedia.  Now some of the money will go to Wikipedia to pay the costs of running the enormous servers which support the huge Wikipedia traffic. But that  is small compared to the sum that Wikimedia spends annually, and in any case you are not supporting the construction of Wikipedia itself, which is entirely written by volunteers.  Often very badly written, as I have said many times here. Gregory Kohs has some good financial analysis here.

Wikimedia International (the Wikimedia Foundation) spends lots of money on travel, entertainment, and Sue Gardner's decent salary.  But none of this supports Wikipedia itself. As for Wikimedia UK, the money will go entirely on what is listed here, none of which I can make any sense of.

If you want to help education, donate via gift aid to an institution run by competent and qualified staff.  I donate generously to the Warburg, which is a great place and offers great courses, and has a great library of Renaissance books.  I don't give any money to a bunch of incompetent clowns at Wikimedia UK.

Bad music: you are on hold

I searched YouTube for examples of the sort of music you hear when you are put 'on hold' but could find nothing much except this spoof.  In any case, well worth it for a laugh and the music is an authentic example of the genre.

Voicemail music is the purest example of music that is essentially and per se bad.  It's not merely indifferent music to which naff words have been set.  Nor is it music which has been made extra bad by a horrible video.  Nor essentially good music which has been contaminated by the setting or arrangement (Barry Manilow's arrangement and setting of Chopin's Prelude XX for example).  No, it is music which is essentially horrible.   If there is a Platonic heaven that contains the uncontaminated essence of the Beautiful, there must also be a Platonic musical hell in which this stuff all goes.

I have no answers, as usual, to the philosophical and musicological question of why voicemail is bad, or even the particular tonal or harmonic features that make it instantly recognisable as being 'on hold'.  Over to the experts.

Presentism and truthmaking

Anthony, who occasionally asks some very good questions (I'm sorry I don't have time to address them all), asks in a comment to this post whether my position on truthmakers is inconsistent with my presentism. I'm not sure exactly where he is coming from, but I agree there may appear to be an inconsistency when I use singular terms like 'Socrates' to refer to non-present, and therefore non-existing individuals.

I explained this a while back. See this post and the posts it links back to. The verb 'refers to' is, I claim, a logically intransitive verb. This concept I have tried to explain to the Maverick on many occasions, with little apparent success (smiley face icon).

Friday, November 25, 2011

The truthmaker for 'Socrates exists'

No one agrees, so let’s look again at the premiss (3) of my earlier argument. I claim that the truthmaker for ‘A exists’ is not A itself. I argue as follows. If Socrates himself is the truthmaker for ‘Socrates exists’ then, from the definition of truthmaker, Socrates makes the proposition ‘Socrates exists’ true. But that is manifestly false, given that Socrates no longer exists. I.e. the proposition

(*) Socrates makes the proposition ‘Socrates exists’ true

is manifestly false. For he cannot make that proposition true unless it is true. But it is false. Socrates no longer exists, so ‘Socrates exists’ is false. So Socrates does not make the proposition ‘Socrates exists’ true, and therefore, by the definition of truthmaker, Socrates himself is not the truthmaker of ‘Socrates exists’.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Duns Scotus banned from Wikipedia

Here.  More insight into the bizarre world of Wikipedia.  'Johnny the Vandal' spends his time creating hundreds of Wikipedia accounts every week in order to vandalise the encyclopedia.  There is a whole team of people reverting his edits, and placing those little tags on the account page.  This has nothing to do with creating a comprehensive and reliable free reference work, and indeed diverts attention from that noble project.  The obvious solution would be to have some form of identification before users could open accounts. This would prevent the silly and pointless activities of both Johnny the vandal, and the 'vandal reversion' industry on Wikipedia.  It would also deter those more subtle vandals whose aim is to create libellous biographies like this.  But Wikipedia has not got its head around that idea yet.

Breathtakingly rotten arguments

Maverick has a post here, which I haven't had time to give full attention to.  He says that my infinite regress argument against truthmakers is 'breathtakingly rotten'.  This wrongly implies there can be degrees of goodness or badness in arguments.  Not true: an argument is either valid, or it is not.  All invalid arguments are equally bad, and all valid arguments equally good.  And I think my argument is perfectly valid, as follows.

1. There are truthmakers (assumption)
2. If the truthmaker for 'A exists' is not A itself, this leads to a contradiction (by infinite, vicious regress)
3. The truthmaker for 'A exists' is not A itself
4. (Contradiction) Therefore there are no truthmakers

It seems clear that Vallicella accepts consequence (2), but rejects assumption (3).  So he accepts the argument is valid, and therefore (by implication) accepts that it is good, and therefore not 'breathtakingly rotten'.  Whether (3) is true or false is a separate argument, and I haven't seen any such argument against it, nor any replies to my arguments for it.

A separate thread of the debate, which he refers to in that post, is whether the notion of a truthbearer implies the notion of a truthmaker.  I think it does, but haven't given any conclusive arguments for this, yet.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Philosophy and occult philosophy according to Wikipedia

There's a bizarre discussion going on here on Wikipedia about what counts as philosophy. Someone removed the 'Philosophy' category from articles, for example from Anarky (comic book character) and The Illuminatus! Trilogy (not sure what that is), and from John Dee (renaissance magician or 'occult philosopher').

It really irritates philosophers when their subject gets confused with things that are entirely different from, indeed contrary to the strict and proper definition of the term. 'Metaphysics' does not mean sitting cross-legged and chanting 'om', yet Wikipedia classifies writers like Rhonda Byrne as 'metaphysical writers'. It irritates them in exactly the way that Patrick Moore used to get irritated when people would confuse astrology with astronomy.

 And while words change their meaning over time, that does not mean a comprehensive and reliable reference work should classify items according to their original meaning. As I pointed out here, the word 'astronomy' (astronomia) used to mean what the word 'astrology' now means, i.e. the superstitious and occult art. There were also proper astronomers, but they were called 'astrologers'. That does not mean that a comprehensive and reliable reference work would list medieval occultists under 'medieval astronomers', nor medieval scientific astronomers under 'medieval astrologers'. But then Wikipedia is not a comprehensive and reliable reference work, as I have argued here so many times.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Wikipedia: it will be a new and glorious day

While researching the book on Wikipedia, I came across this lovely article*, written by Larry Sanger in the early days when Wikipedia was completely unknown but already showing strong signs of growth.  Sanger has been badly represented by the Wikipedia establishment - portrayed as the one who argued for a long and painful process of article acceptance, originally the model for the defunct Nupedia, against Jimmy Wales' who wanted a collaborative and open model.  Actually it was the other way round.  Sanger was the father of Wikipedia.  However, his views of how experts would work with the project sadly never came to fruition.
"... whereas, in 2001, an expert on T would be so disgusted by the article that he wouldn't think of participating in Wikipedia, in 2002 he might be so impressed by the article, and therefore also by Wikipedia's collaborative article-creation process, that he becomes a Wikipedian on the spot. It doesn't take many experts, thus inspired, to create a lot of good articles. Therefore, as Wikipedia articles improve, the project will surely attract more and more experts. Wikipedia participants in the beginning were limited mainly to hobbyists, students, and generalists, and a few experts; but it now has the attention of a lot more graduate students and professionals. In a few years, the project will have attracted the attention of very many more experts.
... It will be a new and glorious day."
*"Britannica or Nupedia? The Future of Free Encyclopedias" Kuro5hin, Wed Jul 25, 2001.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Bad music: pan pipes

I was passing the charity shop when I noticed a six-pack of CDs, still in their box. Compilations of Elton John, the Bee Gees, The Carpenters and so on.  As if that wasn't enough, these were all covers, on pan pipes.  Pan pipes is a big subject, and there is little time here.  But here is "How deep is your love", unfortunately no description available on YouTube, it is so bad.  But a massive 3,000 plus views, for all that.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Representation, truth, and infinite regress

I have argued (e.g. here and here that the notion of a ‘truthmaker’ leads to an infinite regress. If there is such a truthmaker, an entity that makes a proposition like ‘Socrates sits’ true - let it be A - then it comes into existence when Socrates sits down, and ceases to exist when he stands up. But then there would have to be a further truthmaker for A existing. I.e. the sentence “A exists” can be true or false, and so requires a further truthmaker B, that makes it true when B exists. But then “B exists” requires yet another truthmaker, and so on ad infinitum.

A similar problem attaches to the idea of representation (and at bottom, I believe, it is the same problem). Can the trueness or faithfulness of a representation – itself be represented? We say a picture is a true or faithful representation of what it represents. Aquinas says that truth is the adaequatio - literally the ‘equality’ or perhaps ‘adequacy’ – of thought to reality. This is like the modern concept of a ‘mapping’ or even ‘correspondence’ is similar – imagine the thought being like a picture or map that we could lay against the reality and match each element of the map against an equal and corresponding element of the reality that is mapped. But how do we represent the accuracy or ‘equality’ of the representation itself? The accuracy or trueness of the representation is itself an aspect of reality, and must be captured, but is not itself a feature of the representation. For accuracy is a relation, and the representation is only one term of the relation.

To represent the accuracy, we need a further representation – imagine a picture of both the represented object and the representation, with mapping lines drawn between the corresponding elements. But then this is also a representation. To represent its accuracy, we would have to represent it together with the two objects it represents, together with further lines joining both the mapped elements and the mapping lines. This is something too complicated to draw or even to imagine, but even that would not be enough, for we still have a representation. The accuracy of this must also be represented, and so on ad infinitum.

The problem is inescapable. If we buy the idea of a ‘truthbearer’ (a proposition, a thought, whatever), the idea of a ‘truthmaker’ comes with it. The truthbearer is one term of the relation, the truthmaker is the other. But the truthmaker can’t be the other term, because truth is a relation, and the truth includes the existence of the relation, as well as the existence of its two terms. Just as the accuracy of a representation cannot itself be represented, so the truth of a truthbearer cannot itself be expressed.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

There was no eclipse yesterday

There was in fact no eclipse yesterday, as I predicted two days ago.  Hence my prediction was right.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

There will not be an eclipse tomorrow

I checked on the NASA website here, which confirms there will be no eclipses tomorrow (16 November 2011), although there will be a partial solar eclipse on November 25.

So are the statements “there will be no eclipse on 16 November 2011” and “there will be an eclipse on 16 November 2011” both true? We don’t know for absolute certainty, of course. The whole universe may blow up at midnight, or the second coming may happen, or God may just stop the solar rotation of the earth. But we should not confuse mere epistemic considerations with considerations of truth and falsity. It is almost certain that there will not be an eclipse tomorrow, therefore it is almost certain that the proposition “there will be no eclipse on 16 November 2011” is true. Therefore, if the truthmaker-theorists are correct, it is almost certain that the proposition has a truthmaker. But what is that truthmaker?

According to Vallicella, a truthmaker should not be confused with the physical cause of some proposition being true. So the truthmaker for the eclipse proposition is not the current motion of the solar system and associated gravitational laws. So what is it?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Commenting 101

This is a logic and philosophy blog and so comments require some elementary philosophical ‘good manners’. Here is an example of a ‘bad mannered’ comment, split into its five separate sentences.
1. FOOL, n. A person who pervades the domain of intellectual speculation and diffuses himself through the channels of moral activity (Bierce knew the score on bumblers, including ones wearing prussian helmets..and a tutu)
2. Actually, Ock. the causation issue regarding "truthmakin'" which bothers the faux-platonists at is a legitimate issue, however primitive (for Armstrong as well...and holy Frege, and logicists--or, it should be).
3. The Rand-monkeys are sort of aware of it.
4. Social-economic existence ...compels people to observe facts/evidence (ie, to do science--as the saying goes, "necessity being the mother of invention"--fact-gathering leads to the development of tools, so forth), and ...there is a causal relation between the observation and its translation into syntax.
5. In brief--not quite strict determinism (and is a carny-perp a product of poor conditioning, or just evil? both probably)
This is bad-mannered and useless. (1) is a quotation from Bierce followed by an observation about tutus which I don’t follow. A tutu is a sort of ballet frock. What does a ballet frock have to do with the theory of truth? (2) says that the truthmaking issue is a serious one. Well yes, but we already know that, so it is not helpful. (3) is a pure ad hominem. (4) says that people observe facts, and that the observation causes translation into syntax. This is the closest to a relevant comment. But it is misplaced. The question is whether there are things that make true statements true, not whether there are observations that cause things to be written down or spoken. (5) is a comment about determinism whose relevance I do not understand.

Address comments to what is being argued or claimed in the post itself. Comments should engage with either the validity of the argument (do the initial assumptions imply the conclusion), or with the soundness of the argument (are the initial assumptions true?). If you are questioning the validity of an argument, give an example of where the premisses are true, and the conclusion false. If you are questioning the truth of an assumption or a claim, give reasons why it is wrong.

Another commenter wrote on the last post “I don't see anything having been sorted out. What I see is an example of terrible, upside down, epistemology”. This is also not helpful. Give an instance of what has not been sorted out, and show clearly why it has not been sorted out. And show which bit is ‘epistemology’, and show why it is terrible and upside-down.

From now on I will be deleting any comment that strays too far from these basic rules. I will also delete any comment that contains ad hominem, even if it is otherwise acceptable.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

On failing to understand

Maverick has a nicely observed post here on the different senses of 'I do not understand', as used by philosophers.  For the sake of completeness I have copied it here.
CJFW was fond of use (i). If he said 'I do not understand' you knew that something very bad was coming your way. I'm not immune to it. And as a brief ad hominem can I point out the Peter Lupu is not immune to it either – I've lost count of the times he has said it, usually in sense (ii).

On this one, I genuinely don't understand what a truthmaker is. Its broad definition is: something that causes a truthbearer (a 'proposition') to be true. Part of my difficulty is with 'truthbearer'. What sort of thing is it? Is it a mental item like a thought? Is it a physical item of some kind? Or is it a Platonic abstract object? I'll assume the latter.

And what sort of causal relation obtains between truthmaker and truthbearer. Bill has said that it is not a cause that is mediated by some physical event or state, in the way that the sun rising is the cause of truth of the proposition 'it is day'. The truthmakerist holds there is something 'in between' the sun rising and the truth of the proposition, and this 'in betweenie' is being-day-ness or something like that. Is that right?

So there is supposedly some direct, unmediated causal relation between a physical item (the state of affairs 'being day') and an an abstract Platonic entity. And I am finding that difficult to get my head round, in sense (iii).

I also have the difficulty with future tensed statements like 'the sun will rise tomorrow'. Does that proposition exist as a truthbearer now, or tomorrow? Does its truthmaker exist now or tomorrow? I commented on that problem here. If the truthmaker for a future tensed proposition exists now, it seems difficult to avoid logical determinism. But if it exists in the future, we have to explain its coming-into-existence. Is the coming-into-existence or actual-existence part of the state of affairs that constitutes the truthmaker? Then it seems difficult to avoid the infinite regress problem I already pointed out.

And at this point my head is swimming with such difficulties and confusions that I can only confess misunderstanding in sense (iii) alone.

Richards on popular culture

Researching attitudes to pop culture before the 1960s I came across this comment by I.A. Richards*
With the increase of population the problem presented by the gulf between what is preferred by the majority and what is accepted as excellent by the most qualified opinion has become infinitely more serious and appears likely to become threatening in the near future. For many reasons standards are much more in need of defence than they used to be.  It is perhaps premature to envisage a collapse of values, a transvaluation by which popular taste replaces trained discrimination. Yet commercialism has done stranger things: we have not yet fathomed the more sinister potentialities of the cinema and the loud-speaker, and there is some evidence uncertain and slight no doubt, that such things as 'best sellers' (compare Tarzan with She), magazine verses, mantelpiece pottery, Academy picture, Music Hall songs, County Council buildings, War Memorials ... are decreasing in merit.  Notable exceptions, in which the multitude are better advised than the experts, of course occur sometimes, but not often.
Note that the Wikipedia article on Richards provides more evidence for my theory that most of Wikipedia was written by 2007, and that it was written my a small number of people more in the manner of a conventional encyclopedia than by 'crowdsourcing'. The current article differs little from the version of July 2005 – subsequent changes are mere alterations to format, linking and 'wikifying', and it was entirely written someone editing from this IP address.

*Principles of Literary Criticism, 1924, republished by Routledge Classics 2001, p. 31.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Contradictions do not exist

By chance, I found where ‘contradictions do not exist’ came from. See chapter seven (“The Exploiters and the Exploited”) of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.
I'll give you a hint. Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think that you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong.
Taken literally, i.e. in the standard logical use, this is horribly wrong, even if the intended meaning is not. A ‘premiss’, in traditional logic, is one of a set of propositions that are used to support the conclusion of an argument. Being ‘wrong’ is not a term of traditional logic, but ‘false’ is clearly what is meant. It is certainly true that if two or more propositions involve or imply a contradiction, then at least one of them is false. But that does not imply, as Rand imagines, that contradictions do not exist. For a contradiction is simply defined as two premisses (or propositions) that contradict each other. If the premisses exist, so does the contradiction, just as a left and a right shoe make a pair.

What Rand probably meant was that contradictory premisses cannot be true. That is perfectly correct, and is the Principle of Contradiction itself. So she probably meant something quite simple and obvious, indeed a law of logic. Why she chose to put it that way is more difficult. Perhaps by ‘facing a contradiction’, she meant facing the state of affairs that is the truthmaker for a contradiction. And of course there could be no such truthmaker, even if there were truthmakers for other propositions (which I deny, of course).

Friday, November 11, 2011

Bad music: steel guitars

If you have ever listened to country music, you have probably heard a steel guitar.  Here's Hank Williams and his band, with steel guitar briefly at 1:03.  But where did the steel guitar come from?

Supposedly it was invented in Hawaii. The story goes that in the mid 1890's Joseph Kekuku, a Hawaiian schoolboy, was strolling by the railway with his guitar.  He picked up a metal bolt lying by the track, and slid it along the strings of the guitar.  And so the steel guitar was born. There are a number of different stories about this, of course, so probably one of them is true.

Hawaiian guitar music become popular in America in the 1930s, and I used to have a lot of 78s of it.  I still have some Felix Mendelssohn in the attic somewhere.  Mendelssohn (a descendent of the more illustrious classical composer of the same name) recorded many jazz 'standards' Hawaiian style.  Here he is with 'I got rhythm', recorded 28 Oct. 1940.  His Teddy Wilson-ish piano break is very nice, coming in at 1:10, followed shortly by the steel guitar at 1:43.  Here he is again with Hawaiian war chant.

The sound found its way into country music via Alvino Rey, who is credited as the father of the pedal steel, a steel guitar played flat on its back using pedals that increase the range of the instrument. Here he is playing 'St Louis Blues', which features a talking steel guitar. Another pioneer was Herb Remington. Here he is playing Goodbye Liza Jane, and (at the age of 83) Remington Ride.  Finally, Leon McAuliffe and his Western Swing Band play Panhandle Rag (January 1949).

In more recent times we have the Junior Brown. He is famous for the excellent Highway Patrol, of which my wife has a visceral and extreme dislike.  She only heard it once, many years ago, but still remembers it with hatred.  Sometimes I mention its existence simply to annoy her.

Brown is also notable for Guit steel blues, although this owes more the slide guitar tradition that originated in the Mississipi delta, than to Hawaii.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Two clear arguments against truthmakers

The Maverick Philosopher challenges me to lodge one clear objection against the idea of a truthmaker.  Very well.

The background. I originally objected that in order to make its proposition p true, a truthmaker must exist. Let the truthmaker be T. Then, when the proposition ‘T exists’ is true, p will be true. But (I hold) the truthmaker of ‘T exists’ cannot be T, anymore than the truthmaker of ‘Socrates sits’ can be Socrates. Let it be T*. But now we must ask about the truthmaker of “T* exists”. This cannot be T*, by the same reasoning. Therefore there must be another truthmaker T**, and so on ad infinitum.  The Maverick objects to my initial assumption that the truthmaker of ‘T exists’ cannot be T itself. For if it is, there is no regress (or at least, not a vicious one), and my argument fails.

That is by way of a preliminary. The whole dispute depends on whether the truthmaker of ‘T exists’ is T itself, and I shall now give two arguments that it cannot.

The first argument assumes that the meaning of a singular proposition (i.e. sentence) does not depend on whether its singular term has a referent. ‘Socrates sits’ means the same whether there is such a person as Socrates or not. Plenty of philosophers (direct referentialists) disagree with this assumption, but I believe Maverick does not. Thus it is contingent whether any object falls under the proper name ‘Socrates’ (used in the standard sense to mean a certain Athenian philosopher, the teacher of Plato). Thus it cannot be that Socrates makes the proposition ‘Socrates exists’ true. I.e. the proposition

(*) Socrates makes the proposition ‘Socrates exists’ true

is false, because Socrates does not exist. Maverick may object that in the past it made (past tense) the proposition true. I reply: even if that is conceded, (*) is still false. Maverick may then object that ‘makes’ is to be understood tenselessly, as in propositions like ‘2 plus 2 equals 4’. I reply: if so, he must then explain why Socrates sometimes (tenselessly) makes the proposition ‘Socrates exist’ true (i.e. when Socrates is alive) and sometimes (tenselessly) he fails to make it true (now he is dead, or before he is born). There must be some additional factor. Hence the truthmaker of ‘Socrates exists’ cannot be just Socrates himself, and I rest my case.

My second argument is from future tense propositions. Assume that it will rain tomorrow, and so ‘it will rain tomorrow’ is true. Does the truthmaker for that proposition exist today, or only tomorrow, when it rains? If only tomorrow, then I argue as before. What causes the truthmaker to come into existence. It cannot be the truthmaker itself, for the reasons already argued. But if the truthmaker exists today, and thus exists for all time, in a sort of date-stamped way like ‘it will rain in London on 11 November 2011’, then the future is already determined. But the future is not determined, ergo etc.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

A thought whose being consists in its being true?

The question being discussed here about truthmakers has some affinity with a question discussed by Frege in his late essay “Negation”. He compares grasp of a thought with understanding of a question. And, just as we can understand a question without understanding the correct answer, so he argues that there cannot be a thought ‘whose being consists in its being true’
The content of a question is that as to which we must decide. Consequently truth cannot be counted as going along with the content of the question. When I raise the question whether the Sun is bigger than the Moon, I am seeing the sense of the interrogative sentence 'Is the Sun bigger than the Moon?' Now if this sense were a thought whose being consisted in its being true, then I should at the same time see that this sense was true. Grasping the sense would at the same time be an act of judging; and the utterance of the interrogative sentence would at the same time be an assertion, and so an answer to the question. But in an interrogative sentence neither the truth nor the falsity of the sense may be asserted. Hence an interrogative sentence has not as its sense something whose being consists in its being true.
And since the sense of an interrogative sentence is always also inherent in the assertoric sentence that gives an answer to the question, this separation must be carried out for assertoric sentences too. It is a matter of what we take the word 'thought' to mean. In any case, we need a short term for what can be the sense of an interrogative sentence. I call this a thought. If we use language this way, not all thoughts are true. The being of a thought thus does not consist in its being true. (Negation, from Translations from Philosophical Writings of Gottlob Frege, ed. Peter Geach, p.125).
I wonder if a ‘truthmaker’ as understood by the advocates of truthmaking is the same sort of thing as Frege’s marvelous but impossible thought. Something that if we perceived it for what it was, would simultaneously communicate to us the truth of what it includes.

Monday, November 07, 2011

First picture of a truthmaker

This blog is always first!  Following up the first reported sighting of a truthmaker for the proposition 'this watch is on the table' nearly 100 years ago in June 1915*, the South West London metaphysics research laboratory can proudly announce it has located a picture of it.

Problems remain, however.  Is 'this watch' a pocket watch? Or a Patek Phillipe or one of those pink Barbie watches beloved of little girls?  What kind of table is it?  The picture suggests it may be a George II card table. But it may be George III, or one of those nasty cheap imitations with a veneer so thin you could peel it off with no more than a plastic safety razor.

Where on the table is the watch?  This early sighting suggests bottom right, but clearly anywhere on the table will do.  You could turn the watch at any angle, or even turn it face down.  All these possible states of affairs will make the proposition true.  Are they different truthmakers, then?  Or are they in reality the same truthmaker? But then what does it look like?  The watch would have to lie at every possible position and every angle on the table, like a multiple exposure picture - imagine those time-lapse pictures of busy city streets, with the red lights streaming like a ribbon on one side, and the white front lights on the other.

I suspect more research is needed.  Back to the laboratory.

*"Diese Uhr liegt auf dem Tisch" - Wittgenstein, Notebooks 1914-16  p.69

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Pictures of truthmakers

Keen to understand the idea of a 'truthmaker' better, I ran Google images to find a picture of one.

The result wasn't helpful.  There were lots of pictures of a book by D.M. Armstrong, an astoundingly witty and tasteful picture of a man's stomach tattooed with a picture of a cat, with the cat's bottom where his navel was, but nothing to do with truthmakers.  Also a picture of Ronald McDonald, and even a picture of Bill Vallicella's friend Peter Lupu.

So we have no picture of a truthmaker, as yet.  I think the problem is similar to the one faced by cartoonists who want to represent motion.  A still picture is by definition without movement. Similarly the linguistic representation of truthmaker is is by a noun-phrase, and thus by definition lacking the 'doing-ish' content signified by the verb.

Perhaps a cartoon representation of a truthmaker would work?  What would be the equivalent of the 'zoom' and the lines representing the space-time trail of Billy Whizz?

More thought needed.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Just my two cents

If anyone says "Just my two cents" I mark them down mentally as an idiot and a moron.  Often abbreviated to the intendedly humorous "just my $0.02".  Why do people say this?  Two cents is a small and insignificant contribution. So why bother to advertise that your contribution to the discourse is small and insignificant? It's often a lie, said contribution usually being long-winded and repetitive.  It's often true, said contribution being banal and lacking any form of insight. But if the latter, surely such self-awareness would be the cause of humble silence, rather than an idiotic and mindless rant.

It's similar to "that's what I think, anyway".  Well of course it's what you f--ing think.  And that's my two cents.

Bad music night: Jazz rock

There is much to say here, and  little time.  I suggested in last week's post that the 'freedom' and 'individuality' of free jazz was merely ornamental: a cadence around a standardised musical form.  It fools us into thinking we are free, rather than oppressed and alienated by the capitalist system.

This freedom was taken to its extremes in the late 1950s and 60s and beyond, leading to stuff like this, the Sun Ra Arkestra, which is really horrible, or the Soft Machine at the Proms, which is horrible in a different way. The Proms piece has all the hallmarks of 'free' improvisation around a standard form.  The standard form is little more than a modulation between two harmonic states.  The complex construction of 'All the things you are' has been lost altogether.  But that's as it should be.  Complex harmonisation and progression and sophisticated orchestration and arrangement takes time and genius.  An individual performer has no time, and he (or she) probably little genius, otherwise they would have been composers or arrangers instead of honking on a crappy saxophone.

People whose formative years were not in the late 1960s and early 1970s have no idea what it was like, and the horrors we had to sit through in the name of free jazz.  Hours and hours of it.  And the jumped up intellectual types who would rave about it and look at you like a piece of dirt of you merely hinted that it was awful.  Those times are long gone, at least I hope so.  As a final reminder, here are the wonderful Spinal Tap.