Sunday, February 19, 2012

De dicto in Wikipedia

I'm glad to see that something may (possibly) be done about the current ban on links from Wikipedia to the Logic Museum. John Vandenberg, who is president of Wikimedia Australia, and who is slightly more sane and mature than the bunch of teenagers who run the place, has left a kind comment on the spam blacklist page, saying that "The Logic Museum is scholarly work, of exceptional quality and utility to Wikipedia".

Yes of course, John!  How else would readers of Wikipedia understand the use of Latin phrases like de dicto and de re?  I discussed this in an earlier post, but let's see what Wikipedia has to say about this important distinction.
De dicto and de re are two phrases used to mark important distinctions in intensional statements, associated with the intensional operators in many such statements. The distinctions are most recognized in philosophy of language and metaphysics.

The literal translation of the phrase "de dicto" is "of (the) word", whereas de re translates to "of (the) thing". The original meaning of the Latin locutions is useful for understanding the living meaning of the phrases, in the distinctions they mark. The distinction is best understood by examples of intensional contexts of which we will consider three: a context of thought, a context of desire, and a context of modality.
This is horrible. Note the article doesn't have any warning sign that something is wrong (to preempt a complaint that William made about the Maverick post yesterday.  It is a mixture of the horribly clumsy and the horribly wrong.  The plural 'important distinctions' is merely clumsy, given that there is just one distinction.  So is "The distinctions are most recognized in philosophy of language and metaphysics", although it is not clear whether recognised is meant, as though writers outside those subjects are aware of the distinction, but refuse to recognise it, or whether made is intended, in the sense that writers outside those areas simply aren't aware of the distinction at all.

But some of it is just wrong.  The standard use of the term 'intensional' qualifies not a statement but a context.   See e.g. the more useful SEP article on this.  And the distinction itself is a distinction in reading or sense, which the introduction does not explain properly. Thus there is a de re reading of a particular sentence, or a de dicto.  And the worst bit is the explanation of the Latin 'original meaning'.  'De dicto' does not mean 'of the word', as my previous post made clear, and as another excerpt from the Logic Museum, this time from the Summa Logicae of pseudo-Aquinas (my hasty translation) makes clear.  A dictum is what we now call a 'that clause', which Latin expresses by combining an accusative with an infinitive - Socratem currere - 'Socrates's running' or 'that Socrates runs'.  In Latin such a construction can be the subject of a sentence, as in Socratem currere est necesse, where 'that Socrates runs' is the subject, and 'is necessary' is the predicate. We can say the same in English, although it sounds a bit old-fashioned, such as in 'that snow is white is a well-known fact'. In no way does 'dictum' mean a word, as Wikipedia says, possibly confusing it with 'dictio' which can mean a word, or an expression. It literaly means 'about (de) what is said (dicto).

As for de re, 'of the thing' is slightly better, although res in has a much richer semantics than the plain English 'thing'.  It is sometimes translated as 'about reality' or 'about the reality'.  Note the two letters that begin the word 'reality', which is not a coincidence.

Here is the link to the Summa Logicae.  Don't try inserting it in Wikipedia: it will get you banned. Needless to say, Google returns the Wikipedia article first, on a search for de dicto.

Ad sciendum autem earum quantitatem, notandum quod quaedam sunt propositiones modales de dicto, ut, Socratem currere est necesse; in quibus scilicet dictum subiicitur, et modus praedicatur: et istae sunt vere modales, quia modus hic determinat verbum ratione compositionis, ut supra dictum est. Quaedam autem sunt modales de re, in quibus videlicet modus interponitur dicto, ut, Socratem necesse est currere: non enim modo est sensus, quod hoc dictum sit necessarium, scilicet Socratem currere; sed huius sensus est, quod in Socrate sit necessitas ad currendum. Now for knowing about their [i.e. modal propositions'] quantity, it should be noted that some modal propositions are de dicto, such as "that Socrates runs is necessary", namely those in which the dictum [i.e. the clause "that Socrates runs"] is the subject and the mode [i.e. 'is necessary'] is the predicate, and these are truly modals, for the mode here determines the verb by reason of composition, as was said above.  And some are modals de re, namely in which the mode is interposed in dictum, e.g. "Socrates necessarily is running", for the sense is not now that the dictum is necessary, namely 'that Socrates runs', but the sense of it is that in Socrates there is 'necessity towards running'.


Anthony said...

Where can we find your article on the topic?

Edward Ockham said...

>>Where can we find your article on the topic?

Give me a chance, haven't written it yet :(

William M. Connolley said...

> See e.g. the more useful SEP article on this.

This is a problem, and you see the same problem with the climate pages: that when there is an outside high-quality source (for climate, the IPCC) then wiki is in an awkward position: should you just import that source (you can't, and it would be dull), should you just be a poor emulation of that source, or should you try to be different / better?

As for SEP I'm not impressed by their "The two phrases, “morning star” and “evening star” may designate the same object, but they do not have the same meaning".

Its an excellent example, but their discussion of it is very poor. Yes, it refers to the same object, but in different contexts. Its almost as if they don't actually know how to do the astronomy bit.

Edward Ockham said...

>>should you just be a poor emulation of that source, or should you try to be different

It depends on the target audience. I think the SEP is poor at explaining elementary philosophical ideas to a target audience such as the 'mass market' Wikipedia.

I would have the same criticism of the GW articles on WP. Not explained carefully or clearly enough, as I argued in earlier posts.

William M. Connolley said...

> as I argued in earlier posts.

Argue, or assert? I can't recall any critical analysis of any of the GW pages here.

Edward Ockham said...

Search on global warming, which includes posts such as this.

William M. Connolley said...

Oh. That isn't very good, I think.

You complain that is OK, but not detailed enough. Then you complain that has too much maths.

That won't do. The first para of GE has already said all the simple stuff that can be said in words; IGM needs to do the maths to go any further.

If you want more than is outlined in the para on "Basic mechanism" then you can't avoid the maths, or indeed the models. It all gets much harder from that point in.

Edward Ockham said...

My main criticism was that a key component of the logic was missing. No?

William M. Connolley said...

The basic logic is entirely encapsulated within "The greenhouse effect is a process by which thermal radiation from a planetary surface is absorbed by atmospheric greenhouse gases, and is re-radiated in all directions. Since part of this re-radiation is back towards the surface, energy is transferred to the surface and the lower atmosphere. As a result, the average surface temperature is higher than it would be if direct heating by solar radiation were the only warming mechanism".

Which can be stated more briefly as "the surface is heated by the sun and the sky".

I don't know what component you think is missing.