Thursday, August 02, 2012

Modes of being (of hobbits)

Someone asked me what I thought of this post by the Maverick, about the ‘mode of being’ of holes. No thoughts, really, as I don’t know much about holes.

But there may be a parallel with the points I raised here, about numbers and hobbits. It’s an obvious mistake to say that hobbits have existence in a different way from cats, or that they have a different 'mode of being' from cats. To say that hobbits are fictional is not the same kind of thing as saying that cats are furry, nor do hobbits have a different 'mode of being' from cats. Cats exist, hobbits don't, and to say that hobbits are fictional is just to say that they don't exist, with the added connotation that writers say they do in works of fiction. (Fiction being, as I said elsewhere, a particular mode of falsity in which the writer does not intend to deceive, but rather to amuse, his reader).

As for holes, well they do exist, but as accidents of the cheese. But this needs further thought, as it begs many challenges by the Realist.

Monday, July 30, 2012

A perfect refutation

The most satisfying refutation is one that not only shows why your opponent is wrong, but why he thinks he is right.

The Open Question question

The Maverick has argued (in effect) that the meaning of the word 'exist' is an open question. However, if the meaning of 'exist' is what the thin theorist stipulates it is, it would not be an open question. Therefore the meaning of 'exist' is not what the thin theorist stipulates it is.

Against. It is not an open question whether 'Pegasus does not exist' means the same thing as 'There is no such thing as Pegasus'. But the meaning of 'There is no such thing as Pegasus' is not an open question. Therefore the meaning of 'Pegasus does not exist' is not an open question. Our understanding of sentences such as 'there is such a thing as x' and 'there are such things as Fs' is entirely settled, and indeed is entirely the understanding advocated by the thin theorist.

The thin theorist can also explain why some philosophers think there is an open question. For the 'thick' theorist of existence is tempted to think that the following is a valid inference,

(A) Pegasus does not exist therefore there is something that does not exist

or at least that it is an open question as to whether it is a valid inference. However it is not an open question as to whether it is a valid inference. For the inference is equivalent to

(B) There is no such thing as Pegasus therefore there is something such that there is no such thing as it

which is obviously invalid (for the antecedent is true but the consequent is false). The 'thick' theorist is tempted by the grammar of 'Pegasus does not exist' into thinking that '- does not exist' is a predicate. However, the grammar of 'There is no such thing as Pegasus' does not tempt us into thinking that 'There is no such thing as –' is a predicate. Thus there is absolutely no question about the semantics of 'exist', although its grammar tempts some people into thinking that there is.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

An interesting net

The discussion continues here as Maverick and others ask whether Meinong could have made an elementary mistake about logic. If ‘some things do not exist’ is a logical contradiction, how come he did not spot it?

I commented that all anti-metaphysical and positivistic theories need to explain how metaphysicians got it so wrong. It’s not like dispelling superstition, belief in which we can explain by mere ignorance or lack of education. Meinong was clever and obviously well-educated. Many clever and well-educated academics are still disciples of his theories. So the anti-metaphysical theory about the meaning of the verb ‘exist’, and generally any anti-metaphysical theory, needs to explain how clever people got an apparently simple matter so wrong.

Accordingly, Ockham puts it down to ignorance of true logic. This causes people to fall into many errors “by ignoring valid argument as though it were sophistry, and mistaking sophistry for valid argument”. Mill, following Ockham, says that metaphysics is a 'fertile field of delusion propagated by language', i.e. language has the habit of playing tricks on us, even clever people.

 Wittgenstein discusses the problem in many places. 'A clever man got caught in this net of language! So it must be an interesting net. ' ' Human beings are entangled all unknowing in the net of language.' ' In philosophy it's always a matter of the application of a series of utterly simple basic principles that any child knows, and the – enormous – difficulty is only one of applying these in the confusion our language generates.'

Friday, July 27, 2012

No true philosopher

In an earlier post, the Maverick extensively quotes the novelist Jean-Paul Sartre, intending to illustrate the "Continental" view of existence.
It left me breathless. Never, until these last days, had I understood the meaning of 'existence.' I was like all the others, like the ones walking along the seashore, all dressed in their spring finery. I said, like them, 'The ocean is green; that white speck up there is a seagull,' but I didn't feel that it existed or that the seagull was an 'existing seagull'; usually existence hides itself. It is there, around us, in us, it is us, you can't say two words without mentioning it, but you can never touch it. When I believed I was thinking about it, I must [have] believe[d] that I was thinking nothing, my head was empty, or there was just one word in my head, the word 'to be.' Or else I was thinking . . . how can I explain it? I was thinking of belonging, I was telling myself that the sea belonged to the class of green objects, or that that green was a part of the quality of the sea. Even when I looked at things I was miles from dreaming that they existed; they looked like scenery to me. I picked them up in my hands, they served me as tools, I foresaw their resistance. But that all happened on the surface.

If anyone had asked me what existence was, I would have answered, in good faith, that it was nothing, simply an empty form that was added to external things without changing anything in their nature. And then all of a sudden, there it was, clear as day: existence had suddenly unveiled itself. It had lost the harmless look of an abstract category: it was the very paste of things, this root was kneaded into existence. Or rather the root, the park gates, the bench, the sparse grass, all that had vanished: the diversity of things, their individuality, were only an appearance, a veneer. This veneer had melted, leaving soft, monstrous masses, all in disorder — naked, in a frightful, obscene nakedness. (p. 127 tr. Lloyd Alexander, ellipsis in original.)
Omitting the novelistic turn of phrase ('breathless', 'obscene nakedness'), what is left?

1. Roquentin says that never before had he understood the meaning of 'existence.' It seems clear he is talking about some non-standard meaning of the word, which cannot be grasped by the normal process of learning a language, such as in childhood or in school. For Roquentin is an educated adult.  By implication, the standard meaning of the word 'existence', as in 'black swans exist', which can be easily learned, cannot be what he is talking about here.

2. He says he once felt that "'The ocean is green; that white speck up there is a seagull,' but I didn't feel that it existed or that the seagull was an 'existing seagull'; usually existence hides itself." This is baffling. He says that the ocean is green, but doesn't 'feel' that it existed? Again, he cannot be talking about the standard meaning, where 'the ocean is green' implies 'the ocean exists'. He then says that usually existence 'hides itself'. More evidence that he is using the word 'exist' in some specific, novelistic sense, rather than the ordinary, standard one. Maverick comments here that analytic types will guffaw at this, and that they are 'existence-blind' - "to the blind, that which is luminous must appear dark." Of course, but this confirms the point I made in yesterday's post, about philosophy eschewing revelation and all knowledge whose acquisition requires a special state of awareness of some kind. Such knowledge may be important and interesting, but it is not the subject matter of philosophy, properly understood.

3. He says that existence is all around us, but that we cannot touch it. Is he making some scientific claim, then? Is existence like the air or like electricity or gravity, that we cannot touch, but whose existence we infer? Do we infer the existence of existence? If so, do we also infer the existence of the existence of existence? It seems entirely circular.

4. I'm not sure is meant by the next part – Roquentin seems to be contrasting his old way of thinking about existence, such as being asserted by the verb 'to be', or being an assertion of class-membership ("I was telling myself that the sea belonged to the class of green objects") with this new revelation. He would have once said that existence "was nothing, simply an empty form that was added to external things without changing anything in their nature". Now he sees that "existence had suddenly unveiled itself. " OK, existence is now something that reveals itself to his senses or experience. "It had lost the harmless look of an abstract category: it was the very paste of things, this root was kneaded into existence. " Which may be all be true, but it is so mystical as to be meaningless. As for "the diversity of things, their individuality, were only an appearance, a veneer. This veneer had melted, leaving soft, monstrous masses, all in disorder — naked, in a frightful, obscene nakedness", it is sheer poetry. But is it philosophy? Can everyone share the revelation given to Roquentin? Or is it mere euphony, sound and language that is impressive in a novel, but has no real place in a work of true philosophy?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Number and Existence

I go away for a week or two and look what happens. Discussing the Maverick's post on number and existence, and Brandon's comment, Michael Sullivan argues against conflating statements about number with existential statements. Consider:

(a) The number of cats in the room right now is two.

(b) Of the four hobbits that set out for Mount Doom, the number that arrived is two.

The two statements are true: his cats are two and Frodo and Sam are two, and in the same sense of 'two'.
But obviously the two hobbits don't have existence in the way that the cats do: my cats have actual existence and the hobbits don't and never did.
Thus we cannot conflate existence with number.

Contra: we clearly can reduce statements about number to existential statements, even when they are in a book. For example

(1) Tolkien said that two hobbits arrived at Mount Doom
(2) Tolkien said that a hobbit arrived with another hobbit at Mount Doom
(3) Tolkien said for some x, y: x was a hobbit, y was a hobbit, not x = y, and x arrived at Mount Doom and y arrived at Mount Doom

But we can't infer from any of these that there are such things as hobbits, or that hobbits exist. What about the claim that 'Hobbits don't have existence in the way that cats do'? Wrong: it's not that hobbits have a different kind of existence. They don't have any existence at all. The book says that, or pretends that hobbits exist. Indeed, it pretends or states that two hobbits – two existing hobbits – arrived at Mount Doom. But what it says is literally false. Nothing of the sort really happened. No hobbits arrived at any mountain. There is an implicit 'says that' or 'pretends that' operator around 'true' fictional statements such as 'two hobbits arrived at Mount Doom', which blocks any inference to existing things.

The problem is that we easily confuse such operators with spatial operators like 'In Europe', 'In London' and so on. We tend to move easily from statements like (4) below to (6), via (5).

(4) According to The Lord of the Rings, two hobbits arrived at Mount Doom
(5) In The Lord of the Rings, two hobbits arrived at Mount Doom
(6) In the universe of The Lord of the Rings, two hobbits arrived at Mount Doom

Now 'In Europe, there are hobbits' implies 'there are hobbits'. But 'In the universe of The Lord of the Rings there are hobbits' doesn't, because there are no hobbits anywhere. Objection: Can we not say that there are hobbits somewhere, namely in the universe of LOTR? Reply: yes, if 'somewhere' means 'it is said somewhere that …'. But then we are equivocating on 'somewhere'. There should be a special name for this fallacy, but I don't think there is one.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Logic, language and metaphysics

A long piece from Maverick today about existence and the 'Continental' school of philosophy, which he contrasts, mostly favourably, with the 'analytic' or 'Anglo American analytic' school. At the heart of his argument is the idea that the analytic philosopher prefers the 'thin theory' of existence because he lacks some sense or intuition of existence "that philosophers as diverse as Wittgenstein, Maritain, and Sartre share, a sense or intution he fells must be bogus and must rest on some mistake".

A wider point that I believe that he has raised elsewhere is that the analytic technique or 'logic' in the wider sense, cannot usefully engage with metaphysics proper.

I disagree – at least if 'metaphysics' is understood in its properly philosophical sense (and not its other sense of New Age mysticism, crystals, and sitting cross-legged and chanting 'OM' and all that).

Another term for 'metaphysics', used by the scholastic philosophers, was 'first philosophy'. 'Philosophy' on its own meant any scientific study or systematic account, which is why 'natural philosophy' is so-called. So metaphysics is a type of philosophy – the primary type, prior to and higher than any departmental branch of the subject. As for philosophy, the subject began in Greece as a method of getting knowledge about the universe without appeal to any revelation, to myth, or religious knowledge of any kind,but only byeason. There's a nice piece about this in the Logic Museum here.

Note the avoidance of appeal to revelation. Why? Because revelation depends on something being revealed, a state of mind that may be accessible to some, but not to everyone. The starting point of true philosophy is not some state of mind or thought or idea that is available to some, but not to everyone capable of thought and reason. Nor is it some religious text or authority, or anything of that sort. The starting point of philosophy is propositions that are clear and self-evident to everyone who thinks or reasons, without appeal to any religious sense or das mystische. The end point is propositions that are derivable from the primary ones by some process of reason or logic. Hence the appeal by analytic philosophers – and scholastic ones – to clear definition, and to logical principles.

All of this involves language, of course. If you can't say it clearly, you can't say it at all. And the point of logical principles is to distinguish valid reasoning from mere disconnected sentences. This can only be done by rules that apply to the use of language. Philosophy is essentially linguistic. Even the long passage the Maverick quotes from Sartre is expressed in words, in language. Either (1) Sartre is arguing from basic assumptions to a conclusion, or (2) he is trying to express those basic assumptions alone or (3) he is trying to use language as a form of prayer or chanting 'OM' to get us into some kind of trance state so some truth will be revealed to us. Only the first two count as philosophy.

I expect the Maverick wants to deny this. My point is: if he does, he is not really doing philosophy, properly so-called. We can't do philosophy without viewing reality through the lens of logic and language.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

On the meaning of 'exists'

There is progress, so much so that I mostly need to report it, rather than make it happen. Maverick concedes the points I made here. He agrees that if 'Some man is white' and 'A white man exists' have exactly the same meaning, then 'Some man is white because a white man exists' is unintelligible. “That's entirely clear”. So he must show that the two sentences -- call them the some-sentence and the existence-sentence* -- do not have the same meaning.

He gives a negative reason. If we stipulate that the two sentences have the same meaning, the thin theory “is wholly without interest. Substantive philosophical questions cannot be answered by framing stipulative definitions.” Correct, but this begs the question as to whether there is any substantive philosophical question. A thin theorist is likely to be a positive or a nominalist, who wants to show how apparently ‘metaphysical’ questions really arise from a misunderstanding of language, or from being misled by it.

He goes on to give a positive reason.
‘A white man exists’ says all that ‘Some man is white’ says, but it says more: it makes explicit that there are one or more existing items that are such that they are both human and white. The existence-sentence is richer in meaning than the some-sentence. It makes explicit that the item that is both human and white exists, is not nothing, is mind-independently real -- however you want to put it.
Will this work? I’m not sure. For the thin theorist, ‘there are one or more existing items’ and ‘there are one or more items’ or equivalent in meaning, by stipulation. The realist has failed to communicate anything.

On the point that “It makes explicit that the item that is both human and white exists, is not nothing, is mind-independently real”. Well, so does the ‘some’ sentence’. ‘Some man is white’ makes it explicit that the item that is both human and white exists, and that it is not nothing, and is mind-independently real. How could it say any less. If ‘some buttercups are blue’ is true, then blue buttercups exist (in virtue of the meaning alone), and so blue buttercups are not nothing, otherwise ‘no buttercups are blue’ would be true. And blue buttercups are mind-independently real, for ‘some buttercups are blue’ does not merely say that people think there are blue buttercups, or that they are figments of some kind. Over to Phoenix.

*We neo-scholastics call these ‘categorial’ and ‘existential’ sentences respectively. The medievals made a similar distinction between the use of the verb ‘is’ as a second elements, as in ‘Socrates is’, and as a third element or copula, as in ‘Socrates is white’.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Circularity and the Euthyphro Dilemma

The Maverick has said a bit more about his conception of metaphysical circularity in a post about Plato's Euthyphro Dilemma. Do the gods love piety because it is pious, or is it pious because they love it? He argues that the question is intelligible, and therefore, by implication, his questions about existence is intelligible. That is, we can intelligibly ask whether a man is white because a white man exists, or not.

Now I'm still puzzled. The Euthyphro question is intelligible because the terms "That which is loved by the gods"and 'that which is pious' have clearly different meanings. The gods may disagree on the nature of pious. Even if they agree, this offers us no insight into the nature of the pious. In later Western theology, this turned into the question of whether something is good simply because God wills it or whether God wills it because it is good and just. And the question is intelligible because 'good' does not have the same meaning as 'willed by God', even if the two referents turn out to be the same. (Perhaps it is similar to the question of whether Shakespeare was Edward de Vere, or not).

Now I agree that if 'a white man exists' has a different meaning from 'some man is white', then the question of whether some F is a G because some FG exists, is an intelligible one. But it is not intelligible if they have the same meaning, as London 'thin' theorists claim. After all, the statement

(1) Some man is white because some man is white

is not intelligible. Nor is

(2) Some man is white because the sentence 'quidam homo est albus' is true

For the Latin sentence 'quidam homo est albus' means the same as 'some man is white'. The one sentence translates into the other. So there is no meaningful 'because' here. So why does Maverick think that

(3) Some man is white because some white man exists.

is intelligible? He says as much in his comment #6. So does he think that 'some man is white' has the same meaning as 'a white man exists'? Surely not, for the reasons stated here. But if the meaning is different, what is that difference?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Greece, rainbows and existence

A much better post today from the Maverick.

Greece was a powerful tonic. God made it last of all the countries, and had little left over except a handful of dirt and stones. So he scattered it over the Aegean and Ionian seas, adding a rainbow as he did. So Greece is all light and rainbow, existence in the fullest sense. No wonder the ancients thought of death as some dark unlit cavern. London is in a halfway state, a sort of twilight between the Hellenistic day and the darkness of nonentity.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

How much does a Greek earn?

Some economists talk about the 'Mars bar index', i.e. using the price of a Mars bar as a metric for inflation, or to measure the relative value of currencies. I prefer to use the price of beer.  In Greece I thought it was unusually expensive, namely E3.50 for a 400ml glass.  This was the local beer (Mythos) as opposed to any imported rubbish.  Converting to more natural units (pint, sterling) gives us about £4 a pint (multiplying by 568/400, dividing by 1.2).  This is more expensive than many places in cold, grey London.

I wondered whether this was just seasonal loading, but the taxi driver (who by definition must be right) said that this was standard.  This must be why there are so many Greeks in London: the driver, who has a degree in environmental science, said that the average starting salary for a graduate in Greece - assuming a job is available, which it usually isn't - is about E6,000. 

Rent is much lower in Greece, of course - the driver estimated about E300 per month for a reasonable apartment, whereas the nearest equivalent in London would be above E1,200, probably well above.  And of course, as I mentioned in my earlier post, it is usually sunny in Greece.

I was staying in Macedonia - not far from Aristotle's birthplace in Stagira, as it happens, though I didn't have time to visit, and he probably wouldn't have been in.  I will explore the phenomenon of Greek driving in a subsequent post - this is another area where I have deep disagreement with the Maverick.

Metaphysical circularity

Following my post on my return from sunny Greece, the Maverick now has finally conceded that the 'thin' definition of 'exists'

(1) A-B exists =df A is B

cannot be circular, at least in the strict and ordinary sense of circular. However, he insists that the following equivalence (note the omitted 'df') is still circular.

(1a) A-B exists = existing A is B

He adds: "One response I anticipate Ed making is to say that there is no difference between 'x' and 'existing x': whatever is a value of the one is a value of the other, and vice versa. If so, then perhaps (1a) collapses into (1) and there is no circularity in the sense in which the examples above are circular." That's roughly right, but let's see why I am saying that. It follows from definition (1) that "A man who is white" is equivalent to "an existing white man", and it clearly follows from this that "existing white man" is equivalent to "white man". Thus (1a) above is a mere logical consequence of the original definition.

But Maverick goes on to claim that I am confusing semantic with metaphysical circularity. He says (I modify his wording to accommodate my example):
A presupposition of (1)'s truth is that the domain of quantification -- the domain over which the variable 'A' ranges -- is a domain of existents. Therefore, if I want to know what it is for A to exist, you have not given me any insight by telling me that for A to exist is for A to be identical to something that exists. For of course the A is identical to something that exists, namely the A! Suppose we distinguish between semantic and metaphysical circularity. I am willing to concede that (1) is not semantically circular. But I do maintain that (1) is metaphysically circular: its truth presupposes that the domain of quantification is a domain of existing items.
I reply: the fact that the "domain of quantification", i.e. all the items which satisfy 'A is B' is not a presupposition of the definition, but rather a consequence of it, for essentially the same reason I gave above. Let's first define 'satisfy':

(2) 'A is B' is satisfied by any A that is B

And then make the following assumption:

(3) 'A man is white' is satisfied by that man over there.

Then the following statements logically follow:

(4) That man is white (2, 3)

(5) That white man exists (1, 4)

(6) 'A man is white' is satisfied by an existing white man (3, 5)

So of course the items in the domain of quantification have to be existing items, but the sense in which they 'have to be' existing is a matter of logical consequence alone. They 'have' to exist in the same sense that a bachelor 'has' to be unmarried.

He adds that his claim that the thin conception is 'ontologically' or 'metaphysically' circular is something I fail to understand. This I agree with, of course, for the reason that 'metaphysical circularity' is incoherent.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Circularity of the thin conception after a spell in the sun

Back in the rain-drenched UK.  Returning seems like entering a room with a low, darkened ceiling (I was in sun-drenched Greece, not far from Aristotle's birthplace in Stagira, though did not have time to visit).

Meanwhile, I had time to think long and carefully about Maverick's 'circularity objection' to the thin conception of existence, and I now think I missed a trick.  The thin conception rests on a definition.  But how can a definition be circular at all, so long as it truly is a definition?  Suppose we forget the word 'exists'.  Suppose I want to define the verb 'xxxxts'.  Thus

(1) A-B xxxxts =def A is B

I mean that anything of the form 'A-B xxxxts' -- for example 'A white man xxxxts' -- means exactly what 'A man is white' means.  That's all. Nothing more, nothing less.  I am explaining a term whose meaning is not initially known (the verb 'xxxxts') by the use of terms whose meaning is known.  How can that be 'circular'?  So long as the term I am trying to define does not appear in the definiens side, the right-hand side, so that I have to return to the left-hand side and so on in an infinite regress, there is not even a hint of circularity.

Why then does the Maverick even think the definition is circular?  I think I have an answer to that as well, but more tomorrow.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Briefly offline

I will be avoiding the internet for a week, possibly two, in order to concentrate on writing the new book.  I wish all my readers a happy and fulfilling summer break.

The Afterlife

Maverick posts about The Afterlife.  Giles Fraser used to go on in this vein, saying how the perfect life would become boring after a long while.  All pleasure is cloying*, eventually we will long for the 'true death' of total annihilation, assuming true annihilation is logically possible. 

I disagree. Giles would always use golf as an example. Of course, how could even a week of golf not induce disgust and nausea.  But I could easily endure an infinity of the life that I find good.  Namely, rising at an early hour with the chirping of the birds, in the crisp purity of the morning.  A fine breakfast served by pleasant staff - strong coffee and orange juice.  Repair to a table in the verandah of a magnificient house fronting onto a lake filled with all kinds of wildlife (not of the dangerous kind).  Four of five hours of concentrated philosophical and logical speculation, enough to fill a chapter or two of an infinitely long work. 

A walk in the afternoon to admire the beauties of nature, then return to the verandah to enjoy the finest single malt (or two) while watching the sunset over the lake. An evening with wife and friends, and a fine cigar (there are no carcinogens in heaven).  Repeat endlessly, with infinite variations on that theme.  This is of course a form of the 'spiritual materialism' that the Maverick (and Giles) abhor in their different ways, but I don't altogether see the problem with it.

*producing distaste or disgust after too much of something originally pleasant

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Argument by analogy and copyright infringement

There's an interesting argument on Jimmy Wales Wikipedia talk page, that deserves the attention of logicians. Jimmy has organised a petition against the extradition of Richard O'Dwyer, the Sheffield student who ran a website linking to and (apparently) streaming copyrighted material. Some called 'Incu Master' argues
If someone facilitates credit card fraud, using the credit card numbers of US citizens, helping US citizens commit fraud against other US citizens, and taking a cut of the "profits", while running a website served out of Sweden from his/her home in the UK, and gets extradited to the US, would you be writing a petition to stop the extradition? It seems you are saying there is something special about copyright law in this regard, and I don't understand it because you seem to agree that copyright infringement is, and should be, illegal. Incu Master (talk) 14:10, 26 June 2012 (UTC)
Jimmy replies
I think one question that has been raised repeatedly in this thread is one that makes no sense. No, I would not launch a petition to save someone from extradition for credit card fraud. But you can't conclude from that anything about my position on credit card fraud or how bad it is relative to copyright infringement nor how I privately think credit card fraud should be dealt with legally, etc. For a variety of reasons, demands on my time among them, I don't take a personal interest in every issue on earth. I am not particularly knowledgeable about the laws surrounding credit card fraud, nor do I have any particular reason to become interested. I am not interested enough in the issue to get involved at all. Nor would the general public be particularly interested in my views on the matter, as I am not known in that field.--Jimbo Wales (talk) 12:18, 28 June 2012 (UTC)
I don't follow his reply. Incu's argument is a version of 'argument from analogy'. Here are two similar cases X and Y. Why is your judgment about X so different from your judgment about Y, given the formal similarity between them? Facilitating credit card theft is illegal in both countries, and merits extradition. Facilitating copyright theft is illegal in both countries, and merits extradition. If you don't organise petitions against one, then logically you don't organise petitions against the other. Jimbo's reply is that there is a difference, namely he doesn't have an interest in credit card fraud, and that he is not particularly knowledgeable about it. So, logically, and given that he does regard facilitating copyright theft as illegal, it is OK to organise petitions against extradition for illegal activities, so long as you have an interest in it, and you are particularly knowledgeable about it?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Technological determinism and the naturalistic fallacy

Sorry for the long title.  'Technological determinism' is the view that the Internet is an unstoppable force (for good) and that trying to close down piracy sites such as Pirate Bay and TVShack will just lead to them being reopened elsewhere.  Implicit (often explicit) in this view is that this force is on the side of good, and right and so on.  A victory of the People against the Man.  The naturalistic fallacy is the fallacy that because something is the case, it ought to be the case.   Though it does not invoke the fallacy, this very nice site here explains it very well in the context of the 'free culture' or 'piracy' movement.

Yes. It is technologically easy to:
  • Drive 120 miles an hour.
  • Use someone else’s credit card to purchase goods online.
  • Log into someone else’s bank account and transfer money to yourself.
  • Shoot someone with a gun.
This does not imply that it is right to do so.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Free culture looters

The stupid Internet is buzzing about the case of Richard O'Dwyer, a 24 year old British student at Sheffield University in the UK, who is facing extradition to the USA and up to ten years in prison, for creating a website – – which linked to places to watch TV and movies online. The pro-piracy chief of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales, writes in the Guardian. Phrases like "encroachments on our civil liberties in the interests of the moguls of Hollywood" are chock-full of power words like 'moguls', 'civil liberties', 'interests' and so on. But as I commented here, the piracy dispute is essentially between the hugely powerful advertising industry and the hugely powerful entertainment industry. Obviously content creators have their civil liberties too. This writer put it well*.
What the corporate backed Free Culture movement is asking us to do is analogous to changing our morality and principles to allow the equivalent of looting. Say there is a neighborhood in your local big city. Let’s call it The ‘Net. In this neighborhood there are record stores. Because of some antiquated laws, The ‘Net was never assigned a police force. So in this neighborhood people simply loot all the products from the shelves of the record store. People know it’s wrong, but they do it because they know they will rarely be punished for doing so. What the commercial Free Culture movement (see the “hybrid economy”) is saying is that instead of putting a police force in this neighborhood we should simply change our values and morality to accept this behavior. We should change our morality and ethics to accept looting because it is simply possible to get away with it. And nothing says freedom like getting away with it, right?
By analogy, what O'Dywer was doing (as someone has already pointed out in a comment on Jimmy's post), was running a site where people could post up the location of the shops where the owners were absent, and had poor security locks, or open windows, so that the looters could go there as well. So I am not impressed with the claim that "I wasn't a looter myself".

Jimmy also discusses it on Wikipedia, where he objects to a mischievous claim that the Wikipedia's pro-piracy and looting-support vote back in January was by IPs or newly-registered accounts. ("Spirits from the vasty deeps"). As I commented in January, there certainly was a significant amount of voting of this kind.

*Link fixed.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Getting the Londoners' goat

A post yesterday by the Maverick which is 'guaranteed to get London Ed's goat'. The argument he alludes to can be summarised as follows:

Brian Wilson's song says that there is a girl called Rhonda
The song does not say how tall she was
Therefore there is someone (Rhonda) who is indeterminate with respect to the property of being tall

He ends "The record will show that I myself eschew Meinongianism". It's a mystery to us Londoners.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Web 2ology

Web 2.0 prophet Cory Doctorow has been awarded an honorary doctorate in computer science from the Open University. He writes
Networks -- by which I mean the Internet, which is like some ancient god with a thousand faces and guises, but which is actually a single, sprawling network that appears to different people and societies in different garb -- are the most significant means of changing our social circumstances. The UK Champion for Digital Inclusion, Martha Lane Fox, commissioned a PriceWaterhouseCooper study on the impact of Internet access on the poorest and most vulnerable families in the UK. The study concluded that families with network access have better outcomes on every social axis, from nutrition to employment, from education and social mobility to civil engagement and political awareness. Simply put, the Internet is a single wire that delivers freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of the press, and access to nutrition, education, employment, politics, and community.
This may be tongue in cheek or some kind of joke, but I suspect not. He is serious. I'm sure there is a correlation between quality of housing and income and access to the Internet. But he seems to be saying that the one is the cause of the other. See fallacy of false cause.

It's time we sceptics added another item to our list of 'ologies'. We already have scientology, astrology, reflexology, cosmobiology. What is the 'ology' for the belief in and the study of weird magical properties of the internet?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Are logical truths empirical?

Anthony mentions in his comments here that he holds that logic itself is empirical, whereas I holds (he believes) that knowledge of logic is innate.

Well, I wouldn't exactly describe my position the way he does. I lean towards the Wittgensteinian position that there are no 'logical truths' as such, but rather principles like the Contradiction and Excluded Middle are built into the 'scaffolding' of our language, so that we can't describe them using language, but only show them, as it were. On the idea that 'logic itself is empirical' – by which I assume he means that logical truths are empirical – I don't know what to say. What does 'empirical' mean? If the idea is absurd, how would we demonstrate its absurdity?

Aristotle discussed the problem in book 4 of the Metaphysics. Aquinas' commentary on it is in the Logic Museum here. It includes links to Aristotle's original text.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Time travel and sleep

Some of the commenters on my last post pointed out that time travel itself is not problematic - after all we travel through it, day by day, all the time.  The problem is the discontinuity.  Can one and the same thing 'jump' from one point in time to some future point in time without existing in the time in between?  If so, then since it does not exist at the point just after which it has jumped, and begins to exist again after it has landed.  This seems to violate Locke's maxim.

Some further points to consider.  Dr Who's time actually isn't discontinuous.  He steps into the Tardis, fiddles about with the dashboard and that glass thing that goes up and down, and waits.  Then he opens the door onto a different time, far in the future perhaps.  From his point of view, there is no discontinuity, which only exists from the point of view of someone outside the Tardis.

It's the same with sleep (by which I mean deep sleep).  My consciousness does not exist during sleep. But there is no apparent discontinuity on my side.  I turn out the light, think of sheep, and then the next thing I know there is light underneath the curtains.  Consciousness in its very nature is continuous, and (as I argued in a series of posts around here) it is finite. 

A further problem.  In what sense am 'I' asleep, or unconscious?  If I am my consciousness, and if my consciousness ceases to exist when I am unconscious, how can I be said to be asleep, or unconscious?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Is time travel possible?

Maverick quotes John Locke (great English philosopher and father of the American constitution) on the impossibility of two beginnings of existence, as follows.
When therefore we demand whether anything be the same or no, it refers always to something that existed such a time in such a place, which it was certain, at that instant, was the same with itself, and no other. From whence it follows, that one thing cannot have two beginnings of existence, nor two things one beginning; it being impossible for two things of the same kind to be or exist in the same instant, in the very same place; or one and the same thing in different places.
He infers from this the impossibility of a soul not existing from the death of its body in 1890 (say) to its rebirth in a different body in 1990 (say). Does this also refute the possibility of time travel? Dr Who gets into his trusty police box in 1999 and travels to the year 2101. He lives out the rest of his life in the 22nd century and never travels to the 21st century. Therefore, Dr Who never existed in the 21st century. But he exists at the end of the 20th, and exists again at the beginning of the 22nd. Is this inconsistent with Locke's maxim about the impossibility of two beginnings? It's odd. The maxim seems correct, and it seems impossible that the same thing cannot have two beginnings. It seems almost a logical truth. Yet the impossibility of time travel does not seem a logical truth at all.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Maverick on circularity again

Maverick repeats his circularity argument, which boils down to this:

(*) If concept F is instantiated, then it is instantiated by an individual that exists.

He has still not replied to my detailed critique of his argument, however. My critique, in brief, was that not every sentence of the form of (*) contains a circularity. For example "If a man is a bachelor then he is a bachelor who is unmarried".

I gave another objection here, which he has also clearly ignored. The objection is that if the word 'exists' on the right hand side of this definition

Some philosopher is American = An American philosopher exists

is merely a copula, then we cannot 'descend to singulars' via 'American philosopher' but only via the subject of the left hand side, namely 'philosopher'. Maverick may object that 'exist' is not a copula, in which case I accept his argument – but that does not appear to be his argument.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Maverick discusses my reincarnation post

Maverick discusses my reincarnation post. He has spotted the obvious problem with my hypothesis that an ego can exist for a certain period, then cease to exist, then exist again, citing an 'authority' in his defence.  It is probably easier to read his (elegant and clear) discussion of the problem rather than for me to attempt a garbled summary.

I am looking for scholastic discussion on what happens to souls while they are waiting for the judgment day, so more later. Meanwhile, here is Scotus' discussion in the Ordinatio II distinction 2 on the question of whether an angel (read: soul) can be in two places at one, and here is the same question discussed in the (probably earlier) Lectura.  Maverick defends a similar idea.

[edit] The first argument is that if an angel (or soul) could be in different places, then it would be distant from itself, just as one place is different from another. This is because two things which are together in respect of some third thing, have to be together themselves, and conversely if they are not together, the third thing they are together with would be distant from itself.  He replies, that the third thing to which the first two are compared is not limited in the respect in which the two things are compared to it, as is clear in the case of the soul in the right hand, and the soul in the left hand. The hands are distant from each other, but the soul is not distant from itself. Likewise, God is not distant from himself, and yet those things which are with God here (i.e. in Oxford), and those things which are with God in Rome, are distant from one another.

I'm not clear about the sense in which my soul is 'in' my hand, nor in the sense that God is 'with' someone in Oxford as well as someone in Rome.  Is it the same as the sense in which this blog post is 'with' Bill in Phoenix, as well as with me here?  And with Anthony, David and the other places where my readers are?

Monday, June 11, 2012

On the logical possibility of reincarnation

Anthony asked what logical possibility is.  I'm not sure, but I think a proposition is logically possible if it does not involve or imply a contradiction.  In that sense, is the proposition "I have been reincarnated" logically possible?  Does it fail to involve or imply any contradiction?

I think it is logically possible. The key assumption is that the term 'I' does not refer to my body alone. For being reincarnated means having once had a body that is numerically different from the one I have now.  I say 'numerically different' because obviously my body was qualitatively different from how it is now.  It used to weigh somewhat less, for example.  So, having a body that was numerically different from the one I have now, means not identical to the body I had in 1980, or 1970.  I don't think there is anything in the reference or meaning of 'I' that entails such an identity.

That's not to countenance disembodied egos or anything like that.  The possibility of reincarnation does not require there to be a disembodied referent for 'I'.  But if there are no disembodied egos, and if reincarnation takes place some time after the death of the previous body, there has to be a time when the 'I' does not exist. E.g. suppose my body used to be Napoleon's body. He died in (er, looks in Wikipedia) 1821.  I was born in 19xx. So if that were the case, my ego would have temporarily ceased to exist in 1821, then was recreated in 19xx.

Does that mean I am the same person as Napoleon, if that were true?  On the assumption that two egos cannot own the same body, then yes. Does reincarnation violate any basic non-logical principles, such as the principle of sufficient reason, or Ockham's principle?  More later.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Too schlocky?

Not even the Maverick had the gumption to post a link to a song by Fabian Forte. Nothing too schlocky for this place, however, so here is Gonna Make You Mine.  (Filed under 'kitsch').

Logic and censorship

Can logic help us with arguments about sexual morality, censorship and so on? Only so far it can expose contradictions and fallacies. At some point in any such argument, someone will invoke a principle or universal proposition, and the problem with principles or universal propositions is that they do not allow exceptions. The proposition 'all swans are white' is false so long as there exists one black swan. It's quite binary. So anyone who asserts such a principle cannot allow any exception to it, without modifying it in such a way that it is still a principle, i.e. such that it contains no arbitrary exceptions or modifications or special pleading. For example, the guy arguing here is dangerously close to a principle:
That's how repressive regimes begin. First you start with the sexual content that offends people, then you move on to the religious content, and finally, the political content. Funny how it's always the people screaming "freedom" and "liberty" the loudest who are always trying to curtail it.
This is called the 'slippery slope' argument. As soon as you are on the slope, you will always slide to the bottom, therefore you must not get onto the slope in the first place. In this person's case, being on the slope means having an image filter on Wikipedia, and the universal principle being "You must not filter out content that offends people". But such a principle allows no exception. Would this person not want to 'filter out' content such as child pornography or torture pornography or snuff pornography?

Friday, June 08, 2012

Philosophical passwords

I've been amusing myself on this site finding out what passwords people used to access the compromised site LinkedIn. Type in a password of choice, such as 'moonshine', and the page computes a 'hash' for that password, then sends the hash to the server database to see if it is there. Hashing is a very clever algorithm which converts a string of letters, i.e. your password, into a long alphanumeric code – the hash. The clever thing is that even if an attacker knows the hash code, and knows the hashing algorithm, they cannot in theory reverse engineer the hash and discover the original password. The algorithm is a so-called 'trapdoor function' that lets you go one way, but not the other. That is, you cannot compute the inverse of the function, even when you know the function.

In theory, that is, because if you choose a simple dictionary word or even a combination of simple dictionary words, it is easy to run a 'brute force' program that hashes every single simple dictionary word, or combination, until it finds a hash that matches. E.g. the SHA1 hash for the word 'moonshine' is befa39749509fd9ab56743e14f9d68d843ea4038, which if you Google it returns any number of sites that managed to crack it.

Testing for philosopher names I see that 'Aristotle' and 'Wittgenstein' and even 'BertrandRussell' were chosen passwords for LinkedIn members. Even, gasp, 'Animaxander'. However 'WilliamOckham' and 'DunsScotus' were not, although a Google search for their hashes shows that one clever site managed to crack them.

The hash for 'consciousness' is e02c4a06f389ccdd0f5682e257af382928ce3110

Do I use philosophical passwords? No.

Consciousness and reincarnation

Anthony objects that where one was born is a matter of biology and circumstance. Well, if it is a necessary or logical truth that the referent of 'I' or 'myself' is identical with my body, then of course. But suppose it isn't – and I can't see any reason why it should be. Suppose, for example, that reincarnation is possible. That means that I, me, myself could be re-born after my bodily death into a different body, and some indeterminate future point in time. Then biology could not explain why I was reborn with that particular body, in that particular place, at that particular time. Obviously biology would explain why that body had the parents it happened to have, and why it had the particular DNA it had. But biology could not explain why I, the person I am referring to now by the personal pronoun 'I', was reborn in that body.

Contra: perhaps it isn't logically possible, on account of the principle of sufficient reason. The principle says that there must always be a reason why something happens one way rather than another. But there is no conceivable reason why I should be reborn in one body rather than another. To be sure, there are religious views about karma that attempt to give reasons for a particular kind of rebirth. But these are hardly scientific, i.e. as far as I know they are not based in unassailable principles known per se and aided by logic.

Reply: But then we are back to the original question: if there is no reason to explain why anyone should be reborn - i.e. born again – in one body rather than another, there is no reason to explain why anyone is born – i.e. born the first time – in one body rather than another. The principle of sufficient reason does not, on its own, establish that reincarnation is logically impossible.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Is slavery harmful?

Larry Sanger's recent post brought out the usual idiotic comments. But some thoughtful and clever comments too, in particular from someone called 'Carl Gombrich' who I suspect is the grandson of E.H. Gombrich. Some asked for evidence which supports Larry's implicit assumption that pornography is harmful to children. Gombrich replies, asking whether there is any evidence that slavery is harmful.
[…] as far as I know there is nothing we could really call evidence to show that slavery is bad, either collectively or for individuals kept as slaves. Are those refusing to move on restricting the access of children to pornography therefore in favour of legalising slavery until we have ‘evidence’ (presumably a longitudinal study over many years involving several hundred people, control groups etc) to show that slavery is harmful? Specifically that it is so harmful to individuals that it should therefore be outlawed? If they do not advocate such a move, why don’t they? That is the logic of the position: no evidence, no move.

But the important point is that slavery is bad, and the argument that it is bad was successfully made on moral grounds by previous generations in the West. That is why it is outlawed in many countries.

Now ask: is it better or worse for children to come across hardcore pornography? We are talking children, not adolescents searching out of curiosity or for arousal, but children, for whom sexuality is a very different thing. I would like to know the libertarian answer to this question. If you think it is better that children do not see hardcore pornography, then we should something about the fact that, increasingly, many of them do.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Conscious and the existence of consciousness

I'm beginning to think that my earlier idea that the entire universe had been created this morning was somewhat fanciful and implausible. It was immediately rejected by some commenters, by one of them on the grounds that there has to be a sufficient reason why the world was created this morning (together with a lot of stuff that makes it appear to be much older than one day old, such as dinosaur bones).

OK, but that's a different supposition from the idea that the world always existed, but that my consciousness came into existence this morning.  Here's my puzzle. The world has existed for billions of years, and if consciousness exists at all, there must have been millions or billions of conscious beings.  If my consciousness began to exist in 1955, why then?  Why not in Victorian times?  Why in England?  Why not in the future?  It's completely bizarre, and against the principle of sufficient reason.  And if that principle cannot disprove my consciousness coming to exist in 1955, why should it disprove my coming to exist on 6 June 2012?

Why can't we suppose that my consciousness before this morning was embedded in President Obama, but that all my memories as Obama were wiped out and replaced by 'my' memories?  Perhaps 'my' memories were really Obama's, but they were wiped out and replaced Obama memories when he moved to Obama's body.

This arose out of a conversation with my wife, who was wondering whether reincarnation was a good idea, given that you might be reincarnated as someone who had a tattoo, or a body piercing. I replied that in that case, you would be born with a mindset that liked a tattoo, or a body piercing.  She said that was even worse. I wonder if Maverick has an answer to this, as he usually does.

Direct reference and existence

Maverick asked me the other day what connection could possibly be between the theory of direct reference and existence. Well, there is certainly a connection between direct reference and the verb 'exists'. If the direct reference theory is correct, then this verb cannot take a singular term as a subject. So we can say 'An American philosopher exists', meaning that 'philosopher' is truly predicated of at least one singular term referring to an American, (e.g. 'William Lane Craig'). But we can't say 'William Lane Craig exists', because it is ill-formed. We can predicate 'exists' of general terms only. See the argument I gave here.

The direct reference theory is not to be confused with 'linguistic idealism' – whatever that is. The theory does not deny there is any 'extra linguistic reality'. It simply denies that 'William Lane Craig exists' is meaningful, in the strictest sense of 'meaningful'. If it means anything, the sentence means that the proper name 'William Lane Craig' refers to something. But if it referred to nothing, it would not be a proper name – for the direct reference theory says that whatever counts as a proper name must be meaningful (as opposed to a string of letters or an utterance), and that its meaning is what it refers to. Therefore if the utterance refers to nothing, it means nothing, and so cannot be a proper name. And the fact it refers to something guarantees that it refers to something in 'extra linguistic reality'.

As far 'existence', which is an abstract noun formed from the verb 'exists' – well, 'The existence of William Lane Craig' presumably alludes to the fact that 'William Lane Craig' refers to something. Simple.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Consciousness and existence

Sometimes I ponder on the possibility of being born again into a different existence, without any memory (if materialism is correct) of my previous existence in this life here and now.

Then it occurred to me, on waking up this morning, that perhaps this had already happened, and that today was the first day of my conscious existence.  To be sure, I have the recollection of a previous existence in this body, and there is a whole list of posts on this blog that I have been maintaining since 2006.  But that could just be an implanted set of memories.

Perhaps the whole world was created today?  Does anyone here have any evidence otherwise?

Saturday, June 02, 2012


So we drove down the A3, whizzing past the village of Ockham, where the real Ockham (reputedly) once lived, and aimed for the wilds.  We reached Tilford, which is itself in a pretty rural part, and made enquiries with neighbours.  There was a full-blown cricket match taking place on the green, and a ball landed a few feet away from where we were parked.

Then down a minor road for a few miles, ask some more neighbours, and we head down a dirt track for a while.  And - right at the end of the track, just before you head into a dark pine wood with goblins - there it was.  The house where Bertrand Russell wrote the early parts of Principia Mathematica.  It is the place where he wrote this letter to Frege.

Russell moved there early in 1904 for the seclusion and have the freedom to think.  He was still with his first wife Alys, who he treated pretty badly.  He moved back to London (Ralston St, Chelsea) at the end of the year, so the letter to Frege (dated December 1904) must have been the last time he stayed in Tilford.

Neither the present occupier, who kindly showed me around, nor the neighbours knew of the Russell connection. However, the Hindhead area seems to have been a sort of writers' colony in the early twentieth century. Shaw lived there, as did the somewhat different writers J.M. Barrie and Conan Doyle.  Harold Joachim, who wrote The Nature of Truth, and who coined the term 'Correspondence Theory' lived in High Pitfold just down the road, as did Russell's uncle Rollo.

I will ask the current owner if I can publish photos of the house itself - he was intrigued by the connection - but meanwhile there is a picture of the garden above, nicely set in splendid 4 acre grounds.  Just the thing to look at while you are working on the theory of types.

Quidam philosophus Americanus est

Yesterday we looked at the argument from descent to singulars.  There are two ways of descent, depending on whether we take the right hand or the left hand side of the definition below:
Some American philosopher exists = Some philosopher is American
If we take the right hand, we range over every philosopher and test whether they are American.  E.g., we ask whether Quine is American.  This test does not explicitly test for 'existence'.  But if we take the left hand, we range over every American philosopher, and test for existence.  This test explicitly invokes the  concept of existence.  E.g. we have to ask whether Quine exists.  Therefore the definition above is circular.  Even though 'exist' isn't explicitly invoked on the right hand side, it is implicitly and irreducibly part of the sentence.

Against, consider the Latin translation of the definition above.
Quidam philosophus Americanus est = Quidam philosophus est Americanus
The only difference is word order. Latin is flexible about word order, as its semantics are given by inflection, unlike in English.  So we can either put the copula 'est' at the end of the sentence, as on the left, or we can interpose it between 'philosophus' and 'Americanus', as on the right.  The semantics, indeed the syntax of the two sentences is identical. What becomes of our argument?  Well, it is invalid because it involves a mistake about logical form. We can only descend via the subject of a subject-predicate sentence, if all such sentences really have the logical form subject-copula-predicate. We obviously can't pretend that the subject and predicate are really a single subject, and that the copula 'is' is really a predicate.  That was the whole point of Aristotle's remark about 'is' being used as a 'second element', which I discussed here.  Therefore we cannot descend to singulars by ranging over individuals which satisfy subject and predicate together, and the 'descent' argument is invalid.

Against that.  In reply, the Phoenician may object that a sentence like 'Quine exists' (or 'Quine is', if you like) is certainly meaningful. Then either (a) the proper name 'Quine' embeds a hidden subject and predicate Qa-Qb, just like 'American philosopher', and so 'Quine exists' really means 'Qa is Qb'.  But that seems implausible.  Or (b) the verb 'is' is genuinely a predicate, in which case the descent to singulars argument is valid.

PS today I drive to Rushmoor in Surrey, hoping to locate the place where Russell began work on Principia Mathematica, and where he wrote the letter to Frege that I discuss here.   If this is successful, I may return with photographs.

Friday, June 01, 2012

Circularity and descent to singulars

Here’s a different argument for the circularity of the ‘thin conception’ of existence. First, some preliminaries. In scholastic logic (and in modern logic, for that matter) there is an explication of the truth conditions of general statements in terms of singular statements. The universal proposition ‘every man is running’ is explicated as a conjunction of singular statements ‘Socrates is running and Plato is running and .. etc’, where every man who exists is the referent of exactly one proposition in the conjunction. Likewise, the existential proposition ‘some man is running’ is explicated as a disjunction of singular statements thus ‘Socrates is running or Plato is running or .. etc’. This is called ‘descending to singulars’.

With that in mind, let’s consider the thin definition of the term ‘exists’:

(def) ‘Some American philosopher exists’ = ‘Some philosopher is American’

It’s evident that we can descend to singulars in either of two ways. We can take the defininiens statement on the right, and descend to all the singulars falling under ‘philosopher’. For example, suppose the only three living philosophers are Plato, Socrates and Quine. Then the statement on the right explicates to ‘Plato is American or Socrates is American or Quine is American’. Obviously the first two are Greek, so they won’t do, but Quine is American so the disjunction is true.

However, the statement on the left, the statement to be defined, the definiendum is more difficult. We have to take all the singulars falling under ‘American philosopher’, and form a disjunction of the form ‘a exists or …’. Since the only American philosopher in our domain is Quine, that gives ‘Quine exists’. But we can’t define ‘Quine exists’ in terms of any non-existential statement. The problem is that the thin definition of ‘exists’ only works for general existential statements. The defining propositions must have the form ‘some F is G’, which is general. There is no equivalent explication for singular existentials. Therefore the ‘descent to singulars’ proves that we cannot eliminate the term ‘exists’ from our discourse, and the thin conception is therefore circular.

Will that do? Well no, but more tomorrow.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Reclaiming prudery

It's well known that 'queer theorists' successfully reclaimed the term 'queer', which used to be a term of abuse for homosexual, and turned it into a sort of verbal flag for the homosexualist movement.

Can we do the same thing for the term 'prude'?  By far the most common statement I see on one side of the porn debate is 'I am not a prude' (the most common statement on the other side is 'I am against any form of censorship').  But I am always puzzled by what a 'prude' is.  It seems like a term of abuse, given that so many people are so eager to deny being one.  I have never seen anyone admit to being a prude. Is this because prudes are a bit like homosexuals were in the 1950s, and afraid to admit this.  Should prudes come out of the closet?  It's difficult to say, because whereas it was clear in the 1950s what 'homosexual' meant, it's not clear what 'prude' means.

So we can't reclaim a term if we don't know what it means. Time for some further research.

A sound bite for circularity

Maverick has just posted a reply to my request for what he calls a ‘sound bite’ on his argument for circularity. Before I comment, a brief aside on my dislike of the term ‘sound bite’. In philosophy, particularly ‘Internet philosophy’, I frequently encounter it when I ask for a clear and concise explanation of or argument for the opponent’s position. “You can’t reduce my argument to a sound bite”. Well in that case I am not interested in the  opponent’s  argument, for it is not an argument at all. I suspect the underlying reason is a fear that the position really is incoherent, or that the underlying argument is invalid. There should be an informal fallacy ‘The Sound Bite fallacy’ named after it. And in any case I do not want a ‘sound bite’, which is simply a short slogan summarising a position or attitude such as ‘This was their finest hour’, often little more than a cliché. Note also my previous post, where I argued that the ‘circularity objection’ is actually more complex and difficult than Maverick originally implied, and that it is unfair to say I am being disingenuous, when I claim I fail to understand it.  I feel he has now conceded that it is somewhat more complicated and less obvious than he originally suggested.

But anyway: Maverick has now given a pretty clear outline of his argument, which I copy verbatim below.

1. On the thin theory, 'An F exists' means the same as 'The concept *F* is instantiated.'
2. If a first-level concept such as *F* is instantiated, then it is instantiated by an individual.
3. Let the arbitrary constant 'a' denote an individual that instantiates *F.*
4. By LNC, a cannot both exist and not exist.
5. By LEM, a must either exist or not exist.
6. If a does not exist, i.e., if a is a Meinongian nonexistent object, then the link expressed in (1) between existence and instantiation is broken.
7. If *F* is instantiated, then *F* is instantiated by an individual that exists.
8. On the thin theory, 'An F exists' means the same as 'The concept *F* is instantiated by an individual that exists.'
9. A definition (analysis, account, theory, explanation) is circular iff the term to be defined occurs in the defining term.
10. 'Exists' occurs both in (8)'s definiendum and its definiens.
11. The thin theory is circular.

Is it valid? Well, my first point is that the argument is even more complex than this, by reason of premisses (7) to (10). Consider the following, obviously invalid argument:

(1a) ‘Bachelor’ means the same as ‘unmarried man’.
(2a) (From 1a, definition) Every bachelor is an unmarried man.
(3a) Every bachelor is a bachelor who is an unmarried man.
(4a) ‘Bachelor’ means the same as ‘bachelor who is an unmarried man’.
(5a) ‘Bachelor’ occurs in the definiendum and the definiens of (4a)
(6a) The definition of ‘bachelor’ is circular.

What’s wrong with it? Well, from the fact that a definition occurs somewhere in the argument it doesn’t follow that whatever we derive from the definition can itself be turned into a definition. The universal proposition (3a) above is perfectly true and follows from the original definition, but it doesn’t follow that we can turn any old universal proposition into a definition. So the move to (4a), which turns the universal proposition into a definition, is blatantly fallacious.

Likewise, even if I grant the truth of the universal proposition corresponding to Maverick’s (7) above, i.e. “any F that exists is an F instantiated by an individual that exists”, it doesn’t follow that you can turn this into something that looks like a definition. Quite obviously not. In particular, Bill needs to avoid the charge that he has reintroduced the term ‘exist’ in (7) in much the same way that ‘bachelor’ has been reintroduced in (3a).

What should we do about Wikipedia’s porn problem?

By Larry Sanger here.  The logic of arguments for and against porn is interesting, although I don't have a great deal of time to go into it now.  The top level argument, as it were, is that people, i.e. all people, should have the right to see absolutely whatever they like, and that any restriction is an encroachment upon freedom.  The objection to this is that not all people, namely young children, should have this right.  Then we encounter all sorts of counter-objections and replies to the counter-objections.  For example, what exactly is wrong with children seeing such images.  If sex good or not?  If it is good, why shouldn't children participate in the good, etc etc.  Larry (who is a philosopher) covers some of these arguments in his post.

At least Augustine had a clear approach to this.  Sex, or rather shame about sex, is the result of original sin. I'll look up the reference some time.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

It's not obvious what's obvious

"It ain't obvious what's obvious". Thanks to the Maverick for that insight by Hilary Putnam.  I suppose everyone knows the mathematician's joke about the lecturer how - discussing some result - says 'That's obvious'.  He then pauses, looks down, then goes off for about twenty minutes.  Then he comes back and announces 'Yes, it's obvious'.

Judging from the comments, there's been a bit of misunderstanding about my position on the 'thin conception' of existence.  I don't necessarily agree with the conception.  My question is whether the brief arguments given by Maverick, and which seem as obvious as day to him, really are obvious. Now I think, pace Dr. Putnam, there is a simple test for obviousness. If you can state your position or argument in less than about five sentences, and if the terms are clear or well-defined, or have a common and undisputed meaning, if any assumptions underlying the position are beyond dispute, and if all deductive steps are valid, then  it is obvious. Otherwise it isn't.

Now Maverick's argument, as I understand it, is this:

The thin conception of 'exists' is that 'An F exists' means the same as 'The concept *F* is instantiated'
But if *F* is instantiated, then it is instantiated by an individual that exists
Therefore the thin conception of 'exists' is circular

This is deceptively simple, but fails my test for obviousness.  Why?  The subject of the conclusion is 'the thin conception of exists'.  The predicate is 'circular'.  The predicate of the conclusion is called the 'major term' and it is an undisputed rule of logic that the major term should appear in the premisses. Which of course it doesn't.  This would probably be fine if the idea of a circularity were undisputed and clear, by I have argued elsewhere that it isn't. It is very slippery.

So what is needed is an argument of the following form:

The thin conception of existence is of form X
Any conception of form X is circular
The thin conception of existence is circular.

I would accept any argument of that form as 'obvious'.  And I hope that clears me of any charges of being disingenuous.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Analytic vs European

There is a further installment from the Maverick in the dispute about the thin conception of existence. Maverick asks whether I think the notion of a non-existent object is self-contradictory. I reply: we need to be shown that it is self-contradictory. The thin conception of existence is first and foremost a definition, and you can't argue against a definition as such. The only way of progressing is to show how the defined term in its ordinary (or perhaps philosophical) use is not consisent with the definition. But I am not seeing that in any of Maverick's arguments, and particularly the 'circularity' argument, which I entirely fail to understand.

One of his arguments, for example, is that there is an inbuilt assumption that the domain of quantification contains only existing things. But in what sense is he using the italicised 'existing' here? If in the sense that the Brentano defines it, then the domain does contain only existing things, but in the most trivial and non-circular way, for the word 'thing', by definition, means 'existing thing' or 'thing which is a thing'. If in some stronger sense, Maverick needs to explain what that sense is. Those of us trained in the analytic method are taught to give examples. Find a use of the verb 'exists' that is not consistent with the definition set out by Brentano. But I am not seeing that.

Maverick ends:
Ed begs the question against me by simply stipulating that the meaning of the verb 'exists' shall be identical to the meaning of 'Some ___ is a --.' That is what I deny.
Not at all. I am questioning his arguments to show that 'exists' has any meaning stronger than that. I would like to see an argument with numbered steps, with assumptions clearly labelled, with any deductive steps clearly identified. All I am seeing is European 'novelistic' gestures at an argument, with laboured repetition of the same point, and without logical justification of that point. Like CJFW, who I mentioned in an earlier post, I don't do Continental.

Appearance and reality

I just noticed the Maverick’s comment on C.J.F. William’s obituary here, and was struck by the fact that his wheelchair-bound existence was news. This reminded me of the contrast between what we know of the thought of a philosopher such as Duns Scotus, which is immense, and what we know of his life, which is almost nothing, and what we do know is mostly guesswork based on other facts, and thus is not even knowledge.

CJF being in a wheelchair was in one way the most striking thing about him. I remember helping carrying it – with him in it – up the steps of the Wills building. The building was designed in the grand neo-Gothic manner (in about 1908) and so the flight of steps was about half a mile long, and I remember entertaining with horror the idea of us letting go the wheelchair and it moving with gathering speed to the bottom where it would crash into the porter’s lodge with horrifying consequences, perhaps carrying off a few undergraduates along the way.

But in another way it was the least important, and once you got to know him, you were hardly ever aware of it. He was teaching philosophy after all.

One story he liked to tell was about his special trousers he had, with a zip at the back going right up from bottom to top. A colleague came to collect him one day, and saw a spare pair of these lying on the floor, fully unzipped and looking like a tiger skin rug, except without the stripes. “Now I understand the difference between appearance and reality”, said the colleague.

There was a constant philosophical war going on between CJF and another philosopher in the department, Edo Pivcevic. Edo was Czech, or from some central European place – he was hired by the late Stefan Korner – and was a ‘phenomenologist’ always talking about Husserl and Heidegger, and saying things like ‘to answer the question about the meaning of being we must analyse the being of Man’. CJF was utterly contemptuous of this European stuff, although he taught Frege and Wittgenstein, who were very European in their own way.

CJF also told a Swinburne story. Once Swinburne offered to drive him from some place to another, probably Bristol to Manchester. However, Swinburne qualified the offer by saying he never drove over 30 miles an hour. Thinking he meant urban zones where a 30 mph limit applies in Britain, and thinking this exemplary practice, he accepted. What Swinburne meant, however, was that he drove at this speed even on motorways, where most people are whizzing along at speeds in excess of 70 mph. I don’t know how long it took to get to Manchester up the M5, although I can picture it.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Brightly on meagre existence

David Brightly on singular existential statements here.  I liked this bit
[...]  there is an important asymmetry between singular existential assertions and denials. If the name 'Vulcan' has been properly introduced by a general existential assertion then 'Vulcan exists' tells us nothing new. In contrast, 'Vulcan doesn't exist' amounts to a denial of the general existential statement by which the name was introduced to us. On the other hand, if the name 'Vulcan' has not been properly introduced then 'Vulcan exists' is meaningless to us.
Although I'm sure I said the same thing myself somewhere :)

Existence and quantification

Maverick argues:
Ed thinks that the assumption that the domain of quantification is a domain of existing individuals is a contingent assumption. But I didn't say that, and it is not. It is a necessary assumption if (1) [namely that ‘Island volcanos exist’ is logically equivalent to ‘Some volcano is an island.’] and sentences of the same form are to hold. [My emphasis]
But he then says that there is nothing in the nature of logic to stop us from quantifying over nonexistent individuals, which I don't follow at all. We start with the initial logical or definition assumption about the meaning of the verb 'exists'.

(1) 'A golden mountain exists' = 'Some mountain is golden'

If we accept that, we also have to accept the equivalence where the right hand side does not explicitly contain the copula 'is', but has a verb which is logically equivalent to a copula plus participle. That is a standard assumption, namely that 'John runs' is logically equivalent to 'John is running'. Thus

(2a) 'John owns a house' = 'some house is owned by John

and thus, given (1), and given that John owns a house, it follows that:

(2b) John's house exists

A brief qualification here. The equivalence in (2a) only holds when the verb is what I call 'logically transitive. I explain this idea here. Clearly, if John wants a beautiful wife, it does not follow that some beautiful wife is wanted by John.  Given that, it is plain that our Brentano equivalence applies to the following quantifier type sentences:

(3) 'The domain contains islands' = 'some individuals in the domain are islands' = 'there exist individuals in the domain which are islands'

(4) 'The term 'volcano' ranges over volcanos' = 'ranged-over volcanos exist'

and so on. Hence there clearly is something 'in the nature of logic' which prevents us quantifying over non-existent individuals, namely the same thing as what prevents us owning non-existent houses, given the definition of 'exists' above. I can't believe that Bill does not grasp this. I think what he fails to see is that 'logical' verb phrases like 'ranges over', 'contains', 'quantifies over' are subject to the same logical rules as 'owns', 'lives next door to', 'loves' and so on. That any domain contains existing individuals is therefore a logical truth.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Frege on predication

I mentioned Frege's distinction between concept and object earlier, and said I was taking a feature of that distinction as fundamental, namely that the distinction between predicate and sentential negation only applies to concept words (or rather, quantified concept words), and not to object words ('logical subjects').

David Brightly wasn't so sure it was a feature of that distinction, as opposed to a mere accident.  Well, two further reasons. First, it is build into the predicate calculus that simple singular propositions have only one form of negation.  We write '~Fa'.  The syntax of the calculus is designed so that we cannot even represent the difference between 'Socrates is not running' and 'it is not the case that Socrates is running'.

Second, Frege begins his discourse by saying that a concept is predicative, whereas the name of an object, a proper name, is quite incapable of being used as a grammatical predicate.  Now, we can say that someone is Alexander the Great, or is the planet Venus, but this is not predicating the object itself.  For the predicate 'is the planet Venus' is predication not of Venus itself but of the concept of being identical with Venus.  The verb 'is' is not a mere copula, its content is an essential part of the predicate.

Thus for an object-word to signify, it has to signify an object.  It is essential to an object word like 'Venus' that it has to be satisfied, whereas it is essential to a concept word like 'planet' that it can be satisfied, or not. "An equation is reversible; an object's falling under a concept is an irreversible relation.

Thus "‘Venus exists’ is true in virtue of the meaning of the proper name ‘Venus’. Maverick says that this has it precisely backwards. What I should say is that 'Venus' has meaning in virtue of the truth of 'Venus exists'. Not at all. 'Venus' has meaning in virtue of its meaning something, just as you are an employer in virtue of your employing someone.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Circularity of the thin conception: Maverick replies

Maverick finally replies to my circularity objections. I agree with his broad conclusion, as it happens. I just disagree with his way of getting there. He argues (I have numbered his sentences).

1. ‘Island volcanos exist’ is logically equivalent to ‘Some volcano is an island.’

Agree, of course.

2. This equivalence, however, rests on the assumption that the domain of quantification is a domain of existing individuals.

Disagree profoundly. The equivalence, being logical, cannot depend on any contingent assumption. From the logical equivalence of (1), it follows that ‘the domain of quantification is a domain of existing individuals’ is equivalent to ‘some individuals are in the domain’. But the equivalence is true whether or not any individuals are in the domain. E.g. suppose that no islands are volcanoes. Then ‘Some volcano is an island’ is false. And so is ‘island volcanos exist’, by reason of the equivalence. But the equivalence stands, because it is a definition. Thus the move from (1) to (2) is a blatant non sequitur.

3. If the domain were populated by Meinongian nonexistent objects, then the equivalence would fail.

This rests on the assumption that it is a contingent matter whether the description ‘Meinongian nonexistent objects’ is satisfied. But if the equivalence is logical, i.e. if ‘some objects are in the domain’ is logically equivalent to ‘some object in the domain exists’, then by definition there cannot be Meinongian nonexistent objects, any more than there can be bachelors who are married. Maverick takes an equivalence which is purportedly true by definition, then turns it into a contingent statement. But if it is contingent, the equivalence cannot be true by definition, he argues, and the rabbit is out of the hat.

4. The attempted reduction of existence to someness is therefore circular.

Wrong. The argument is fallacious, because the move from (1) to (2) is fallacious. We cannot agree that something is true by definition, i.e. subject and predicate are logically equivalent, to making its truth a contingent matter, as in (2).

Schools Wikipedia

Jon Davies (Chief Executive of Wikimedia UK) gave me a 'Schools Wikipedia' CD which I gratefully accepted along with a Wikimedia UK coffee mug, which I use for my early morning mug (thank you Jon!).

I didn't look at the disc until today, fearing what horrors there might be, but actually it is quite good. It has clearly been edited to remove the worst of the grammatical abominations. The pictures are a more sensible size so there is none of that ugly white space, and, best of all, no footnotes except where necessary. The links to the very worst article have been removed.

Yet there is one more thing of great significance. When I checked the Age of Enlightenment article, it was much better than the version of the article I criticised here. For example, I criticised the current article (permalink) as stating that the Age of Enlightenment was a movement when, as its name suggests, it is a period. The schools article, by contrast, correctly states that it is a period after all.

Sigh of relief that the corruption of our schoolchildren is not imminent, at least in this case. But why the difference? Had the mistakes been edited out by professionals? Well, probably not. A bit of research shows that the school version dates from around October 2005. Which bears out what I have always said. A lot of reasonably good people were contributing to Wikipedia around that time, then left after a wave of vandalism and trolling hit the project in 2006. The vandalism was like 'drinking water from a firehose'. This was countered by a massive increase in the number of vandal fighters, but at the same time and by that very token the project was turning from building into an encyclopedia, which requires certain skills, to protecting against vandals, as well as running a secret intelligence force that would have made Stalin proud, and this requires different skills.

Very significant that the quality of Wikipedia has got demonstrably worse over 2005-12.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Concept and Object

Here I mentioned Frege's distinction between concept and object, and Anthony is rightly asking questions about it.  How does direct reference relate to the distinction?

So I go back to Frege, and his famous essay. It's rather hard to get anything out of it, because he never properly defines the distinction. He says that his explanation is not meant as a proper definition. "One cannot require that everything shall be defined, any more than one can require that a chemist shall decompose every substance".  What is logically simple cannot have a proper definition (as Aristotle also noticed).

But he does give the famous example of "all mammals are land dwellers", which will do for my purpose.  He says that if 'all mammals' were the logical subject of 'are land dwellers', then to negate the whole sentence we should have to negate the predicate, giving "all mammals are not land-dwellers".  That is obviously wrong, for this predicate negation gives the contrary of the sentence it negates, not the contradictory.  Thus we must put the 'not' in front of the 'all', to give sentence negation.  But no such distinction applies to genuinely singular subjects, i.e. object words.  Indeed, he proves this by re-writing the original sentence as "the concept mammal is subordinate to the concept land-dweller".  By negating the predicate we get "the concept mammal is not subordinate to the concept land-dweller", which is the contradictory of the original sentence.  And so a useful criterion for determining whether an expression is a concept expression (a logical predicate) or an object expression (a logical subject) is to determine whether predicate negation is equivalent to sentence negation or not.  If it is, then the grammatical subject is a logical subject as well.  Otherwise it is a logical predicate.

With that test in mind, and on the assumption that proper names are logical subjects, direct reference immediately follows, as I shall show tomorrow.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Sinn und Bedeutung

Frege famously classified the semantic function of a proper name into sense (Sinn) and reference (Bedeutung).  But this conceals a difficulty.  The sense of a proper name is clearly part of its meaning, and Frege even says this in a letter to Bertrand Russell written in November 1904.  My father would have been alive then, although only eight months old. Frege writes
Mont Blanc with its snowfields is not itself a component part of the thought that Mont Blanc is more than 4,000 metres high ... The sense of the word 'Moon' is a component part of the thought that the moon is smaller than the earth. The moon itself (i.e. the Bedeutung of the word 'Moon' is not part of the sense of the word 'Moon'; for then it would also be a component part of a thought. We can nevertheless say: 'The Moon is idential with the heavenly body closest to the earth'. What is identical, however, is not a component part but the  Bedeutung of the expression 'the Moon' and 'the heavenly body closest to the earth'. We can say that 3+4 is identical with 8-1; i.e. that the  Bedeutung  of '3+4' coincides with the  Bedeutung  of '8-1'. But this  Bedeutung, namely the number 7, is not a component part of the sense of '3+4'. The identity is not an identity of sense, nor of part of the sense, but of  Bedeutung  ...
But if so, in what sense is the 'Bedeutung' a meaning at all?  Bedeuten: the German for 'mean' or 'signify'.  Frege is clearly disturbed by the idea that Mont Blanc, with its massive snowfields, could be part of a thought. But if it isn't, how could it still be part of the meaning?  If Mont Blanc is destroyed in an enormous eruption (here Frege's other analogy to Etna would have been more appropriate), does the meaning of 'Mont Blanc', or some part of it, remain?

And if Mont Blanc itself isn't part of the meaning of its name, there is a further difficulty for Frege's theory that I commented on yesterday.  If the name retains its sense after the Bedeutung, the referent, is destroyed, then we must suppose the sense of a name is something permanent to which its referent bears an impermanent and external relation.  Let's say the sense is 'satisfied' when the referent exists. So, the sense of 'Mont Blanc' was not satisfied before the enormous geological upheaval created its referent, but is satisfied now, although it would once again not be satisfied if Mont Blanc exploded into nothingness. The difficulty is that his theory depends on the concept-object distinction. According to that distinction, concept words or predicates are fundamentally different from object words or singular terms, in that concept words are sensitive to the scope of negation, whereas singular terms are not.  Take 'a man is not running' and 'it is not the case that a man is running'.  The predicate negation is true when there is at least one man, and he is not running.  The sentential negation is true only when no man runs.  But there is no such distinction with singular propositions, at least as the object-concept distinction requires it. 'Socrates is not running' and 'It is not the case that Socrates is running' is true only when Socrates exists, and he is not running.  There appears to be no room for the possibility of Socrates not existing. Yet if the meaning of a proper name is its sense, and if the sense exists even when the referent does not, 'Socrates is running' is false when Socrates does not exist, yet 'Socrates is not running' is false as well.

Russell replied, a month later in the days before email, that Mont Blanc really is a part of what is asserted by 'Mont Blanc is more than 4,000 metres high'.  I think he changed his mind shortly later, but then Russell often changed his mind (which is a good thing).

As I noted in the page linked above, I  could not then find where Russell was writing from. He moved there in 1904 in order to work out a theory of denoting that could be used in Principia Mathematica, but which would avoid the Paradox (now known as Russell's paradox) that he had discovered while working on the Principles of Mathematics.  He took his first wife Alys there, but this was a disastrous part of a disastrous marriage, and he was probably not very happy there.  Nor actually was she, as Russell seems to have been a beast towards her. Thanks to Google maps I think I have located the place. It certainly is secluded, a short distance from Lower Frensham pond in a fairly exclusive part of the Surrey stockbroker belt.  I don't like Surrey.  Mostly places like that. Small roads in the English countryside, looking as they might have looked two hundred years ago, then suddenly there appears a large, usually Edwardian mansion at the end of a long gated drive.  Inside, they still drink gin and tonic.  But nothing wrong with that, I suppose.