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.


Anthony said...

>>There is always something missing from a noun phrase that makes it incapable of expressing reality. To express reality we need a verb.

Nuh uh.

However, what about the word "exists"?

Edward Ockham said...

>> what about the word "exists"?

The word 'exists' is not a verb?

Anthony said...

>> The word 'exists' is not a verb?

Sure it is.

Edward Ockham said...

>>Sure it is.

Then we agree.

J said...

"exists" may work like a verb but in a logical context it's a quantifier. (google time, Ant!).

Anyway, the copula "is" is a verb ("est"). Just a little inclusion: "Gila monsters are reptiles."

Anthony said...

>> Then we agree.

I do not agree that, to express reality, we need a verb.

As a parent I express reality using noun phrases all the time. "Johnny! The bathroom light!" (names changed to protect the innocent)

I'm also not sure what you mean by "realists always insist on talking about reality using noun phrases".