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.

Flirting with linguistic idealism

Vallicella concedes to David Brightly here that the only way to get at 'truthmakers' is via the nominalisation of sentences.  For example
Tom is fat ==> Tom's fatness
Tom is seated ==> Tom's being seated
All we seem to be doing is turning a verb and noun phrase into a verbal noun or gerundive.  I agree.  This has a an affinity with my position on assertion.  The verb contains something that turns a noun phrase such as 'Caesar's death' into 'Caesar died'.  This cannot be nominalised, for if it could be, the verb would no longer be a verb.  All the philosophical difficulties connected with the notion of assertion, truth, truthmaking, extralinguistic reality, Bradley's regress etc etc are down to this simple, almost trivial fact.  The reality that we are trying to communicate by means of a sentence must include what we are communicating by a verb, and not just a verbal noun.  Thus we cannot name or designate or refer to this reality.  For naming or designation or reference is a function of noun phrases, not of verbs, and we can only communicate what is real - what is the case - by means of a verb.

Which means that it cannot be 'a reality' at all.  For the demonstrative noun phrase 'that reality' is ipso facto a noun phrase.  We need to add that this putative reality is a reality, that it really is the case.  But 'is the case' is a verb phrase.  If we nominalise it, we are back to 'its being the case', which does not quite capture 'the reality'.  Is its being the case a fact? Or is it something merely claimed by John, or Freddy?  To convey the reality, we need a verb, and thus convey more than 'the reality'.

Yet Vallicella still wants more, so it seems.
And yet surely we cannot rest content with saying that 'Tom is seated' is just true. Surely there is more to a true sentence than the sentence that is true. It can't be language all the way down. Or all the way out. I get the sense that nominalists like Ed are flirting with linguistic idealism.
Not really.  There clearly is more to a true sentence than the sentence that is true.  It's just that we can't name it or refer to it.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Truthmakers and infinite regress

Vallicella has a post here about my post here. Of my argument he says “this is a terrible, a thoroughly and breath-takingly rotten, argument which is why no one in the literature (to the best of my knowledge) has ever made it.” Don’t hold back, Bill!

Actually my argument has a close affinity to Frege’s argument against the correspondence theory of truth, but never mind. Let’s restate it. Let’s suppose that any sentence of the form “S phi's” has a truthmaker. But that truthmaker cannot be S itself, for the reasons Vallicella adduces in an earlier post. If I understand his argument, it is that if phiis ‘sits’, it is contingent whether Socrates is sitting or not, so the truthmaker for ‘Socrates is sitting’ cannot be Socrates himself.

That is his argument. I merely extend it to the verb ‘exists’. Let phi be ‘exists’. Since it is contingent whether any object (apart from God) exists or not, it follows – if Bill’s argument is valid – that the truthmaker T of ‘S exists’ is different from S itself. And then we get an infinite regress, for ‘T exists’ must also have a truthmaker. By equal reasoning, the truthmaker U of that sentence must be different from T, and so on.

I am not saying that Bill’s argument is valid. I am saying that, if it is valid, then equally my argument is valid, unless he shows how the verb ‘exists’ differs in any way from verbs like ‘sits’. Which I don’t think he has done.

He might argue that ‘exists’ is not a predicate, whereas ‘sits’ is. I reply, it is a predicate. ‘- exists’ is satisfied by Obama, but not by the Tooth Fairy. Perhaps there are other arguments that would justify his conclusion. But the point is, he has to give one.

Another argument against truthmakers is that if ‘it will rain on Friday’ has a truthmaker, then it must be a presently existing truthmaker (for the sentence, if true, is true now). So, today being Thursday, the truthmaker for ‘it will rain on Friday’ exists now. By the same reasoning, it had a truthmaker yesterday, given that if ‘it will rain on Friday’ is true today, the same sentence must have been true yesterday. But we cannot change the past. Therefore, if truthmakers for future tense statements exist we cannot determine what happens in the future. But we can determine what happens in the future. Therefore there are no truthmakers for future tense statements, and if so, what reason is there to believe they exist at all?

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Accidental versus essential predication

Anthony asks whether this scholastic distinction between accidental and essential predication makes any sense. I think it does. Ockham says, in Chapter 25 of the magnificient Summa Logicae that “An accident is what is present or absent without the corruption of the subject”. So ‘Socrates is sitting’ predicates an accident of Socrates, for sitting can ‘be present’ or ‘be absent’ in Socrates without Socrates being corrupted, i.e. ceasing to exist. By contrast ‘Socrates is a man’ is essential predication. If ‘man’ ceases to ‘be present’ in Socrates, then Socrates ceases to exist. Socrates is nothing if he is not a man. But he is still something if he is not sitting.

The medieval philosophers fretted considerably about whether, pointing to dead Socrates, we are pointing to a man or not. But we can leave that problem for now.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011


A truthmaker is something that makes a proposition true at a given time. When Socrates is sitting, so there is a truthmaker that makes ‘Socrates is sitting’ true. When he stands up, there is no longer such a truthmaker: it ceases to exist.

I accept Maverick’s arguments, which I discussed briefly here, that Socrates himself cannot be the truthmaker for ‘Socrates is sitting’. For Socrates is sometimes not sitting (for example, when he stands up). Socrates remains identical with himself, but fails to be identical with any currently existing person.

But, pari ratione, by equal reasoning, I reject the idea of a truthmaker altogether. If there is such a truthmaker, let it be A, it comes into existence when Socrates sits down, and ceases to exist when he stands up. If it were something real – let’s say a candle flame, which comes into existence when we light the candle, and ceases to exist when we blow it out – 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. That is absurd. Therefore, there are no truthmakers.