Friday, December 22, 2006

The nature of possibilia in Peacocke’s (2002) Principles for Possibilia

In the reading group on modality we discussed about Peacocke’s (2002) Principles for Possibilia, but we couldn’t finish the discussion about Peacocke’s ontological commitment to possibilia.

According to Sonia’s interpretation, Peacocke is committed with objects (possibilia) that are contingently non concrete (they are not concrete, but they could have been concrete.) So, a possibile exists in a possible world just in case that possible world involves certain non concrete object. That possible world would involve a singular Russellian proposition containing that object.

According to my interpretation (which corresponds to the theory that anyway I would like to favor), the principle-based account wasn’t committed with such mysterious entities. That a possibile exists in a possible world simply means that the existential quantification of its individuating condition holds in that world. So, a possibile exists in a possible world just in case that world involves the existential proposition that there’s something satisfying certain property (certain individuation-condition). But this world won’t involve the singular Russellian proposition that certain (non actual) object satisfies that property.

Now I’m not so confident about this interpretation, because in pp. 501-2 he seems to hold that he is not trying to resolve this issue. In any case, it would be interesting if someone could provide more textual evidence and/or an opinion about this issue.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

MM Sider (and Bennett): Whether 'exist' admits of precisifications

I would like to object to Sider’s claim (with which Dan appears to agree) that “questions of fundamental ontology … are not susceptible to the non-fact-of-the-matter argument since there are no multiple candidates for ‘exists’ to mean” (206); the standpoint from which I make the objection has some connections with the Carnapian view of existence, but they also differ significantly. I would object on a similar basis to Sider’s argument for 4-D in “Against Vague Existence,” Philosophical Studies 114, 142-144.

Sider assumes that there is a non-arbitrary meaning for the logical expression ‘there is’ or its formal counterpart ‘∃’ – non-arbitrary unlike the alleged meaning he envisages (204) on which it has to do with what Nelson Goodman says – such that it ranges “unrestrictedly over absolute everything, except perhaps non-“concrete” things” (204). He also thinks that non-arbitrary meanings such as this for the more basic logical constants are determined in part by eligibility, given the “existence of logical joints in reality” (205). I am happy to grant all of this (although later I will come back to discuss to what extent one should grant the latter assumption).

We have the practice of, and the freedom for, ascribing new “temporary” meanings to expressions with specific literal meanings, under certain constraints. This is what we do when we convey implicatures, and (perhaps just a particular case of the former) when we produce new metaphors. We apply this freedom to expressions whose literal meaning is fundamentally determined by eligibility, such as natural kind terms. Thus, perhaps ‘to swallow’ has a basic meaning such that it refers to natural events; but nothing stands in our way to use it “temporarily” for what ATMs sometimes do with our credit cards. I see no reason why we cannot do the same with more “abstract” or “formal” expressions, like the apparatus of reference – the quantifiers, the referential expressions which may occupy the “positions” in logical form “occupied” by the variables they bind, the identity sign. To provide a philosophical account of how this is implemented, we would need at the very least an account of how those “temporary” meanings are created, and one of what exactly is the literal meaning of the referential apparatus (even if Sider is right about the role of eligibility considerations, there might well be more to it, such as its cognitive and inferential role). But we do not need such accounts to accept the possibility of extending the practice to such a case.

A plausible case in which this applies to the apparatus of reference, granting Sider’s assumptions, is in my view that of explicit reference to, quantification over, and identification of, fictional characters; given a sufficiently elaborated philosophical account of the kind envisaged in the previous paragraph, we could develop along these lines a figurative view of fictional characters, close, I think, to views put forward by Stephen Yablo for abstract entities.

Now, a complication for Sider’s claim results from the fact that “temporary” meanings such as the metaphorical meaning for ‘to swallow’ turn easily into standard, conventional meanings. It is no easy matter to contend that afterwards they are still not “literal”, even if the meanings are related (so that the resulting ambiguity is not like the one in ‘bank’). Obviously, the figurativist about fictional characters I have envisaged would acknowledge that the “extended use” of the referential apparatus he posits is a fully standardized one.

Let us now apply this to Sider’s discussion. Here are three different candidates for ‘exists’/’there is’ to mean, granting his assumptions: (i) the nihilist is right about an “ontologically fundamental” core given solely by the eligibility considerations Sider mentions, and a figurative account along the sketched lines applies to the use of the referential apparatus that both the chaste endurantist and the friend of 4-D invoke. (ii) it is the chaste endurantist who is right about the core. (iii) it is the friend of 4-D who is right. Now, one could think that the availability of these candidates does not contradict Sider’s claims, such as those quoted at the beginning, because it will still be the case that “eligibility” considerations as a matter of fact select one of the candidates, no matter what it is and independently of whether or not we can come to know what their verdict is. But I think this would be to quick; it is here that I need to go back to this assumption I said before I was granting to Sider.

Eligibility considerations, as pointed out by Sider, have to do with sensible replies to Putnam’s “model-theoretic” argument, and similar arguments with an anti-realist basis for the indeterminacy of reference, translation or meaning. They come to the fact that causal-explanatory relations between language use and the objective extra-linguistic world by themselves contribute to determine meaning, independently of whether or not they are part of our linguistically stated beliefs. But they should be applied with care, and holistically. To go back to the analogy I have been repeatedly using, perhaps they can be invoked to argue that expressions such as ‘to put’, ‘to walk’, ‘to swallow’, ‘on’, ‘in’, etc., have, among their equally standard/conventional meanings, an “ontologically fundamental” core (the “more physical” meanings) distinct from more “figurative” ones; although it is not clear how exactly they do.

Now, as I said I am prepared to grant that the objective world comes equipped with “logical” or “formal” features, contributing as part of the global eligibility considerations to determining the correct semantics for a given language or representational system. But given the unclarity concerning their nature, and even more about how exactly they intervene in the global eligibility considerations, I do not find at all out of the question that neither facts about linguistic use, not facts about eligibility properly understood in this global way, give any verdict on the three meanings envisaged before for ‘exists’. In any case, I think the model I have sketched provides a conceptually coherent possibility that suffices by itself to refute Sider’s claims quoted at the beginning, rejecting a “dismissive” attitude (to use Bennett’s term) towards questions of fundamental ontology, in Sider’s own terms.

This discussion has, I think, consequences for the Bennett’s paper. I guess the form of dismissivism I envisage here is, in her taxonomy, a form of semanticism; although the view that there is no fact of the matter whether, say, the 4-D position is just a legitimate figurative extension of the referential apparatus, or is rather rendered correct by pure eligibility considerations applies to the natural kind existence, sounds also close to her “anti-realism”. I share with others that posted before on this blog the concerns about her objections to the analyticity of existentially committing claims. My main concern is whether there is room for a distinction between real believers and hermeneutic nihilists.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Suggested Readings for the MM e-RG

It might be interesting to open a separate thread where people can suggest further readings for the LOGOS e-Reading Group on MetaMetaphysics. (If you add links to e-versions, that is for everyone's convenience ;-)!)

Mine: McCall & Lowe 2006; Sider forthcoming; Chalmers ppt.

MM Sider: question about different sorts of dependencies

Hi all,

I have a doubt I would like to discuss:
Sider says that 'whether multiple candidate meanings for talk of personal identity exist, and what they are like , depend on what the true ontology of persistence turns out to be'. I know this is an example but I guess Sider would say the same for the other cases.
So, in Sider's view, the true ontology of persistence (of persons, too) determines whether multiple candidate meanings for 'person' exist and what they are like.
But, on the other hand, one would say that what the true ontology of persistence (of persons, too) is depends on our semantic intuitions about, for example, persons, or, at least, that to respect these intutions is a point in favour of competing theories.
But then the position seems to be quite unstable.
What do you think about that?

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Manolo P-O on Williamson on Possibilia

Manolo P-O’s reply to Williamson’s argument for the validity of the Barcan Formula (BF) in his contribution to the LOGOS Seminar last Wednesday appears to depend on taking a sort of instrumentalistic attitude deflating the ontological commitments incurred in building an account of relations of logical consequence (in his language L4). However, he grants that (i) L4 does have explanatory commitments, in that it is intended to account for consequence relations among modal statements. Here I would like to raise some concerns that, prima facie, (i) is inconsistent with (ii) Manolo’s rejection of the validity of BF, together with (iii) his crucial “material” contention in section 7, that there are objects not in the domain of D(w*). Let me elaborate.

(i) Firstly, consider Manolo’s analogy with the first-order case (section 4). Granted that “there is a model with respect to which Socrates is human” is a very misleading way of putting the L4 way of stating the non-validity of ‘Socrates is human’. However, unconstrained talk of functions and interpretations will not do to properly reflect the explanatory commitments of the relevant L4 statements. For, appealing to that unconstrained talk, we could also establish that ‘Socrates is identical to himself’ is not valid. The functions and models of which we talk in L4 must be restricted by a correct theory capturing that, whatever it is, in virtue of which some statements and arguments are first-order valid and some others are not. According to many, this means that they must preserve the meanings of the first-order “logical constants”; in the case of ‘Socrates is human’, the semantic categories to which ‘Socrates’ and ‘is human’ belong, i.e., that they must be assigned, respectively, object-like meanings and monadic-property-like meanings. The same applies, mutatis mutandis, when we move to the modal case; and here we must assume that the modal operators, ‘possibly’ and ‘necessarily’, count among the logical constants.

(ii) Now, Manolo rejects BF, i.e., he thinks that while, e.g., ‘it is possible that there is an object that LW fathered’ is true, ‘there is an object such that it is possible that LW fathered him’ is false; while (iii) he accepts that there are objects not in the domain of D(w*), WHICH ARE PRECISELY THOSE WE NEED AS WITNESSES for the non-validity of BF, i.e., for ascriptions of truth and falsity exactly like the previous ones. Thus, (*) THERE IS an object that contributes to making ‘it is possible that there is an object that LW fathered’ is true. My main concern is now this: Given the explanatory commitments granted for L4 in (i), how is it that (*) is consistent with counting ‘there is an object such that it is possible that LW fathered him’ as false? Given those explanatory commitments (particularly, that of respecting the meanings that the modal operators like ‘possibly’ do have), how is it that (*) does not commit us to the existence of a-possible-entity-fathered-by-LW? But this appears to be to grant that ‘there is an object such that it is possible that LW fathered him’ is, after all, true.

I think that M P-O needs to say more about the commitments and lack thereof derived from the explanatory endevours associated to L4; merely gesturing towards a distinction between “structural” and “material” issues is not enough for a reply to Williamson’s argument for possibilia.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

MM Sider: The Taxonomy of Positions

As I understand it, I very much agree with the taxonomical part in Ted Sider's ‘Criteria of Personal Identity and the Limits of Conceptual Analysis.’ Actually, as I understand it, his fits nicely with the three-fold classification I’ve been suggesting in previous posts ;-)! Let me elaborate.

On the one hand there are genuine semantic disputes, where participants dispute as to whether which is the correct analysis of a given target term or concept (of the sort of Karen’s martini case we have already discussed here). These are cases “under the scope of conceptual analysis” where premise 2 fails (see p. 201): “use” fits one of the proposal better than the alternatives.

On the other hand there are merely apparent disputes, in a certain sense to be dismissed—what Siders calls ‘no-fact-of-the-matter’ cases. He seems to characterize them as cases where there is there is semantic indecision between the alternatives: nothing in “use” (nor in the “eligibility” of the options) settles one option as the semantic right one. I think I agree that this is a sufficient condition for (true) “dismissivism” (actually, something like this seems what is argued in Sidelle 2001), I am curious about whether it is also necessary.

Finally, there are genuine metaphysical disputes, where none of the former applies (and I side with him against Karen that composition provides a nice example.)

Sider illustrates this with the case of ‘person.’ Let ‘person*’ be the entities individuated by psychological conditions, and ‘person#’ be the entities individuated by the bodily conditions. Every (relevant) disputant would agree that a description in terms of persons* and persons# is complete with respect to which (relevant) facts there are. The remaining issue is how there are to be described in terms of the older ‘person.’ If there is a semantic fact of the matter, then the dispute is genuine, though semantic. Otherwise, the dispute turns out not to be genuine after all, and all subsequent discussion should, I guess, be dismissed. Sider thinks the latter is the case, I tend to think that the former seems more plausible (see discussion in section 4), but this is another matter.

MM Sider: what kind of dismissivism is this?

Ok. It seems that I will open our second session of the Logos’ e-reading group on MetaMetaphysics. The text to be discussed is Sider’s “Criteria of personal identity and the limits of conceptual analysis”. In this paper, Sider tentatively defends the view that “there is no fact of the matter” as to which criterion of personal identity is right ---i.e. a ‘dismissivist’ position about this issue, to borrow a term from Bennett’s paper previously discussed here. However, the main aim of Sider’s paper is not to defend the dismissivist claim about personal identity but rather to clarify with the help of this example which form a dismissivist argument could have (sections 1-6) and argue that this kind of argument does not apply to disputes in ontology like the 3D-4D debate, the debate over composite objects, etc. (sections 7-8). The main idea seems to be that the dismissivist argument outlined in the first part of the paper could apply to those disputes which are decided on the basis of conceptual analysis (though he thinks that it actually applies to only some of them), and ontological disputes are not like these. I have doubts about several points of the paper, and hope to discuss all of them during this e-session. I start with two points on the first part of the paper, which relate to our previous discussion on Bennet’s paper.(I save for later some other points about more central issues in the paper)

(1) Which of Bennet’s three types of dismissivism suits best Sider’s position about the debate on personal identity? I would say that it is epistemic dismissivism. Though Sider repeatedly says that his view is that “there is no fact of the matter” as to which criterion is true (which could suggest antirealist dismissivism), he acknowledges that future philosophical inquiry could resolve the issue between bodily continuity and psychological continuity. Thus, it is not that there is no fact of the matter. It is only that, if there is one, we do not know yet which it is. But then, Dan’s point about Bennett’s epistemic dismissivism applies here as well: rather than dismiss the debate, we should keep trying and not be discouraged by the long standing epistemic impasse. (Sider acknowledges something like this, though, in pf. #7 of section 7).

(2) Can Sider’s view be considered as an instance of “semantic dismissivism”? I do not think so. And I think that the reasons why not will help to understand the semantic dismissivist’s position –a point we were discussing before here and here. I propose the following characterization of semantic dismissivism, which I think is in the spirit of Bennett’s official characterization and differs from the one given by Dan here:

Semantic dismissivism about the debate over ‘there are Fs’ is the view that the parties in the debate disagree about the meaning of some term in the disputed sentence and fail to perceive this disagreement is taking place. (Equivalently: they are not aware of the analytic character of the “linking principles” over which they disagree). As a consequence, they talk past each other when they argue about whether there are Fs, i.e. the dispute is merely verbal. The dispute could be resolved simply by first exposing the unnoticed semantic disagreement and then finding out who is speaking ordinary English and who is not.

So construed, the view is not simply that the debate should be dismissed because it involves a semantic disagreement (which could be relatively easy to resolve), but rather that something is wrong with the debate because the semantic disagreement is not being noticed by the participants.

On Siders’s view the debate on personal identity is much like the case in which the sorority girl and the purist disagree as to whether there is a Martini on the table; on both debates, the parties agree on “all the facts” (namely, that there is, say, a mindless body in a coma in front of us, and that there is an alcoholic beverage in a V-shaped glass in front of us, respectively). They only disagree about how to “describe” these “facts”. But this is not enough for the disputes to be a target of semantic dismissivism, as I propose to understand it. In addition to there being a semantic disagreement, semantic dismissivism requires that this disagreement goes unnoticed, with the consequence that the participants of the debate “talk past each other”. And this is what happens when they do not acknowledge the analytic character of the linking principles over which they fight ("there is a human body --> there is a person, there are simples arranged tablewise --> there is a table. etc). In the case of the debate over composition, what makes people talk past each other, on the dismissivist`s view, is that they are not aware of the alleged analycity of the principles they defend. In contrast, in the case of personal identity as described by Sider, this clearly does not happen. On Sider’s picture of the debate, the participants are well aware of the analyticity of their principles and cannot be described as being talking past each other (I am bit puzzled about the second paragraph in section 7, where he introduces the issue of ambiguity without explicit connection to the previous discussion). Thus, his view about this particular debate is not an instance of semantic dismissivism, as I am proposing to understand it (in consonance with Bennett, I think, and dissonance with Dan).

Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Problem of the Many, Supervaluations, and the Sorites

(Cross-posted at bleb.)

These days I am revising this paper, once again :-(! There I argue against the so-called ‘supervaluationist’ solution to the problem of the many, which is often the one favored by fellow defenders of the view of vagueness as semantic indecision.

In a nutshell, I claim that the feature of precisifications that such a solution requires—selecting just one of the many candidate-mountains in the vicinity of paradigmatic mountain Kilimanjaro—render them inadmissible. In my paper I focus on the penumbral truth that if something is a paradigmatic mountain, and something else is very similar to the former in that which is required for something to be a mountain, then the latter is also a mountain. One other main difficulty, emphasized by McGee 1998, is that such precisifications fail to preserve clear cases of application of the predicate, in that there is no entity that is determinately a mountain—at least, on standard ways of characterizing what it is for something to satisfy a 'determinately'-involving matrix.

In Williams 2006, Robbie claims that, in virtue of nothing determinately satisfying ‘is a mountain,’ the solution undermines the explanation offered by defenders of the view of vagueness as semantic indecision such as Keefe 2000 of the persuasiveness that the (false) sorites premise certainly has. According to her,

“Our belief that there is no true instance of the quantification gets confused with a belief that the quantified statement is not true. … The confusion … is a confusion of scope, according to whether the truth predicate appears inside or outside the existential quantifier” (Keefe 2000, 185).

Insofar as I can see, however, the difference in scope in truth- (or determinate-) involving existential statements appealed to here is compatible with nothing determinately satisfying ‘is a mountain’—disturbing as the latter might be for other reasons, of course.

Thursday, November 23, 2006


Yesterday's LOGOS-seminar saw Manolo M. give a talk on conceivability (indeed, on ideal conceivability, but I don't want to focus on that here). As Roman pointed out, conceivability is a somewhat loose term. However, it seems that most LOGOS-members share a very similar conception of conceivability, differing only in the details (I also encountered signs of this fact in the RG on Fictionalism).

My question is simply, what is that common conception? (...) It is part of another project that this blog can be used for, that is making the common ground of the group explicit such that new members, like me, can position themselves relative to it (I take the essentialism-discussions earlier to be part of that project).

Maybe you don't think that you in fact share any view on conceivability in the group. To illustrate, let me briefly tell you what I think of conceivability, and I think most of you (except for the other newcomers) will have similar objections to make.

I can make sense of three ways to explicate conceivability:
1) The first is very close to imaginability, and in that sense an object that is green and red all over is inconceivable, but so is an object displaying a billion different colours, because that's just too much for my imagination.
2) The second includes, but is not exhausted by, anything that can be expressed by a sentence I can understand. In this sense, it's perfectly conceivable that 1=0.
3) And then there is conceivability relative to a set of ex- or implicitly stated assumptions. In that sense a proof for the continuum hypothesis from ZFC is inconceivable; it's also (in most contexts) inconceivable that Spain will invade Iran over the next few months.

So, straighten me out!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

MM Bennett: analyticity and extension to the 3D-4D case

following with our e-reading group on MetaMetaphysics, here I have a couple of comments/questions about Bennett’s paper. The first is about verbal-non verbal disputes and the second about how to extend the framework to the 4D-3D debate, which was the original concern of this e-reading group.

1) In section 5, Bennett decides to focus in this question: “what makes a dispute count as ‘merely verbal’? We must have a criterion at hand in order to decide whether or not the disputes about composition and constitution are verbal disputes”. She then criticizes a proposal by Hirsch (condition H), which is presented as an allegedly sufficient condition for something being a verbal dispute. She first shows that H is not really sufficient. Rather, it is Ha (which invokes the notion of analyticity) which does capture the notion of a verbal dispute. Second, she argues that Ha does is not satisfied by the disputes over composition and colocation.

I agree with all this. I think it is clear that the participants in the ontological debates do not take the linking conditionals (if there are simples arranged tablewise in front of us, then there is a table in front of us) as analytic. To simply assume that they do is to misunderstand the debate. (I’ve seen people doing this!).You can give an argument to the effect that they are wrong, i.e. to the effect that despite the appearances, they are committed to the principles being analytic. But for what I understand, Hirsch does not offer such an argument.

Now my worry is this: whereas it is clear that the “believer” and the “multi-thinger” (and for that matter, the 4D) do not claim that their linking conditionals are analytic, I wonder whether it is best for them to assume that some conditionals are in fact analytic. In other words, I wonder which of the following two is better as a response to the charge that their debates are merely verbal:

“Our dispute is not merely verbal. It is unlike the debate about whether there is a martini on the table, which is merely verbal”.

or rather

“Our dispute is not merely verbal, because there are not merely verbal debates. The dispute about the martini is not merely verbal either, it is substantive. It is not true that the participants in the martini debate ‘agree about all the facts’. There is on fact about which they disagree, namely whether a martini is (or is not) a beverage made of gin or vodka and dry vermouth. This is not, or not only, a fact about English but also about martinis.”

Do you think that this second response is too confused, or somehow obviously wrong, or unnecessary? (Bennett’s view seems to be that the first response is the appropriate, and that the martini case and the sceptic vs. phenomnalist case are cases of merely verbal and not substantial disputes.) I am not sure of what the consequences of the second response are, but I think it could amount to an alternative view about what these debates are. Someone who gives this response is not a semanticist. But he could be misdiagnosed as a semanticist because he is likely to look into ordinary English for the answer to the question whether there is a martini over the table, i.e. he will look into how we use the word “martini” (and our best beliefs about martinies) and try to determine on that basis whether the existential question is true or not.

2) I have been thinking about how Bennett`s ideas could apply to the 3D/4D debate. I think this debate is different from her two running examples in some important respects. First, notice that in the 3D/4D debate the “high ontologist” side is occupied by the 4D and the “low ontologist” side is occupied by the 3D. (The 3D thinks that there are chairs, and the 4D thinks that there temporal parts of chairs in addition to chairs). This makes for the following superficial difference: in the two cases considered by Bennett, it is the high ontologist side wich, for right or wrong, is generally thought to be closer to common sense and therefore it is the low ontologist side which is generally charged with the burden of proof (at least this is clearly the case in the composition case). For right or wrong, this is the other way around in the 3D/4D debate. On the other hand, in the 3D/4D debate, it does not seem that the high ontologist attempts to downplay the significance of their extra entities. (I do not remember seeing an argument for the idea that temporal parts are “easier to come by” than the endurantist think they are). Quite on the contrary, the 4D sometimes up-play the significance of their extra entities (see for instance Sider´s remarks about temporal parts not being merely “ersatz parts” in p 61 of his book). And it is hard to identify any attempt to up-play expressive power in the 3D side, except maybe for the move of taking “bent” and “straight” to express relations to times rather than monadic properties. Despite these differences, it does seem that the debate is “difference-minimizing” in the sense that “each side will try to play down their differences from the opponent. Everyone wants to minimize the gap in order to ensure that their view does not sound crazy, and that they too get the advantages of the other side”. What do you think? I guess at least Dan thinks it is difference-minimizing....

MM Bennett: "Existential" but Analytic Statements

I would like to post now about (ii). Although Karen Bennett suggests (p. 2) that she would argue against semanticism in general, in effect she seems to argue just against one possible way of implementing one possible semanticist position with respect to one particular debatein particular against the analyticity-involving way of implementing Hirsch 2005’s semanticist position with respect to the composition debate. Even when so restricted, I have some doubts about her argument.

In essence, her claim is that what she calls ‘linking principles’ of the sort of

(*) if there are simples arranged tablewise in R, then there is a table in R that is numerically distinct from the simples arranged tablewise.

cannot be analytic. She offers the following reason for this claim:

Saying that (*) is analytic … amounts to saying that we can define things into existence. But surely an analytic claim cannot be existence entailing in this way; surely the existence of a new object cannot follow by meaning alone. Who knew ontological arguments were so easy? (p. 19)

I find this reasoning puzzling. The relevant sentences involve existence claims, but as consequents in conditionals. And we seem to be familiar enough with existential statements of that form being, sometimes, analytic. The following seems to me to have quite a good claim to be one such:

Whenever something is a proper part of another, there is something that is numerically distinct from them which is part of the latter but not of the former.

(I am having some discussion with Ross Cameron at bleb on this, as it seems to me to be relevant also against his argument that principles of composition need not be necessary.)

Monday, November 20, 2006

MM Benett: A Taxonomy of Dismissivist Positions?

It is a great pleasure to get this first LOGOS e-Reading Group on MetaMetaphysics started ;-)!

If I understand it right, Karen Bennett in her ‘Composition, Colocation, and Metaontology’ aims three different things: (i) to distinguish three different dismissivist positions; (ii) to argue against one possible way of implementing one possible “semanticist” position with respect to one particular debate; and (iii) to motivate a claim that is a consequence of, among others, the “epistemicist” position. In my view, it is not clear that she succeeds with respect to any of these three. In this post, however, I will focus just on (i).

Most think, I guess, that some disputes in metaphysics are genuinely ontological. In my view, the dispute between universalists and restrictivists wrt composition is a case at hand—and I think that the former are right :-)! Most think, I guess, that some disputes in metaphysics are genuine all the same, but of a semantic character. In my view, the dispute between defenders of the many and of the supervaluationist solution wrt the problem of the many is a case at hand—and, again, I think that the former are right :-)! Now some think that some apparent disputes in metaphysics are just merely apparent: in a certain sense—that need not be easy to specify (hopefully, we’ll have some discussion of this here!)—the views are just “variants of each other”, “equivalent”, or something along these lines. One candidate case at hand is of course the dispute between 3D/4D, and so it has been claimed to be by Sidelle 2002, Miller 2005, McCall & Lowe 2006, among many others. I take this to be characteristic of the attitude that Bennett aptly proposes to call dismissivism, see the introductory pages, the first remark at section 9 etc.

Unfortunately, this seems to be none of the three positions she considers:

(1) Antirealism is characterised as the position that ‘There are Fs’ does not have a determinate truth-value. This lacks the appropriate generality—which would be the candidate ‘F’ for the 3D/4D debate?— and anyway is something dismissivists need not endorse: more likely they would hold the views are all equally true, or equally false but having a shared true kernel or …

(2) Semanticism (although attributed also to Sidelle) is characterized as the position that the disputants assign different meanings to their terms. More plausibly, I take it, that they differ as to their views about the semantics of a certain disputed terms (this is in effect the case at the Martini example and with Hirsh 2005). But then the dispute is certainly genuine, nothing there to be dismissed!

(3) Epistemicism is characterized as the negation of the preceding plus the contention that there is little justification for believing either of the views. Again, on the face of it, a situation like does not look as one for dismissing inquiry, but rather precisely calling for further investigation! (Maybe the thought could be elaborated like: there couldn’t be justification for believing one as opposed to the other, given their… “equivalence”? This might be closer to dismissivism after all, but the required elucidation is still missing.)

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Fiction Science

After an almost solipsistic group experience in the Fictionalism RG, I thought that maybe some more incentives for thinking about the relationship between fiction and philosophy are in order.
Here is some info on recent literature on the subject, along with a some reflections on how to make money as a philosopher (talk about Fantasy!).
And here are some great ways to make our own make-believe-philosophy games much more fun! If "Hurt'em Hume" won't get you theorizing, noone will...

More literature on Tenor-Turnips.

This is just a short advertisement for those who got interested in Varzi’s problem of the many tenors, which I discussed in the Logos seminar this year. I found out that Thomas Sattig’s brand new book (on persistence, 3D, 4D and related issues) offers a very detailed discussion of the problem. (Actually, he discusses a more general problem, which he calls the problem of predicational overkill, that has Varzi’s problem about Tenor-Turnips as an instance). Varzi’s problem was this: given the alleged 4D principle that x is F at t iff x’s instantaneous temporal part at t is F simpliciter (plus some other assumptions), sentences like ‘Some tenor was a turnip’ come out true. Sattig discusses related problems for the alleged 4D principle. For instance, take a “uniqueness sentence”, like “Zoe and only Zoe is happy at t”. Prima facie, the 4D principle makes this sentence impossible. If Zoe is happy at t, her temporal part at t is also happy, and so are her many other temporal parts overlapping her temporal part at t. Sattig argues that even if this case can be handled by the 4D, things become more intractable when "cross-counting sentences" are considered (sentences like “Zoe and only Zoe is happy at t1 and sad at t2”). He offers different attempts to solve this problem on the 4D’s behalf, but concludes that none of them is satisfactory. Among these discarded 4D strategies, there is the appeal to quantifier domain restriction, which some of my audience at the Logos seminar seemed to favour prima facie. Another solution he considers and rejects draws on an idea that I had thought to be on the right track, namely to allow extended temporal parts to do the job that the 4D principle reserves for instantaneous temporal parts. I still have to think about his arguments against these views (I am not completely convinced).

On the other hand, the book also offers a very sophisticated and original framework for discussing the issues about persistence. Something that I found particularly interesting about this framework is that it makes clear the importance of linguistic considerations for assessing the views about persistence. That is to say, the framework justifies why the nature of persistence (or the “temporal dimension of reality”, more generally) should be studied in connection with the language about persistence (or “the temporal dimension of language”). If I got it right, the idea is this (very roughly and in my terminology rather than his): our ordinary conception of the world (as expressed in ordinary judgments about ordinary objects) is generally right and therefore supervenes on how the world is really like (as described by the metaphysician). Thus, any account about how the world is really like (3D, 4D, etc) must be such that the ordinary conception supervenes on it. Moreover, this supervenience cannot be taken as a large-scale brute fact. Rather, is must be possible to sate the facts about supervenience by means of specific bridge principles like the problematic 4D principle stated above (or more sophisticated versions of this). Thus, the correct view about the nature of persistence must be compatible with some “analysis” of the ordinary facts of persistence in terms of what persistence really is. Failure at offering such analyses (because of predicational overkill, etc) is a decisive reason against the view (or at least, it has much more weight than it would have under different assumptions). I like this view about methodology, but I suspect that most people working on the metaphysics of persistence will find it controversial. (Though I think they should not). I hope we will be discussing and clarifying these methodological issues in our up-coming e-reading group on metaontology.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

A Post On Postmodalism or It Feels Good To Could Have Been A Zebra

The other day, my discussion with Oscar about vague essential properties (see the Comments section to his "RG Modality"-post turned into a nice beer-fuelled evening of talk, laughter and goodnatured name-calling. The topic soon expanded to the venerable question whether there are essential properties at all, with a bunch of people split quite nicely over the issue. Oscar was joined by Manolo M. on the "of course there are" front, while I was joined by Sanna on the side that was soon called "the Postmodernists", which I still find very amusing. Jose C., Pepe and Guido took up various positions in the middle, and off we were.

I won't try to record the whole thing, but here's a taste of the strange arguments that were produced (that's the nice thing about writing a post, by the time the others get to quote the strange arguments you yourself came up with after your third beer, they're already in the relatively obscure Comments section...):

In the case of the discussion whether Pluto and Sedna (or how that thing was called) were planets, what was at stake was to find a definition that captures the essential property "to be a planet". That is to say, either it was (at that time) objectively false to call Pluto a planet five years ago, or it is objectively false to deny that Pluto is a planet today.
If you find that bizarre, it might be because you're a postmodernist as well, or, as Oscar later suggested, a postmodalist.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Formatting posts and comments at The bLOGOS

I thought it might be of interest for some LOGOSians (or should it be LOGOSers?) to post here on this.

Regarding new posts, formatting is straightforward, given the user-friendly semi-WYSIWYG environment. (Incidentally, this gives ‘quasi-technical’ support for the following rule, which I think can also be motivated on independent, purely e-philosophical grounds:

If something is a borderline case with respect to comment to an existing post or thread-creating new post, do post it!

You can always add a link back to the triggering thread. Similarly, if something is a borderline case with respect to borderline case with respect to comment and post. And similarly if it is borderline borderline… Ok, I shut up :-X.) (BTW, the indent effect can be obtained by pasting from a .doc file with altered margins.)

Regarding comments to existing posts, some mini-use of HTML tags is required. Hence, writing (with '<' and '>' instead of '[' and ']')


gives you


and writing


gives you


and writing

one [a href=""]link[/a] to a website

gives you

one link to a website.

Formatting, and particularly linking to named people, papers, and so on may make things nicer for the average potential eventual reader. And, anyway, it is cool, don’t you think? (I was going to write instead: ‘And, anyway, I think it is cool.’ But Kit Fine is arguing that this would not have changed the content. And this is the only NYU seminar that I am attending… Ok, ok, this was way too much ;-{p}!)

I suggest that whoever wants to experiment with comments, comment to this post, which is hereby declared jUNk.

Update (17 Nov 2006): When posting new posts as opposed to commenting, one is more free to use further HTML tags. Hence, for instance,


gives you


and so on. See discussion in the comments section below.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Disjunctions, Conjunctions, and Their Truthmakers

(Cross-posted at bleb.)

A truthmaker for a given truth is something in virtue of which the truth is true. One plausible thesis about truthmaking is that it is closed under entailment, in the sense of obeying the so-called entailment principle:

If something makes a certain truth true, then it also makes true all of this truth’s consequences.

Though plausible, the principle seems to have some undesirable consequences: the explosion of truthmakers for necessities—every thing is a truthmaker for every necessary truth—, and indeed the truthmaker triviality—every thing is a truthmaker for every truth whatsoever—.

Gonzalo Rodriguez-Pereyra in his ‘Truthmaking, Entailment, and the Conjunction Thesis’ has recently argued against attempts to preserve (perhaps, a restriction of) the entailment principle while avoiding these results. In so doing, Gonzalo crucially both defends the disjunction thesis—if something makes true a disjunctive truth, then it makes true one of its disjuncts—, and rejects the conjunction thesis—if something makes true a conjunctive truth, then it makes true each of its conjuncts—.

I have written a short reply to his paper. I first provide plausible counterexamples to the disjunction thesis, and contend that Gonzalo’s general defense of it fails. Then I defend the conjunction thesis from Gonzalo’s case against it. I finally conclude that the envisaged attempts have not been proved, by Gonzalo’s considerations, to be at fault.

(My note originated from the discussion I had with Gonzalo here.)

All comments welcome!!

Purpose of this blog

I suppose it would nice if we used this blog to foster the interdisciplinary character of the Cognitive Science and Language programme, rather than focus on purely philosophical questions only (after all, I have recently enrolled on the aforementioned programme, my expertise is within linguistics and some philosophy/psychology and I don't think I'd be able to contribute otherwise).
A nice first topic could be last week's Workshop. I'm not really sure what people thought of it, and I'd be interested in that. I had a brief chat with some people last Thursday but this blog could provide the right medium to have an in-depth discussion.
Who would like to start?


Sunday, November 12, 2006

For the RG on modality: properties that are neither necessary nor contingent (by themselves)

About ten days ago Sònia asked in a message for the reading group of modality: "How intuitive is it that the very same property can be essential for some, and only accidental for others?" Though then I didn't give a public answer now I'll take advantage of this blog. My answer is that there are indeed examples of properties that are necessarily possessed by some objects but contingently possessed by others. Just consider the following examples:
  • (a) The (sort of) shape is an essential for the statue but not for the piece of matter from which it is made (since the statue cannot have a completely different shape.)
  • (b) 'having a body that contains (atoms of) gold' (or just:' containing gold') is a property necessarily possessed by a bar of gold, but not by a table that just contains 8 atoms of gold.
Let's say that properties that can be necessarily or contingently possessed are "modally neutral properties". These are some questions raised when we consider possible examples of such properties:
  1. Which are plausibles examples of modally neutral properties? Are there any other examples of this kind? (In Sònia's e-mail she suggests that Linsky and Zalta are committed with the view that "being abstract" would also be a modally neutral property, but that's a weird example.)
  2. Which is the class of properties for which that's true, and why this properties behave like that?
  3. If Pb is the claim that the object b has the modally neutral property P then we might fail to known a priori that (If Pb, then Necessarily Pb). So, once we know that Pb is true, what else must be known in order to conclude that Pb is necessary? (This is relevant for the question of the a priori passage in modal rationalism)
  4. Any further interesting implication of the existence of modally neutral properties?

Saturday, November 11, 2006

What kind of thing is the 3D/4D debate?

For a little while, Marta, Manolo, Pablo and myself—and I guess many others as well—have been worrying about which is the status of some apparent disputes in ontology—paradigmatically exemplified in the 3D/4D debate. Are they genuine metaphysical disputes? Or are they genuine all the same, but disputes of a semantic character? Or rather they are merely apparent disputes, and the views turn out to be, in a certain sense (love these hedges ;-)!), notational variants of each other, as it were (here again ;-)!).

There is a huge literature on this issue, particularly in the last couple of years. We thought that one other purpose bLOGOS might serve is to allow a sort of e-reading group on this, suggesting readings and then discussing them here.

How about starting with Karen Bennett’s ‘Composition, Colocation, and Metaontology’? A very cool draft in progress!

Watch out, this is NOT a test!

I guess this is the famous first sentence that takes longer to come up with than the last 50 pages (posts). What should the first topic of the LOGOS-Blog be? "Canonical models for S2"? "The meaning of life"? "The most-cited footnotes in analytic philosophy"? "The amazing fact that noone in Barcelona seems to think of Spock when they hear 'Vulcan'"?
Well, as nothing of that sort quite strikes me as appropriate, I'll ask the obvious (and therefore a bit boring) question: Now we have this thing, what can we do with it?
I'll give it a quick shot, and then I hope you guys will pick up on it (try if you can directly edit the post instead of adding comments; it'd be much more fitting if we wrote the first post as a joint effort. If you can't, write comments and I'll copy it into the main post later)(New plan: write comments and I give references in the list).

- First of all, we should try to free us from all pretentions and all academic shame. The point is to swap half-baked ideas, ask stupid questions, tell that funny story about two brains sharing the same vat (you know, what your normal friends would take as a good reason to pretend not to know you) and so on. Not that brilliant thoughts should be forbidden, but if everyone sits at his desk waiting for a flash of genius this blog will never get going. And after all, your stupid question might not have been all that stupid.
(That last sentence sounds unbearably cheesy, no? I'll walk the walk [as opposed to only talk the talk] and post it anyway)

- What is cool about all this is that we get an idea of what the others think about. This of course comes through the posts, but maybe we could encourage that further by publishing our personal reading lists etc. (please substitute 'etc.')

- Comment 1: E-reading groups (the first one seems well on it's way!)
- Comment 4: Feedback on one's work