Thursday, November 23, 2006

Conceivability

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

Hi,
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 ']')

[i]italics[/i]

gives you

italics

and writing

[b]boldface[/b]

gives you

boldface

and writing

one [a href="http://www.ub.edu/grc_logos"]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,

[strike]strike[/strike]

gives you

strike

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?

DJL

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