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....


Dan López de Sa said...

Hi Pablo! I wasn't completely sure about whether you finally think that in some of the debates people do take the relevant “linking” principles to be analytic, and whether you think, with Karen, that they cannot be. (FWIIW I do think that in some cases people do take them to be, and, as I said, I am not convinced by the reason given that they cannot be.)

The heart of your (1), if I have understood you right, is however whether there are genuine but “verbal” disputes of the sort characteristic of semanticist. I take the following to be a sufficient condition for something being such—which in my view is the way in which they are (purportedly) identified in normal philosophical discussions at seminars, bars, and so on, isn’t it?—: new appropriately neutral vocabulary can be introduced, perhaps via explicit stipulation, in terms of which the relevant parcel of reality might be described in a way that the different parties agree is complete vis-à-vis which objects there are and which properties they have, and only remains to be settled how these facts are to be described in the older, disputed terms. So let martini* be a cocktail made of gin or vodka, dry vermouth, and perhaps an olive or two, and martini# be whichever drink is served in the classic V-shaped glass. The nonsense made of sour green apple liqueur is definitely not a martini* but it is definitely a martini#. And both of Bennett’s purist and sonority girl in the example would agree that this is a complete description of the drink, and that only remains to be settled how this is to be described in terms of the older, disputed ‘martini.’ (Something like this is also the strategy I would use for semanticism concerning the problem of the many—assuming the view of vagueness as semantic indecision.) What do you think?

As to (2), I agree that that the 3D/4D seems quite different from the composition and constitution debates, but I would also add that the composition and the constitution debates seems actually also quite different from each other, and relevantly so, in that, for instance, it is not completely clear how to understand exactly the “high”/“low” distinction. (One manifestation of this is for instance the unnaturalness of the ‘nothing over and above’ manoeuvre on behalf of the “multi-thinger” in the constitution case, as she herself seems to acknowledge in the parenthetical remark at the middle of p. 11).

Pablo Rychter said...

Hi Dan,
I think that at least in the debate of composition and in the debate 3D-4D, the participants do NOT take the linking principles to be analytic. (In the case of the 3D-4D debate I am taking the linking principles to be things like: if there exists an x at t, there exists a temporal part of x at t). The critic of the debates may say that the participants are wrong about this and that they are somehow committed to the principles being analytic (he may say that this is the only way in which the disputes make sense). But then the critic should give an argument for his claim, i.e. an argument that shows that the participants are wrong about the nature of the debates. The critic is not entitled to simply assume this, as they sometimes do at least in conversation. To simply assume that the principles are analytic is, I think, to misconstrue the debates (or to refuse understanding them on its own terms).

I am not sure that the principles cannot be analytic. I also have troubles in understanding Bennett’s arguments to this effect. But I do not think that the dialectical situation requires such argument. I think it is the critic of the debate who has to give an argument showing that in the relevant debates the principles are analytic (because this is the best way of making sense of the dispute (?), because something that the participants say commits them to the principles being analytic, contrary to appearances (?), etc).

Thanks for your feedback on my point on the verbal/non verbal distinction. I am afraid my point was not specific enough and I am still unclear about how to develop it. I am trying to give coherence to an alternative interpretation of the debates according to which the solution for them should be sought in ordinary language and beliefs (like in the semanticist’s view), but not so much in the “content” of those beliefs (so conceptual analysis does not play a central role) as in their ontological commitments. I do not know if this makes much sense or can be worked out. But I will try as this e-RG keeps going.

Dan López de Sa said...

Well, in the composition case I know of some debatents that do think that the principle of unrestricted mereological composition is analytically true ;-).

As to 3D/4D, I might imagine somewhen claiming one such thing to be analytic. (Not Sider, though, as he seems to side with Karen, Ross etc. in the "anti-analytic" front. But as I said in the other post, I think their reasons for this are not compelling.)

joan said...


I'm also puzzled by Karen's argument against the thesis that brige principles are analytic. Dan-s mereological example is a good one in a philosophical context. But there are also other cases which are very common and even less controversial:

if x is a widow then there exists y such y is numericallly different from x, x was married to y and y is dead.

If this is not analytical what else can be?

marta campdelacreu said...

In relation to things you comment here:

I have to confess that, in general, I do not understand Bennett’s claim that the multi-thinger tends to ‘downplay its extra ontology’; that for her objects are ‘thin’.
One thing that Bennett says and I understand is that the multi-thinger believe that the many objects that share a spatio-temporal region are made of all the same matter, or have all of the same parts, or some thing along those lines… she adds ‘and that there is some important sense in which the statue is really not any thing over and above the lump.’
I agree that multi-thingers say things like that the objects share a spatio-temporal region or the like.
I do not know if Bennett wants to suggest with this that, then, ‘there is some important sense in which the statue is really not any thing over and above the lump’.
I she wants, I do not see how this would be. For, I can imagine a multi-thinger saying that of course the statue is something over and above the lump. They are numerically distinct objects that, as it happens, share some of their properties, but that, nonetheless, differ in a lot of other properties and that, above all, are numerically distinct. I do not see how the fact of their sharing some of their properties can lead to multi-thingers to defend that their notion of object is a ‘thin’ one or that, for example, the statue is really not any thing over and above the lump.
Another thing Bennet says and I do not understand is that ‘The high-ontologist insists that her extra ontology is nothing over and above what the low-ontologist already accepts, and will say that the low-ontologist has too thick a notion of an object.’
But I do not understand the quotation, for the high-ontologist thinks there are certain numerically distinct objects that the low-ontologist deny they exists as numerically distinct objects. Then, there are things in her ontology that are over and above the things in the low-ontologist one.
Perhaps my difficulty is with these notions of ‘thin’ and ‘thick’ object. What does this terminology mean?
Another thing Bennett says about down-playing the existence of collocated objects is the quotation in page 11. But I find it difficult to understand, as well. For, what does it mean that ‘for there to be multiple objects in a region, nothing more is or could be required than that the region be filled with matter, and that multiple sets of persistence conditions, or ‘modal profiles’, are instantiated there.’ I do not know if something else would be required, but in any case, this will result in the existence of two numerically distinct objects with different properties, objects that will not exist for the low-ontologist and so, in which sense we would have downplayed ‘the existence of distinct objects’. I suppose that a lot of work is done here by the ‘thin’ and ‘thick’ conception of objects but I do not see what Bennett wants to say with it.

Pablo Rychter said...

Hi Marta,
I think I agree with you (and it seems that also Dan would agree, given what he said wrt to my post) that the “nothing-over-and-above discourse” seems unnatural in the case of the multi-thinger. But I think that some things that some multithingers say come close to “difference-mininazing speeches” or “downplaying speeches”. These are the things that multithingers say when they explain how their cases of coincidence are different from the case of two tennis balls occupying the same space-time region (by squeezing or whatever). They could say: “Look, the case of the two tennis balls is not like the case of Goliath and Lump. In the case of Goliath and Lump one thing constitutes the other”, or “the two things are of different kind”. But I agree that this is only close to an ontology-downplaying speech. The ontology itself is not downplayed, what is downplayed (or minimized) is the fact that objects coincide (or the oddness of this fact).

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